Dear Pearls,

I have struggled to have a relationship with my mother-in-law since I met her. She tends to be manipulative, unkind, and judgmental. On many occasions, she has told me who I am not and what I should be, that I am undeserving of her son, and how I am not a good wife. She also tells my husband the same things about me in an attempt to pit him against me. My husband is a strong man and does not tolerate that from her, but he does see it as my duty to create and maintain a friendship with her regardless of her treatment of me. I feel that if she wants to have a real friendship, she should make the effort to treat me kindly. I want to respect my husband and be able to show love and compassion to his mom, but I also do not want to be abused by her. It is hard to believe the one thing in my marriage that brings me sadness is my mother-in-law. What are your thoughts?

Michael Answers:

What are my thoughts? I am thinking, “What a wimp!” No one should be abused, but some people just ask for it. You are asking to be treated with contempt because you do not stand tall with dignity. You cower and ask your husband to defend you. If he does take action to defend you, she will just express more contempt for your pitiful weakness.

As I was reading your comments, I was thinking a woman who would treat another human being with contempt could do so only from a heart that is dark and troubled.

My advice to you is to determine to stand up to her tongue and put out the fire with kind, loving rejection and disregard for her ugliness. Treat her as an unruly child who needs a firm hand—firm, but not hard. She must feel her littleness in the shadow of your strength. It will be quite appropriate for you to calmly tell her, “You have personal issues that you need to deal with, and I would appreciate it if you would not come into my house with a critical spirit.” Say to her, “I am a great wife and your son is lucky to have me.” When she says you are not what you should be, tell her, “Maybe not, but I do not have a critical spirit as do you, and God is helping me do better; let’s pray and ask him to help you not be so critical and mean-spirited.”

Remember to pray for her daily. Ask God to humble her, and ask him to give you the courage to not be offended by her littleness. When you can smile with pity at her criticisms, she loses her power and her words will no longer matter to you. Only then will you be able to minister to her needs.

In my book, Created to Need a Help Meet, I have a whole chapter on this subject. Your husband needs to read it.

Leave and Cleave

Dear Mike and Debi,

The love of my life and I got married about four months ago. We are happy as larks and are reaping the heavenly fruits of marriage. Life really cannot get any better. I love him so much, and I want to be everything I can for him. My world revolves around him and I want it to be that way. But it seems that others simply don’t understand my infatuation with him or think it is a good thing.

I’m writing to ask you what is proper as far as leaving and cleaving. I don’t know if I am going overboard or not. When I married, I moved a few states away from my family. Although my parents are thrilled with my choice of a husband, the distance between us is very hard for them. If I don’t call, she feels like I don’t love them or miss them. She needs constant reassuring that I do miss them.

It’s not that I don’t love or miss them, I do. I’m just very involved being a wife and, bottom line, that’s where my attention lies. I don’t have a pressing need to call my friends and family any more. My need is my husband. But is it wrong for me to “leave” so thoroughly? Should I be reassuring them with regular ties? Is there such a thing as cutting the apron strings too much?

Totally in LOVE,
Happy Wife

Dear Happy Wife,

Someday you will have a daughter and will invest the greater part of your adult life in raising her. You will be her entire life for about 20 years. You will be her best friend, meeting a need in her that is deep and abiding. This is the perspective from which your mother looks at you. Then one day, to make you even happier, she was delighted to give you away in marriage, but she didn’t really want to give you away; she just wanted to expand her family—her love circle—adding a son and lots of new babies. And then poof! You’re gone. Her best friend is gone. Her days were organized around you, and now they are empty. You belong to another. You look to someone else to have your needs fulfilled, but she hasn’t traded one close bond for another—she is just alone and empty. She wants to share your joy. She knows better, but that doesn’t change the way she feels.

She weaned you once. Now you must wean her. Let her down easy. Give her time to organize her life around other people and other things. Tell her you will call on a certain day every week and talk for an hour. It will help her if you will occasionally call for advice on any issue. Let her know she is valued for her wisdom. In short, let her know she is significant to you.

