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My mother-in-law is a demon. Help!

April 12, 2013, at 9:00 AM

Dear Starshine,

I haven't spoken to my drama-queen mother-in-law for nearly three years. It dates back to the time she visited my husband and me when we had been married for two years, and told him that I was using him, that she didn't think I had ever loved him, and that he should divorce me and come live with her. She claimed that his old high-school job was waiting for him, and that she had remodeled his old room. Now whenever my in-laws visit, I go home to see my family. My husband still visits his parents at their home a few times a year without me. He thinks I should just get over it and try to make up with his mother. I'm still disappointed that he didn't defend me to her, and I don't think I should just overlook her desire to end our marriage, or pretend it never happened. This woman is such trouble that her own mother, sister, and two step-daughters won't have anything to do with her. Am I being stubborn?

Of course you're being stubborn. You're working hard to be stubborn. But that doesn't mean she's not a deranged dragon lady.

Presuming that she was wrong here — that you're not using your husband, you do love him, and he shouldn't divorce you — she seems to be a lonely shrew with control issues.  

Do not run and hide from this woman. Do not give her that power. Don't let her dictate who travels where and when in your family. Your husband ignored her ridiculous rant; surely you can find a way to do the same.

Start by remembering that she's a human being, flawed and sad. And that you have something in common: A deep appreciation and love for the guy she brought into this world, and you ended up marrying. Delusional as she may be now, she had an undeniable role in making your husband into the man that you love. 

But do this one other thing for me, will you? Tell your beloved spouse that if he fails to defend you the next time his mother speaks ill of you, you know an empty bedroom that he can have all to himself.

**

Dear Starshine,

My youngest brother is smart, funny, talented, creative... and a loser. He hasn't had a job in more than a year and despite all his talents and smarts, he doesn't seem too anxious to get one. I've lent him money, my mom has lent him money — and both of us have promised that we will not loan him any more. Now he's been evicted from his condo, and I fear he'll ask to move in with me. I love him dearly and want to be a good sister, but I do NOT want a roommate, especially one who is so much trouble! If he asks, how do I tell him no without feeling horribly guilty, or making him resent me?

When even a guy's mother won't loan him money, he's pushed the pity button one too many times. 

Now, when life aims a firehose at your face, you ought to be able to count on your siblings to help you up and hand you a towel. But you did that part already. Don't keep doing it. 

You want to be supportive, right? Repeatedly rescuing a capable guy from the discomfort of his poor choices (hey, they don't call this Tough Love for nothing) isn't supportive of Productive Member of Society Bro. It's supportive of Leech Bro. Lazy Bro. Loser Bro.

You can be a role model for the guy without being an innkeeper for him. If he asks to move in with you, unapologetically say, "No, that won't work for me." Show him that when you support yourself, you get to make all kinds of fun choices about the way you live.

Help him by giving him your time, if you like: Sit with him and map out a job-search strategy. Introduce him to people you know are hiring. Send him job postings that look perfect for a smart, talented… er… former freeloader. 

I wouldn't worry about the resentment issue. You have to work hard to resent someone who once loaned you cash — and hard work really isn't his thing.

Send me your dilemmas via email: ToughLove@TheWeek.com. And follow me on Twitter: @ToughLoveAdvice

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