Dear Amy: My in-laws are in town. They are staying at our apartment.
Thankfully, my husband and I are able to stay at my parents’ place while my own folks are away, because our apartment is too small for four adults and three animals.
My mother-in-law is cleaning and doing our laundry at our place while we are at work.
That’s nice, but my husband isn’t single anymore and I feel uncomfortable that she’s doing that.
Also, she wants to cook him a roast and potatoes for dinner. I don’t eat either of these things, so is it rude to cook my own meal?
I feel a little overwhelmed by it all, but I can’t say anything because he hasn’t seen his parents in almost a year.
Am I being ridiculous?
Dear Wife: Yes, you are being ridiculous. But this brand of ridiculousness is often brought on by the presence of in-laws, especially when they are staying in your home.
You sleeping elsewhere is a lucky break, because your mother-in-law is trying to make herself at home – and be helpful – in your home. If you were cohabiting during this visit, your reaction about boundaries would be somewhat justified.
Cleaning and cooking are how your mother-in-law is expressing her gratitude for the visit. She is trying to mother both of you, and you would be gracious to accept her efforts.
If she wants to cook a special meal for her son, then embrace it. If you decide to eat a separate meal, then praise her efforts, tell her it looks delicious – but say, “Unfortunately, I don’t eat meat and potatoes, so I’m going to put together a little salad for myself. But I think it’s really sweet of you to do this, and I know your son is going to appreciate it.”
If later on in your relationship you find that your mother-in-law is leaping over domestic boundaries, then you should draw a firm line.
Dear Amy: My stepdaughters are 17 and 22. The separation agreement (12 years ago) specified that neither spouse could malign the other, which my husband and I upheld.
The girls’ mother has not necessarily abided by this agreement.
Now that they are old enough, should we tell them that their mom’s affair with their stepdad is the reason for their parents’ divorce – or should we just let it ride?
– Wondering Stepmother
Dear Stepmother: This is a situation where you need to ask yourself: What would be gained from gratuitously offering this information to your stepchildren?
The way you present it, your choice to disclose this seems motivated mainly by the desire to retaliate against a parent who has not abided by their agreement. But retaliation does not balance the scales. It doubles down.
It also seems as if you have held it together for 12 years and in your opinion, this no-maligning agreement has expired. It should never expire.
Now that your stepchildren are older, they may have already discerned the truth. Certainly if they ask you directly about the timeline of their parents’ breakup, they should be told the truth. They should also be corrected if they present information that is factually incorrect: “Actually, it did not happen that way…”
Any correction and/or disclosure should be delivered by their father – not you.
But the truth can be delivered without maligning the other parent.
Dear Amy: I am writing to give you some feedback about your response to “Lacking in Love,” the man who wrote about his wife in her 60s who lost her sex drive.
Your advice was generally well-founded. And your suggestion to “find ways to be physically close—without having sex” is good. But based on my 40 years of experience as a Board-Certified Sex Therapist and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, most couples in this situation (and there are many) would have a hard time bridging this gap on their own.
They could greatly benefit from seeing a couples counselor who specializes in sex therapy, and who could coach them in a number of strategies to regain some physical intimacy (with or without intercourse).
It can be a very delicate dance to re-establish closeness after a break, and working with a skilled therapist could make all the difference.
There are several good online resources to find a sex therapist, include “Find a Therapist” directory provided by Psychology Today (psychologytoday.com).
– Dr. Diana
Dear Dr. Diana: Thank you for lending your expertise to this challenging question.
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