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Having mother-in-law nearby could be a good thing for all

By Andrea Bonior
Andrea Bonior
Andrea Bonior (that's BONN-yer!) is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and writer. She completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology focusing on individual and group psychotherapy for young adults and specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression.

Q: We’d always talked about my mother-in-law moving to the area when she retires. I would welcome that. But now my wife says she wants her to live with us for the rest of her life. My wife says it doesn’t make financial sense for her to get her own place, that she can help us more with the kids that way, and that we owe it to her. But she’s healthy and could live another 30 years! And our house is very small. I’m floored by this.

Is something going on that’s putting this on your wife’s front burner? (Child-care frustrations, a health scare for Mom, a change in her retirement timeline?)

Perhaps in the ensuing months as she thinks things through, her views will change. When the time does come to discuss it – and it should be before that moving van is booked, of course – you should express what you told me. You want her mom close by, but there are many gradations of what “close by” can mean, and you want to make the best choice for all of you. Added brownie points: Be willing to explore those gradations – an English basement of a larger house, for instance.

Q: I have a neighborhood friend who will not stop complaining about her husband all of the time. We are not that close, and I don’t want to be, because she is constantly so negative about this, and I feel like she needs to tell it to a therapist, not me (just her neighbor). I know her husband and he seems fine, so I’m tired of being put in this situation. How do I tell her to cool it?

I’m sure you’ve found that “Oh, he can’t be that bad” or “You should hear what MY husband does!” only add fuel to her fire. So, just disengage. Literally say nothing, or change the topic, denying her the positive reinforcement she so craves.

I should add, though, that looks can be deceiving. Is there any chance at all that she is in an abusive relationship? Or is this more of the garden-variety “My husband blows his nose in dirty laundry“? Either way, you’d do her some good to suggest counseling. Suggested wording: “A friend of mine was going through similar stuff, and she started seeing a therapist and found it to be a big help.” (Hey, imaginary friends are great fun.)

Andrea Bonior is a clinical psychologist and author of “The Friendship Fix.” www.drandreabonior.com.
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