DEAR CAROLYN: As I write, my husband is halfway across the country taking care of his ailing mother. We have had a terrible “text” fight over the past few days, and it revolves mostly around the fact that he thinks I am “compassionless” about his mother’s situation, and I am not being supportive of his decision to stay weeks with her while I fly solo.
His mother is a prescription drug and alcohol abuser who has emotionally tormented my husband for pretty much all his life.
Shortly after we married and had our child (8 years ago), Mother-in-Law turned on me. She has since sent a deluge of hate mail disowning me, my husband and our innocent child. I never engage her, and I’ve not actually spoken to her for seven years. I have watched him struggle with trying to maintain any semblance of a peaceful relationship with her to no avail.
What amount of compassion and support am I really obligated to give him after a decade of dealing with a venomous mother-in-law?
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DEAR COMPASSIONLESS: Interesting, the way you chose to phrase your ultimate question.
You describe the conflict between you and your husband as your being “‘compassionless’ about his mother’s situation.” But in your last line, you ask how much compassion you’re “really obligated to give him.” (My emphasis.)
If that was a mistake, then you’ve erred your way to being correct. You owe your mother-in-law little to nothing, but certainly your husband, the man you love and share your life with, is worthy of your compassion; his mother has worked him over emotionally, apparently from birth. “Tormented,” you say. Be gentle especially when you’re right.
So what you need is some quality time spent reading on the subject, if you haven’t done that already. What he needs, among other things, is an excellent therapist who works with adult children of alcoholics. What you both need is the patience to get through the days peacefully until he’s home again, so you can tackle these bigger issues while you’re close enough to hug.
And you both badly need to stop communicating by text. Texting strips away context, facial expression, voice inflection and elaboration, also known as everything human beings use to indicate their tone.
So while it makes sense for you to stick to your sensible regimen of not talking to her, ever … and remain 20-plus hours away … and let your husband know that while you understand his pull to be with his mother, he has people who actually show him love who are eager for him to come home.