Did You Hear the One About My Mother-In-Law?
Dear Dr. Hurd,
After my boyfriend and I got married in Washington, D.C., we played host to his mother who visited us from Germany. She is, shall we say, not shy about expressing her opinions, and apparently she was less than impressed with the fact that I am currently “between jobs” (I consider myself an entrepreneur and I’m waiting for the perfect opportunity…). Anyway, at one point (after having been here only two days), she called me a “lazy bum!” (She did so out of my presence, but he told me about it). Should I be mad at her? And if so, what should I do?
Dr. Hurd replies,
My first question is this: Why does your mother-in-law feel comfortable saying these things? Secondly: Why do you even know of this?
To tell you the truth, the answer to both questions is pretty simple: It’s because your boyfriend feels this way. If he didn’t, he would have disagreed with her and would have rushed to your defense. You would probably have never known he defended you, and that would have been the end of that. Instead, he made a point of telling you what she said. Interesting.
I suggest you approach your boyfriend and say to him, “I wonder why your mother felt comfortable making those comments. Did you defend me? Or do you think she has a point?” Maybe he’s just shy speaking up to her. That’s another problem entirely, and you and he can work to make him more comfortable telling her she’s out of bounds. And you’ll know that he’s ready to defend you.
On the other hand (there’s always another hand, isn’t there?), if the painful truth turns out to be that she’s reflecting complaints about you that she hears from him, well, that’s something you need to know. You and your boyfriend have to get that out in the open. It might be painful, but it’s better to face it head-on than to have it emerge down the road when the two of you are even more emotionally (or financially) intertwined.
You ought to be angry at your mother-in-law, but not nearly as much as your boyfriend should be. She insulted the man he loves. Loving mothers don’t do that. Controlling ones do, but control is not the same as love. Feel free to point that out to her, or better yet, encourage him to do so.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’ve been going through some “issues” lately (being a single lesbian, work stress, etc.), but I’m afraid to go to a therapist. My family insists that I need some sort of medication (none of them take any) and I’m afraid that some therapist is going to make me take pills. My problems are not that big a deal, but I could use an objective opinion from somebody whom I can trust to not whip out a prescription pad. Tell me what to do.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Let’s start with your family members’ insistence that you take medication. Does anyone in your family have medical or psychiatric credentials? Does anyone in your family have personal experience with medication that has been positive? (Even if that’s true, medication that helped another will not necessarily help you.) I will assume the answer to both of these is “no."
For every anxiety/depression medication on the market, I can think of perhaps one person who felt some benefit from it, and at least half a dozen who didn’t. Medication for emotional maladies is not an exact science, in spite of what the syrupy drug company commercials want you to believe.
Interestingly enough, most people who believe that psychiatric medication does more than it actually does are those that have never taken any. I’m here to tell you that neither medication—nor therapy, for that matter—can change reality. How you approach reality is up to you. Therapy can guide and support you, but cannot “make you better” with no effort on your part. If it could, therapy would be a lot more popular (and expensive) than it is. I tell my clients that I’m their mental “personal trainer,” helping them to adopt more rational attitudes and beliefs so their life will be better. I can’t make them do it, but I can train anybody who’s willing to be trained.
I’m not going to tell you, in an advice column, to take or not take medication. You’re going to have to rely on your own best judgment. You’re the only person who’s with yourself 24/7. A good therapist will first talk things out with you, then you’ll both take it from there. If you don’t want a therapist to tell you to pop pills, then simply tell him or her. Note that a therapist usually holds a Ph.D. or a Master’s degree (not an M.D.), and cannot prescribe drugs anyway. If you go to a competent therapist you’re going to talk, not take medicine. And he or she will not try to make you do what you don’t want to do. If they do, back away slowly and stop payment on your check.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to DrHurd@DrHurd.com.