Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Readers Describe Greedy In-Laws, Ask Advice

February 21, 2006

Dear Dr. Farmer: My husband and I are both in our late-fifties. My husband's parents are in their mid-eighties and only last year did they sell their farmland to him. We partnered with them for years in a relationship that was so one-sided and unfair that it benefitted them totally, leaving us in the cold.

My husband was essentially their slave and he trusted them to treat him right, which they never did. They took advantage of his good nature and work ethic. Only when I threatened to leave did he muster the courage to confront them and demand change.

He has passed up several opportunities to buy land in the neighborhood in prior years for a fraction of the price he just paid per acre. I encouraged him to buy these parcels but he said the price was too high and he was saving to buy his parents' land. We thought every year they might do it, especially when their friends and neighbors started getting sick and dying. Nothing made any difference.

The trust my husband placed in his parents doing right by him has been undeserved and repeatedly spurned yet even today he defends and makes excuses for them. It's like he can't quite cut the proverbial apron strings.

They are the most selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed people I have ever met. They have a sense of entitlement and feel the world revolves around them. We felt they must think they are never going to die or else somehow they would take their land with them when they go.

I love my husband but can look back on those unhappy years and realize that our problems would have been minimized had we had balance to our lives. There was nothing but work despite my pleadings.

He somehow felt a greater responsibility toward pleasing his parents than to the children and me. A rift in our marriage has been created that I don't think will ever be mended. The hurt, anger, bitterness and resentment festered for years.

If children weren't involved there would have certainly been a divorce. I have not had my needs met almost from day one of our marriage and I deserved better. He doesn't get all his needs met from me anymore and though a part of me feels guilty, a part also, feels he deserves so much more.

I would like to enjoy the rest of my life but don't know how or where to begin. I would like to experience the wonderful feelings of falling in love again and it would be so nice if it were with my husband. My fear is that we are both vulnerable and either one could end up, under the right circumstances, with someone else. Neither of us wants that.

So, where do we go from here? A fan who wishes to remain anonymous.

Dear Anonymous Fan, you are smart to address your vulnerability before mistakes are made. Approach your husband and share your concerns.

The rift you’ve been talking about needs to be mended. Really listen and hear each other, give meaningful apologies and be forgiving of each other.

You need get on the same side, or agree to disagree when it comes to the in-laws. What has happened has happened and you have your land. It is time to let go of the past and move ahead with your own private world without letting the in-laws past or current behavior disturb your happiness.

You need to reestablish emotional and physical intimacy. You need to enjoy each other’s company and have fun together. You may need to have a counselor guide you through this process.

Hello Dr. Farmer: My husband grew up on the farm and has worked very hard from a young age. That is not a bad thing mind you but it bothers him greatly that he was yelled at a lot, never praised, never hugged or told I LOVE YOU. He was never read to and can't recite one single nursery rhyme. He is however very affectionate and loving toward me and our kids.

In the 80's his parents almost lost everything. The bank froze all assets and accounts and even set up an auction to sell equipment.

My husband quit his good job and took out a loan to buy back what was being sold. He was determined to help them. Now they are retired in town. While we struggle to keep afloat these days with interest and lousy prices, they brag about their debt free life and their millions.

Just before the holidays they arrived with smiles on their faces to inform us that our ground rent was being raised thousands of dollars. (We rent part of the farm from them.)

I would value your opinion on this type of behavior. My husband is a truly wonderful person and very well liked in the community. It hurts to have seen him actually shed tears over this. Standing By My Man.

Dear Standing By My Man, Keep standing beside him. If you are happy together and have what you need, let go of the lack of fairness or gratitude that you are not likely to get anyway. Live independently from them and put up an emotional wall so they can’t hurt you more.

A second choice would be to confront them about the help they were given and challenge them on the unfair rent. Maybe they will see the light.