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My mother-in-law has some form of mental illness—undiagnosed, since she refuses to seek professional help. She is paranoid and delusional. My husband and his brothers assist her with bills and fixing things around her house, but she drives them crazy with her accusations and poor decisions. One day, she will call screaming that they broke into her house and stole three spoons. The next, she will call begging for them to pay her gas bill because she spent all her money on plastic surgery. A year and a half ago, she called the police, claiming our 4-month-old daughter was being abused. The police showed up one night to investigate the "dent" in the back of our daughter's head—soon realizing it was just a flat spot common in infants who sleep on their backs. It broke my heart to see the officers standing over my daughter's crib shining flashlights looking for injuries. I told my husband that his mother was no longer permitted to see our daughter until she got help. She now calls my husband daily to demand to see her only grandchild. My husband reminds her of the terms, but she refuses to seek help. My husband is sad that our daughter is so close to my parents yet doesn't even know his. Last night, he asked me if he could take our daughter just to visit his mother. I hate seeing my husband so down about this, but I can't bring myself to agree. We are expecting our second child this spring, and I have no intention of allowing her to see him, either. Am I being unreasonable and overprotective of my family?
The entire country has recently seen the horror that can result from untreated mental illness. Thank goodness few of the untreated mentally ill become dangerous—and people who do receive treatment can lead stable, productive lives. But you have experienced the havoc severe, undiagnosed mental illness can wreak. The Catch-22 is that often one of the delusions of the mentally ill is that they are fine—it's everyone else who's crazy. Tragically, our system favors letting the sick have the freedom of their delusions, which in the end is not freedom, but a kind of life sentence. However, your mother-in-law doesn't sound so psychotic that she is unable to understand her actions have consequences. She is not responsible for having her illness, but she is responsible for what she does about it. Her obligation is to listen to the loved ones who have told her she needs help. It would be worth it for your husband and his brothers to get the assistance of mental-health professionals to guide the family in how to get her evaluation and treatment. Their lives will be better if she is on proper medication. But in the absence of her agreeing to this, I totally concur with your ban. You are very lucky the police realized that her charges of child abuse were baseless. Because of your mother-in-law's ravings you ran a real risk of having your baby at least temporarily taken from you. It's perfectly understandable your husband feels stricken by the current situation, but his mother is too volatile to be trusted to have contact with your children.
Dear Prudence: Smothering Friend
My husband is running for mayor of our small city against a popular incumbent. Unfortunately, this man is not above going negative; his campaign has dug up the fact that my husband and I started dating while I was separated, but not yet divorced, from my ex-husband. We live in a very conservative area, and despite all of the economic problems the city is facing, it looks as if this will become an issue in the election this spring. We have suffered quite a few hateful remarks in public already, and I'm afraid the harassment will multiply. My husband is a real soldier in facing this, but I'm not sure how much more I can handle, and I'm considering asking him to drop out of the race. On the other hand, the party leaders have shown tremendous support for my husband, and people have donated countless hours of their time. I'm not sure whether my hurt should outweigh the hard work of my husband and his supporters, but I'm also not sure how long I can stand this.
Remind me again why so many good people turn away from politics. Perhaps you can gain some strength from knowing you and your husband have done nothing wrong, and that caving in just encourages this kind of vitriol. Your husband can deal with this head-on by saying something like: "My opponent can say what he likes about me, but I will not stand for him smearing my wife. Meeting Mary is the best thing to ever happen to me. Given the serious problems that face Bedford Falls, if my opponent thinks the biggest issue before us is my courtship of my wife, then that's the best argument possible for getting new leadership." The election is only a few months away. I know it seems hard, but try to keep in perspective the ludicrousness of attacking you because you were dating while you were legally separated. No matter how conservative your town is, fortunately you can't be buried in the sand and stoned for this. Stand proud, stick it out, and let your example embarrass the small-minded.
I am a divorced male attorney in my 40s. I never intend to marry again but wish to enjoy serially monogamous, sexually active relationships. My most recent emotional and sexual relationship with an age-appropriate female was enjoyable for both parties. However, on a recent date she demurred from having sex as she was in the middle of a genital herpes outbreak. As she had never mentioned this condition during the first 10 or so times we had sex, I was considerably taken aback. We finished the evening on friendly terms, but this woman had omitted a significant aspect of her health and knowingly risked exposing me to an incurable virus. I have come to learn that herpes is very common, and it cannot be easily prevented with a condom (which I use religiously). There is a very good chance that I will encounter another potential sexual partner with this condition. How can I broach the subject of sexual health in a way that is socially acceptable, not presumptive, and most importantly, can elicit a truthful response?
Before you bed your next age-appropriate female for some serially monogamous fun, you could draw up a contract in which you outline your desire not to contract any sexually transmitted diseases and ask the object of your desire to disclose her sexual health status. You can stipulate that for evidentiary purposes you would like the medical records from her gynecologist. Actually, counselor, it's not only appropriate, but it's sensible to have a sexual history discussion. It's not sexy, and it's not romantic, but then again, neither are STDs. It's a lot better to discuss this before you have someone say, as you bask in a post-coital glow: "I'm starting to feel really itchy. I hope it's not herpes again!" The woman you have been dating was guilty of a serious sin of omission—a decent person discloses that she's a carrier in order to give a potential partner the opportunity to stay in the uninfected group. (Keep in mind that while it's true that condoms do not absolutely prevent herpes transmission, they are useful.) Of course this is not a discussion you have on a first date. When it's clear where your relationship is heading, but before you drop your trousers, you need to say something like: "I feel awkward bringing this up. But I'm hoping that the history of our sexual health will become relevant, so I wanted to discuss this with you." It's easy for you to reveal you religiously use a condom and are disease-free. There is no guarantee that any woman won't lie, but by making the discussion comfortable, you increase the chances of getting a true confession.
After our wedding, our new puppy managed to chew up one of our wedding checks. We told the giver, who said he would write us another check. He never did, and we feel uncomfortable asking again. Do we send a thank-you note for money we didn't receive?
—Thankful for Nothing
A teacher can't grade the homework that was eaten by the dog until the student does the homework again. You told your friend about the gnawed check, and he didn't replace it. To write a thank-you card would surely be seen as a solicitation for money. If a check's not forthcoming, just consider that one expensive dog treat, and let it go.
More Dear Prudence Columns
"A Cornucopia of Crises: Prudie takes on Thanksgiving quandaries involving uninvited guests, the ghosts of holidays past, and exiled smokers." Posted Nov. 18, 2010.
"Bob & Carol & Ted & Malice: My parents' swinger friends are trying to blackmail our family after Mom and Dad's tragic deaths." Posted Sept. 30, 2010.
"No Debt of Gratitude: I borrowed cash from Dad to care for my dying mom. Now he's demanding payback." Posted Aug. 12, 2010.
"Dirty Pretty Things: My girlfriend has worn the same undergarment for weeks. Isn't that disgusting?" Posted Aug. 27, 2009.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
"The Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving: Prudie counsels readers on Turkey Day predicaments, such as flying solo for the holiday, hosting irritating in-laws, and attending multiple dinners. Posted Nov. 22, 2010.
"Baby Mama Drama: Prudie counsels a sleuth who uncovered a baby-trap scheme—and other advice-seekers." Posted Nov. 1, 2010.
"The Family That Bathes Together: Prudie counsels a mother who wonders when the time is right to stop bathing with her little boy." Posted Oct. 12, 2010.
"Help! I'm Too Hot for My Age: Prudie counsels a woman whose youthful looks bring her nothing but problems—and other advice seekers." Posted Feb. 8, 2010.
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