But at the same time, never allow the family you have left, come between you and your husband. You should indeed “leave and cleave.” Again, my book, Created to NEED a Help Meet, deals with this subject from the man’s perspective.

What Does “Cleave” Mean?

Following is a little Bible study on the word cleave:

Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Cleave is an interesting word in Hebrew. It is dabaq and is used 54 times. Thirty-two times it is translated “cleave” in the English; five times it is translated “follow hard,” meaning someone is running and the other person is pursuing them, very intent on catching them and is right behind them, will not slacken his pace, and is near to grabbing them, stays with them, won’t let the person out of his sight, following hard after them. It is translated “overtake” three times, connoting that the pursuer followed after until he came along beside the person. Then it is translated “stick” three times as in two things sticking together. It is translated “keep fast,” don’t turn it loose. Then it is translated “together” two times, “abide,” as in stay there, one time, then “close” one time, “enjoined” one time, “pursued” one time, then “take” one time. So if we take all these together, what could we sum them up as? Cleave unto your wife means stay close together, be inseparable. It means mingle, follow hard, stay very close by, keep fast, hold on to, don’t turn loose, be near to your woman. So God commanded that man was to leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife only.

“That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him …” (Deuteronomy 30:20). That is that same Hebrew word dabaq. Just as we are commanded to cleave to God, God commands us to cleave to our wife. It’s a sacred and a holy thing, the same word used with both God and wife, equating our passion for our wife with our passion for God.

The next two questions and answers are taken from Mike’s new book, Created to NEED a Help Meet.

Honor to Whom Honor Is Due

Dear Pearls,

How do we set boundaries gently while maintaining relationship and honor with our parents? My mother-in-law redecorates my home to her liking, meddles in our finances, belittles my husband, telling him he’s foolish to spend money this way and that. My other stepmother throws fits when we aren’t “fair.” Both women want 100% loyalty and subjection from us. My mother examines the kids for bruises and marks, and uses the “examination” as a tool to threaten calling the DHS when things don’t go her way. Help us.

A Reader

Michael Answers

Dear Lady,

God tells you to submit to your husband but there is nothing in the Bible that remotely suggests you should submit to your mother-in-law, and you need not respect her any more than she respects you. When she tries to “decorate” your house, tell her you are happy with it the way it is and sweetly decline. When she insists, you insist. When she gets huffy, keep your dignity and quietly ask her to leave and not come back in your house until she is willing to respect your domain.

How could she meddle in your finances unless you give her the reigns? Gently tell her in so many kind words that it is none of her business.

As to your mother examining the kids for bruising, I do hope you are not bruising them; if you are then you are out of control and need to seek counsel. But if her threats are an attempt to intimidate you into surrendering to her will, tell her in no uncertain terms that her visiting privileges are terminated until further notice. If I had a parent or in-law that without provocation threatened to call child protection on me, I would move to a different state and not leave any forwarding address. Where are the men to allow a cantankerous old battle-ax to intimidate the family?

Mice or Men?

You won’t believe this one, but I print it because it is a common absurdity.

Dear Michael,

I am thirty years old. I would like to know when, if ever, is the authority of the old parents no longer in force over an adult son, especially if the mother is not in authority to her husband? Although I am not married, I have been on my own for many years, and I am well established in my career and ministry. My mother is a divorcee, so I have provided for her over the years. My dad has not been a part of my life for many years. Mother can be very spiritually manipulative. I have met a young woman whom I believe would make an excellent wife and mother to my children. She is not only a good choice, but she has my heart, and I believe I have hers. Her family is wonderful. They would be all for our marriage. My mother, on the other hand, does not like the idea. A while back, my mother did pick out a wife for me. She was sure this was the girl God had for me to marry. I was willing to talk to the girl’s parents, although I was not in any way attracted to her. As it turned out, the girl was already asked for and soon married. Do I, as a grown man, submit to my mother, or should she, a woman without a head, submit to me?

The Last Straw

Michael Answers

Should you submit to her or should she submit to you? Neither. There is one statement you made that I do question. You said you were a “grown man.”