I am a 71 year old woman married to a 77 year old man. He retired five years ago from his government job. We have one daughter and three beautiful grandchildren. About a year ago he told me he needed a break and said he was moving to his own apartment. I am angry, devastated and very hurt. He said he was going through a mid-life crisis. I went to the rabbi and he told me not to pressure him and give it time. I am also seeing a counselor. He finally started coming with me to the counselor. He comes to see the family two or three times a week. I feel very hurt, angry and disgusted with this arrangement. We are paying for two apartments. He is also very secretive and found out he has prostate problems which he kept from me. What do I do?
Hurt and Angry Wife
Dear Hurt and Angry Wife,
While I can’t even begin to imagine your pain and frustration and your sense of betrayal after so many years (you don’t say but I assume it’s been many years), your options are limited.
You can walk away (in which case you probably wouldn’t have bothered to write) or you can patiently wait it out – with the help of the counselor.
It is definitely a positive step that your husband is coming to therapy with you. Anger and disgust, while possibly legitimate responses, are not helpful ones (actually I’m not really sure how disgust comes into play). Neither is focusing on his secrecy. He needs some space right now and if you want your marriage to survive you need to give it to him, despite how hard that it is to do.
You have a daughter and grandchildren. You have spent many years together. It’s worth giving the marriage and your husband a little more time to figure things out.
Yes it’s incredibly hard, but perhaps with compassion instead of anger you can make the process a little bit easier.
My daughter’s new in-laws are very difficult. When my daughter was engaged and planning the wedding, they tried hard to break it off. They cancelled the first wedding hall we had booked, even though we paid a non-refundable deposit. They told us it was ok to hire my husband’s best friend as the officiating rabbi, and then fired him, replacing him with a local rabbi they suddenly decided they liked better and then replacing the second rabbi with a third that they flew in from NY on the wedding day. They sent out their own invitations and refused to give us names of their guests. When the in-laws stayed with the young couple recently, the mother-in-law left her email open on my daughter’s computer and my daughter read emails the mother-in-law had sent to her friends and relatives saying my daughter, husband and I are evil, stupid and crazy. When my son-in-law raised the issue of an apology to his mother, she said that it is my daughter’s fault for reading the emails.
My daughter just had a baby. When the in laws came to visit for a week, my daughter was loathe to have her in-laws hold the baby. I have counseled her to give in and get along for her husband’s sake, since he is suffering from the tension. My daughter refuses unless her mother-in-law apologizes to her. Since her mother-in-law has made it clear that she hates me, I have not had any contact when they come to visit. Regardless, I would like to find a solution to this problem for the baby’s sake. I feel that my daughter should directly confront her mother-in-law the next time they are alone to give her an opportunity to mend her ways. My daughter feels that the best path is to sit in stony silence and to prevent her mother-in-law from being involved with the baby. Do you have any suggestions?
Dear Helpless Mother,
Boy, these mothers-in-law versus daughters-in-law letters just keep on coming! This is a rough situation. While I certainly don’t think that “sitting in stony silence and preventing her mother-in-law from holding the baby” is likely to produce positive results, I certainly understand why your daughter feels compelled to adopt that position.
I’m not sure that your advice will work either – how do you confront someone who believes you are “evil, stupid and crazy”? And tells her friends! What do you say to her? “Am not!” (!)
It seems to me that there is only one person here who has a chance, if one exists, of improving these relationships. That person is your new son-in-law.
It is his job to speak up to his mother, being more forceful than merely “raising the issue of an apology.” He needs to explain that his first and primary loyalty is to his wife and that he will not, under any circumstances, tolerate his mother’s cruelty towards her. He needs to make it clear that if she wants a relationship with him and her grandchildren, she needs to change her ways.
She obviously doesn’t care about her daughter-in-law. But she does care about him. She doesn’t want to lose him. He needs to stand up to her and establish clear boundaries. It’s his only hope for a decent relationship with his mother and for a healthy marriage.
My son is really upset. Two weeks after passing out invitations to his Bar Mitzvah party, another boy in the class passed out invitations to is party – on the same night. This wouldn’t be so bad except that the second boy comes from a very wealthy family and everyone knows that they are going to throw an extravagant party. My son is concerned that everyone will go to the other party and skip his. What should I do?
Dear Worried Mom,
Don’t worry! This is what our current president would call a “teachable moment” – and what better occasion than a Bar Mitzvah for such an opportunity?
Learning who your friends really are, learning how meaningless the word “popular” is, learning how superficial some relationships are and learning to appreciate and value your true friends are just some of the important life lessons that can arise from the experience and that can animate your dinner table discussions with your son.
But, even more importantly, a smaller party may allow your son to actually focus on the meaning of the day, which often gets lost under too much glitter.
This is your opening to discuss with your son what being Bar Mitzvah really means, what are the privileges and the responsibilities of Jewish life.
Many families and their Bar Mitzvah-age sons never get to have this conversation. It’s frequently all about the party. The boy who’s having the bigger bash has given your son a true gift – the opportunity to focus on and understand what being Bar Mitzvah is all about.
I don’t mean to diminish the very real pain your son may be feeling; I just mean to suggest that it can be reframed. And that you don’t need to add your own sense of frustration and resentment to the mix. You can be empathic (you should be empathic) – but then you can move on to discussing how to cope. And even, perhaps, to recognizing that this situation is tailor-made for him by His Father in Heaven (perhaps a little sophisticated, but this may be the time to start implanting this idea).