I come from a family history of multigenerational parental sexual and emotional abuse as well as NPD and severe depression/anxiety issues. Keeping a healthy relationship with my both my parents takes a lot of emotional energy and requires me to sometimes be the parental figure in the situation, especially with my mother. It has required years of therapy and spiritual investment to maintain a forgiving outlook.
My husband and I have been married 2 years, together for 11, and he is a huge part of my healthy mental state. We work very hard to keep our relationship as a priority.
My husband and I tend to expect that my parents would be the difficult in laws, as his family appears to be far more “normal” than mine. However, it seems that his mother has proven to be the most difficult parental relationship.
I feel guilty because my husband has always been so understanding of my family while it has been difficult for me to be forgiving of his mother. I am worried that because I am constantly dealing with my parents’ issues that I do not have emotional space left to be understanding of his mother who can act very selfishly. I also feel guilty that I have precipitated fights between my husband and his mother. I don’t consciously try to stir up animosity, but I have a tendency to point out when my mother-in-law treats my husband badly (maybe because I am always on high alert with my parents). When my husband and I were dating, I became much more aware of how my husband resolves conflict with his mother. She pushes him around, much like all of her other relationships. She can be very manipulative and never apologizes. It is always about her. They do not fight all the time by any means, but she tends to be very “me” centric and eventually my husband gets so frustrated with her selfishness that he blows up at her. Then, the rest of the fight is spent placating her without her addressing at all how she contributed to the problem.
After her actions led to several difficult situations regarding wedding planning and the wedding itself and now recently with my husband and I purchasing our first home together, I am fed up. She never apologizes! It sounds ridiculous but I am not exaggerating. How do I deal with her?
Thank you for asking such a thoughtful and interesting question. Dynamically, you and your husband share a familiar role in your respective families. It sounds like the narcissism has been a powerful and difficult feature each of you have had to deal with each of your mothers.
I recommend that the two of you discuss your vulnerability and needs with each other on a regular basis — not just in crisis time. (Couple therapy may be found at the ‘Find Help’ tab at the top of this page if you feel you need help in doing this.) You want to continually join forces and share the difficulty in doing that with each other. Your families are the common enemy in this regard. It is difficult to forgive (and some research shows it is best not to do so too quickly) when the person has an abusive and narcissistic feature to them.
I’d also recommend Alice Miller’s classic book: Drama Of The Gifted Child. It discusses in depth the issues of growing up with a narcissistic mother.
Finally, I’d begin to pull back significantly in the frequency and intensity of contact with both families. Your future is together with your husband, not staying in orbit around the chronically self-absorbed.
Wishing you patience and peace,