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Ask Lynn-Her Fiance’s Mother Is A Mess!


She’s ready to be a military wife, but her fiance’s scheming mother is a problem. Should she wave the white flag in the war of the family finances, or call for reinforcements? Lynn offers wise advice.

By Lynn Harris

ear Lynn,
I got engaged awhile back and since then, my fiance’s mother has caused tremendous problems. My guy is in the military, so when we got engaged he also had to fit in family time because he was going to be deployed a week later. I was fine with that and every day, he chose to spend the day with his
I’m not quite sure what she was planning on doing with that money.
family. Of course, since it was the first week of our engagement, I wanted him to spend his nights with me. He was fine with that until he talked to his mother. He ended up only spending three of the seven nights with me and the rest were spent at his mom’s house. I was livid and the two of them told me I was being selfish and immature.

I thought that at least once he was deployed she couldn’t cause too many problems from the other end of the planet. I was wrong! She tried to get him to co-sign on a $400,000 loan to build on her property before our wedding could happen later this year. I convinced him not to, though he said I was being selfish. I found out later that she couldn’t build on her land because of permit issues and she knew about it. I’m not quite sure what she was planning on doing with that money. Now she is getting divorced and trying to get him to loan her $60,000!

I know that he needs to grow up and tell his mother “no,” but if he won’t do this before our wedding over the holidays, I’m afraid of getting stuck being “the bad guy” for both of us… or worse. I thought being a military family meant it’d be the two of us traveling everywhere, but his mother is becoming a problem. How do I convince him this woman isn’t innocent and selfless and that he has to put himself and his future wife ahead of her needs without destroying our relationship?
— “Should I Stay or Should I Go” Jo

Dear Jo,
I’m going to tell you exactly want to hear: Jo, you are correct. Your (would-be) mother-in-law — in keeping with some unfortunate and usually unfair stereotypes — is going to be a serious problem for you and your marriage. In fact, based on your description, she is a crook. Your fiance definitely needs to cowboy up and tell her “no” when she makes these outrageous demands.

But here is what you don’t want to hear: you probably can’t convince him of this by yourself. If you marry Pvt. Mama’s Boy, this is what you’re going to get, and you need to decide if you can live with that or not.

It’s not that you are some powerless doormat, by the way; people shouldn’t just passively put up with whatever family craziness, or other line-crossing perpetrations, their partners bring to the table when it comes to marriage. And sometimes people who
Now, you do have some power here.
bring trouble into a relationship do end up changing, though it often takes time and effort. It’s just that you can’t base the future of this relationship — or your happiness — around the hopes and expectations that everything will be OK once he deals with his mother’s issues, or that you will be the one to finally make him do it. That’s a fool’s errand; it’s a war without end for everyone involved. It also means that, if you find yourself bailing your husband out of debtor’s prison (or discover that he’s underwritten his mother’s latest real-estate fraud) with your kids’ college fund one day, you can’t say you didn’t get plenty of warning before you married him.

Now, you do have some power here. You can tell him how you feel; say, “Do you realize how this looks? Do you realize how this feels to me? Here’s how.” And then you spell out exactly what you might hope to expect from him once you’re married: no “loans” over three figures, say, without a conversation with the financial planner you’ve hired as a couple. Let me repeat that for emphasis: as a couple. See, not because you’re “selfish” (far from it!), but because you are interested in creating a life for yourselves — which includes planning and saving for a future together. I’d be interested to see how he reacts to your requests!

Because, well, speaking of “selfish” — that’s the part of your letter that concerns me the most, even more than “$400,000 loan” for some sort of phantom property in Ohio. He called you selfish for not approving of his mother’s potentially catastrophic plot? I do not like that at all. It tells me that he is complicit in, and enabling of, his mother’s schemes — even to the point where he dismisses your opinion as both a rational person who will soon be sharing financial responsibilities with him and as an equal partner in your marriage. That is why I worry that you cannot “convince” him to put you first. So ultimately, the question isn’t what you should do about his mom; the question is: what should you do about a fiance who treats you like that? So when you talk to him, be sure to make it all about you. And really, I’d do a little pre-marriage counseling with a trained professional — someone who can help tease out the background behind his mother’s risky decision-making history and how it affects both you and your future marriage. (That is, let the counselor be “the bad guy.”) Otherwise, Jo, I fear you’ll remain outnumbered, and that you, your savings account, and your heart may get lost in a painful war of attrition.


Lynn Harris (www.lynnharris.net) is co-creator, with Chris Kalb (www.chriskalb.com), of the award-winning website BreakupGirl.net — you can visit BG's blog to discuss this letter! A longtime journalist, Lynn has written about dating, gender, and culture high and low for Glamour, Marie Claire, The New York Times, Salon.com, Nerve.com, and many others. She is currently the communications strategist for Breakthrough, a transnational organization that creates pop culture to promote human rights. Submit your own dating questions for Ask Lynn via bg@breakupgirl.net. Your question may be answered in a future column.
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