One of the single most devisive factors in my marriage was my Mother in law. I was tiny, shiny hair, bright eyes and just 12 years old when I first met her and completely oblivious of her desire to control and manipulate everyone in her family.
At that point, my relationship with her son was entirely innocent, merely childish adoration. On the day of our first meeting, the family was off to the local furniture store and when my yet to be husband asked if I could come along, she looked me up and down and said "There is no room for her". There was, but she has no intention of letting me get anywhere near her son.
Years later, she admitted that having just lost her mother, she saw me as a threat, the person that would take her son away and she hated me for it. When I was 18 and we had moved in together, she told him that he had to choose between her and me. If he chose me, he could collect his belongings and would no longer be a son of hers"
He chose me but it was an uncomfortable situation all around. Looking back, I made so many mistakes. The first was that I tried to fix things. I simply wanted him to be able to get on with his family and started a long journey trying to do the right thing, making sure that we visited, buying her perfect presents, inviting them to stay, having them for Christmas - you name it, I tried it all.
It never improved. No matter how she smiled in my face, she hated me for taking her son away and did everything in her power to create problems. What I should have done, was let him make his choice and deal with that himself. What I should have done, was have boundaries.
What I didn't see then, her control was entrenched and he so scared at the consequences of standing up to her, that he never did. She could say what she wanted, he would fail to take any responsibility in sorting it out, simply duck in the crossfire and ultimately create a situation in which she became the most divisive factor in our relationship.
When we got divorced, she was elated and actively sought to create a level of animosity akin to The War of the Roses and she did her best to involve the children. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work because children don't like being manipulated. To this day, she does not have a close relationship with her grandchildren and in her mind, it is still all my fault. It never was. I know that, the children know that and so does my ex-husband but still, he is still too scared to point out that the relationships she has are directly as a result of her behaviour and unkindness. He still fails to acknowledge that his inability to stand up to her, had an equal impact on the relationship he has with his children. He simply say's that it is nothing to do with him. Ironically, allowing her to behave the way she does, is the same as telling her it is acceptable.
Over the years, there were so many malicious, unkind and cruel things said, that I would have to write a book to accommodate them all, but the single cruelest thing she ever did was write a letter about one of my children. He had sent a text from my phone to say that he was unable to meet them one day. This was followed by an abusive response to me saying that I had forged at text from him to turn my son against them. It was he world of crazy. When this 15 year old, with more integrity than most adults, told her on the phone that it was not okay to try and manipulate them into taking sides in an unpleasant divorce and then refused to accept any contact or gifts from them - I got the blame.
And then the letter that told me my son was rude, selfish and unpleasant, the letter that requested that I show it to my son so that he would know what he was like. So I sent it instead to my ex-husband who replied back with "I didn't write this, it has nothing to do with me" And his fear of her, meant hat he would not stand up for his own son.
In all of my 25 years of a relationship with this man, this was the point in which I realised that I had been banging my head up against a brick wall. On so many occasions, my own father, who never really gets involved in anything had suggested there is a point in which you have to stand up to your mother. We even had a spell of marriage guidance in which ex-husband was told the same thing but when push came to shove - nothing was bigger than the fear of consequence he had with this woman. Not even his own son.
If I had spotted that 25 years earlier, I could have saved myself years of trying put my need for harmony above my need for sanity and more importantly, understanding that in doing so - I had set myself up for failure. We had cerated a situation in which we were not a team, we were not facing the world together because we had created a relationship which allowed someone else to always come between us.
And yep, this was my choice but I was young and what youth doesn't show you is that every one needs boundaries, lines that cannot be crossed. When you create a situation in which there are none, you are creating a ticking time bomb. Know that ultimately, when desperately trying not to rock the boat, normalising crazy means that you are walking alone.
And the thing that really changed in divorce, is that I regained my sanity. I finally realised that you never change anyone, no amount of understanding will change a single thing. Ignoring the issue and pandering to it simply gave her more power and left me in a marriage in which I always came second to fear. Love is simply never enough.
And my life is immeasurably more healthy in no longer being part of such toxic dynamics. My ex-husband on the other hand, changed nothing. He still has a relationship with a woman that he hates as much as wants her to be nice. He has damaged relationships around him and still puts as much effort into not seeing her as he does in pretending that her behaviour is normal when he does.
I don't blame him, it was simply my fault for thinking things would ever change. Love never changes everything, boundaries do. And making sure that you have them.
Think carefully before getting in bed with your mother in law.