Q&A: Confronting my hypochondriac mother-in-law


My mother-in-law is a lifelong hypochondriac. The doctors have told her she’s fine and most refuse to see her anymore. She’s driven my husband’s family crazy for years, and now it’s affecting our relationship. My husband says we should just ignore her behaviour, but when we do, she gets upset and calls continuously. I feel like my husband needs to confront her, but he’s afraid to rock the boat. What should we do?

Answer: This isn’t an easy situation. The frustrations and challenges you’re facing are very real. Unfortunately, hypochondriasis is more than just annoying behaviour. It’s a legitimate anxiety disorder that requires professional treatment. If this course hasn’t yet been pursued, we’d encourage your husband and his family to explore this option.

While you can’t guarantee changes in your mother-in-law’s behaviour, you do need to address the challenges it presents to your marriage. It’s critical that you and your husband approach this as a team and not just something he needs to fix. Begin by determining what you both really need and want. For you, it’s a limit on unhealthy communication with your mother-in-law. Your husband probably has the same desire, but also wants to preserve the relationship with his mum. He may fear that imposing any restriction on interactions with her will threaten that – especially since his mother may have instilled feelings of guilt at a young age about him “not being supportive.” 

Once you’ve both identified your core needs, devise and implement a solution that accommodates them. As difficult as it might be, establishing some firm boundaries with her should be a part of your plan. For direction on how to navigate this road, please call our Family Support Services at 03-3310 0792 or write to support@family.org.my.   

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