Q: Dear Meredith,
My wife has never really had a good relationship with my mother. I actually thought things had gotten a little better, but a few weeks back, things took a major turn for the worse.
I know my mom can be difficult to handle at times. She is definitely lonely and lives a long drive away from us. When we do see her, she does some things to make sure I am giving her my entire attention. I understand how that can bother my wife. But I don't think my mother is acting out of any ill will or with any ill intent.
A few weeks ago, we went to my mother's house for a visit. My wife and I were doing some married couple bickering over something trivial, but it was really nothing. But when I went to another room, my mom told my wife that she needs to treat me better. She was wrong and never should have said anything. But my wife responded by telling my mother she overstepped her boundaries and then essentially made us leave. After that, my wife told me that she hates my mom and that she intentionally acts in an evil way.
That is my problem. My wife says she feels like my mom is always trying to get me to choose between the two of them. And I can see that, but I also feel like my wife is making me choose, too. I agreed to speak to my mom, to tell her there are boundaries and things she just should not say to my wife, but that wasn't enough for my wife. I want my wife to also give my mom a break. We don't see her that often (maybe once a month). They don't have to be friends, but just be friendly, civil. But my wife has said she can't do that.
I really don't know what to do. I love my wife and I know my mom can be difficult. But I also don't know if I can shake what my wife said either (that she hates her and thinks she is evil), and I also feel like as a mature adult, she should be able to look the other way every now and then.
Ultimately, I love my wife, but I worry that there is this wedge being driven between us. My wife is really asking me to make a choice and to choose her every time all the time. And if I can't do that, I feel like we can't survive. What should I do?
– My wife hates my mother, East Coast
A: Yeah, you'd think that two adults would be able to figure this out, MWHMM. But it doesn't always work that way. For the record, I think the "evil" talk is just your wife's way of letting you know that she's serious. She's being dramatic. She might despise your mom (which wouldn't be an uncommon mother-in-law situation), but there's no way she really thinks that your mom is Voldemort.
You need to make demands of both women in your life based on your needs. Don't ask your mom to change her behavior to please your wife. And don't ask your wife to tone it down out of respect for your mother. Ask them to do (or not do) specific things for you. Because you're annoyed. Because you're putting your foot down and you've grown tired of all of this. Because you're not going to dump your mom, and your wife knows that.
If you have married siblings, please ask them for ideas. I bet their spouses feel the same way about your mom, and maybe they've come up with a good routine. And consider compromises. Do you really want your wife to hang out with your mother once a month if you have to sit there watching her fake it? (I don't know the answer to that question, by the way.) Would it be easier if you went alone every other month?
Also: Do you think your wife treats you well? Just curious. Because while I understand why this mom thing is complicated, hurtful, and uncomfortable, I'm surprised that you're worried about the survival of your marriage. I'm wondering what else might be going on here. It might be worth asking your wife, "Besides the mom stuff, are we OK?"
Readers? How can the letter writer manage these women? Is the wife being unreasonable? Is the letter writer being too loyal to mom? Discuss.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a new novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith here and on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.