Question:I have a relationship problem with my mother-in-law. She is a mean-spirited person who verbally abuses me and others. She also tries to come between my husband and I. She is wealthy and controls others with her money. My husband and his brother are so controlled by her. They will do or say anything just to keep her happy, at the expense of causing marital problems with their spouses. I have responded by staying away from her for a year. I decided to email her and ask if we could put the past in the past. She answered back with the same kind of verbal abuse I have been receiving from her for 20 years. What is your advice from a Christian standpoint? Should I forgive her and just stay away?
Thank you for your candor. You are not alone. Many women find themselves in similar situations and either choose to live silently with the relationship the way it is or to return attack for attack. Neither are good choices since no one wins and the pain continues. There comes a time as well, when the husband must choose who he will support. In this case, he needs to choose to defend you. When he married you, he left his family of origin and began a new family of his own. Scripture calls this 'leaving his father and mother and uniting with his wife to become one flesh.' Becoming one flesh is not merely a physical act. It is also forming a bond with his wife that is now stronger than the one with his mother. I encourage you to talk openly and honestly with your husband about this aspect of your relationship. It sounds like there may be some resistance on his part to release from the grip of his mother, but that needs to happen for the sake of your marriage.
Regarding your own relationship with her, I will offer two scenarios. The first is that you make the effort to offer forgiveness and reconciliation. Be specific with her about the pain you have received as well as have inflicted. Ask for forgiveness, offer her your forgivenes,s and then go on. Now the responsibility lies with her and that is something you cannot control. She may choose to move forward with you or not. But, you have done what is right in the eyes of God.
The second scenario is what is called "The Little Way" and comes from a story of two nuns who lived together in a communal setting. The older nun greatly disliked the younger nun and life was miserable for them both. However, the older nun decided to practice what she called "The Little Way" which involved doing small acts of kindness toward the younger nun. Over the course of time, these acts of kindness became like second nature and the relationship improved. When the older nun passed away, the younger nun referred to her as her best friend. Was it because they had a natural affinity toward each other? No. It was because of a choice the older nun made to do random acts of kindness toward the one she disliked so much. Psychologists refer to this as 'action comes before feeling.' When we act kindly or lovingly toward someone in a deliberate attempt to improve the relationship, the feeling will eventually follow.
I cannot guarantee either of these will work. Some people are just difficult to love. In fact, some people do all they can to make sure others stay away. They do this to protect themselves from the pain of previous experiences, the pain of loss or fear of allowing someone close to them. Whatever the reason is in your situation, only she knows. However, I encourage you to not allow her to control your feelings or your marriage. Talk with your husband, develop a plan on how to handle her negativity and stick together.
Blessings to you as you navigate this journey.