Dear Stasia:

Now, tell me, how do I get rid of my mother-in-law? As in “get out of my life and leave me alone.” She’s bipolar and is supposed to take anti-depressants, but she doesn’t. She treats everyone with the same disrespect. She lives her life thinking that everyone owes her something. That people wouldn’t be where they are had it not been for her. She talks about people to others, just to be liked. She always plays the victim. I’ve always found it weird that she praises herself, always telling us how much other people love her.

Her ex-husband left her for a younger woman whom he continues to be married to and has another child with. She always says he was the love of her life. She used to tell me that my husband was going to do the same thing, because he was just like his dad. It’s like she hates the fact that he is faithful, a good father and does not leave my side. I can’t imagine growing up with a mother like that.

She is verbally and physically abusive. I saw her run after my husband, a grown man, with a knife. She tried to beat me up last weekend. He pulls her away but that’s all. Gets in the middle but doesn’t say anything! After that last incident we had, I went off and told her exactly what I thought of her. She isn’t someone you can sit and have a conversation with. She goes into a rage any time anyone confronts her. My sister in law is just as fed up with her as we are. I mean – it’s his mother! Do you think a man will ever turn his back on his mother?? And is it right for me to even want him to? Help, Confused

Dear Confused:

Your mother-in-law has “a mental illness classified by psychiatry as a mood disorder.” She needs proper medical care and treatment from a Licensed Medical Professional. Otherwise you are up creek without a paddle. Mason Cooley’s once said, “rescue someone unwilling to look after himself, and he will cling to you like a dangerous illness.”

I reached out, to Ms. Andrea Schultz Kahrs, MFTI, for her professional advice. This will hopefully help put your mother-in-law’s mood disorder into a more manageable perspective.

”There are a few different types of Bipolar: Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Cyclothymic disorder, Bipolar disorder NOS. It would help if it were known which one fit the mother-in-law. Each type is a mixture of different phases a patient goes through. Depending on which type of Bipolar the mom in law has the treatment will be different. If the diagnosis is Bipolar 1 then “just” taking antidepressants can hurt more than help. The anti depressants can make a Bipolar 1 mood swings more exaggerated. A manic phase is bad enough; it doesn’t need to have an extra boost to make it more intense.

Is the mom in law self-medicating with other drugs or alcohol? Many people with mental illness self medicate to take the edge off, or just help them escape their world. If the mom in law is addicted to some other medication then her behavior will also be affected. Often times an addict takes the approach that “they are owed” or that “they are special and deserve special treatment”, etc.

Bipolar patients often sense when others around them are anxious or fearful of them. Their behaviors may be a response to the tension around them. Often times the patient’s behavior itself is a symptom of the illness. Consider familiarizing yourself with the illness, and it’s symptoms. This illness requires tons of patience and compassion.

If the mom in law is violent then it’s possible she may need to go into treatment. Most hospitals have a floor dedicated for mental illness or specialized facilities exist that handle treatment for Bipolar patients. However, these can vary on how expensive they are. Let me just repeat the words patience, compassion, and education about bipolar behavior. These are all key.”

There are a number of online communities that can help you feel part of a larger group that discusses the ups and downs of living with a bipolar mother and mother-in-law.

These sites are full of helpful stories and compassionate replies by others going through a similar situation.

I’d like to flip this whole conversation around for a second and give you another perspective. I’m not going to sugar coat it or I’d be amiss. This is how I see this unfolding…

As long as your mother-in-law’s mental illness remains unchecked and boundaries are not set, you will likely continue to but heads with your husband, and you will wonder if she will come after you with a knife next time. You will be uncertain if he will stand up for you when she has another episode, and ultimately you will still be up that creek without a paddle.

Know that none of this drama can be fixed or has anything to do with you questioning or wanting him to turn his back on his mother. The truth is he lost his mother a long time ago – to a mood disorder called Bipolar, and one she is unwilling to face. Do not ask him to turn his back on her, she is his mother, well or ill.

What I sense is you want your life back, you want your marriage back on track, you want to feel protected, and you want the people in your life to face this once and for all.

It would benefit your husband to realize that when he married you, you became his family, and his mother became his extended family. He must also realize that he cannot fix her, he cannot save her, and most importantly – it is not his job to do so.

On the flip side, it is his job to take care of you, and to make you his top priority (and he yours). It is also his job to protect you from her illness, and therein should lie his focus. At some point, you two will have to set a non-negotiable ultimatum; she gets help or you two will disengage during her episodes.

If you have already decided you want nothing more to do with her, then it is your job to be kind to him when he wants to visit her. Do not give him a hard time, and do not pick fights. Let him go to her home so he may keep her out of yours; that is him protecting you.

Let’s go back to the words of Mason Cooley, “rescue someone unwilling to look after himself, and he will cling to you like a dangerous illness.” Be strong. Good Luck!

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