Ask Amy: Young Woman Uncomfortable With In-Laws’ Domestic Help When They Come From Out Of Town

Dear Amy: My in-laws are in town. They live in our apartment.

Luckily my husband and I can stay with my parents while my parents are away, as our apartment is too small for four adults and three pets.

My mother-in-law cleans and does our laundry at our house while we are at work.

That’s fine, but my husband isn’t single anymore and I feel bad about her doing this.

Also, she wants to cook him a roast and potatoes for dinner. I don’t eat any of these things, so is it rude to cook my own meal?

I feel a little overwhelmed by it all, but I can’t say anything because he hasn’t seen his parents for almost a year.

Am I ridiculous?

– Young wife

Dear wife: Yes, you are ridiculous. But this mark of ridicule is often provoked by the presence of in-laws, especially when they are staying with you.

Sleeping elsewhere is lucky, because your mother-in-law is trying to settle in – and be useful – with you. If you were cohabiting during this visit, your reaction to the limits would be somewhat justified.

Cleaning and cooking is your mother-in-law’s way of expressing her gratitude for the visit. She’s trying to babysit you both, and you’d be kind if you accepted her efforts.

If she wants to cook a special meal for her son, then adopt him. If you decide to have a separate meal, praise him for his effort, tell him it looks delicious, but say, “Unfortunately, I don’t eat meat or potatoes, so I’m going to make myself a little salad. But I think it’s really nice of you to do this, and I know your son will appreciate it.

If later in your relationship you find that your mother-in-law crosses domestic boundaries, then you should draw a firm line.

Dear Amy: My stepdaughters are 17 and 22. The separation agreement (12 years ago) specified that neither spouse could slander the other, which my husband and I confirmed.

The girls’ mother did not necessarily honor this agreement.

Now that they’re old enough, should we tell them that their mother’s affair with their stepfather is the reason for their parents’ divorce – or should we just let it be?

– Wondering mother-in-law

Dear mother-in-law: This is a situation where you have to ask yourself: what would you gain by offering this information to your stepchildren for free?

The way you present it, your choice to disclose this seems motivated primarily by a desire to get revenge on a parent who broke their agreement. But retaliation does not swing the balance. He doubles.

It also looks like you’ve maintained it for 12 years, and in your opinion, this non-malicious agreement has expired. It should never expire.

Now that your stepchildren are older, they may have already discerned the truth. If they ask you directly about the timeline of their parents’ breakup, tell them the truth. They should also be corrected if they present factually incorrect information: “Actually, it didn’t happen that way…”

Any corrections and/or disclosures must be made by their father – not you.

But the truth can be delivered without slandering the other parent.

Dear Amy: I’m writing to comment on your response to ‘Lacking in Love’, the man who wrote about his wife in her 60s who lost her libido.

Your advice was generally well founded. And your suggestion of “finding ways to be physically close without having sex” is a good one. But based on my 40 years of experience as a Certified Sex Therapist and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, most couples in this situation (and there are many) would struggle to bridge that gap on their own.

They could benefit greatly from seeing a couple counselor who specializes in sex therapy and who can guide them through a number of strategies for regaining some physical intimacy (with or without intercourse).

It can be a very tricky dance to restore closeness after a break, and working with a trained therapist can make all the difference.

There are several good online resources for finding a sex therapist, including the “Find a Therapist” directory provided by Psychology Today (

– Dr. Diana

Dear Dr. Diana: Thank you for lending your expertise to this difficult question.

You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, PO Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.