Advice from Amy: A "Second Chance" Skeptic

By Amy Dickinson | September 1st, 2021

Do people deserve one – even a psychotic mother-in-law?


Mother-in-law wants a second chance Image

Dear Amy: For years, my mother-in-law “Theresa” and I have not gotten along.

I grew up with my husband (her son) and we have been happily together for eight years.

About two years ago, right before our wedding, Theresa started to call me all sorts of horrible things, called my husband even worse things, disowned him, and tried to physically hurt me at the end of the night.

I have no desire to forget the things she has done to both of us, or to reconnect with her. That particular night was just one of several terrible things she’s done.

She has physically and emotionally hurt us. She has manipulated my husband for several years, and now that he has finally started to heal after this event, Theresa reached out to him, asking if she could visit us and try to reconnect.

My husband is willing to give her another chance, but I have no desire to.

I’ve told him that he is welcome to try, despite it upsetting me, but that I will not attempt to reconnect.

However, he wants both of us to come to the same conclusion.

Am I being cruel by refusing to give her another chance?

I’d really appreciate your advice.

– On the Fence


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Dear On the Fence: I’m of the general opinion that when someone humbly asks for a second chance, they should be offered that chance – with some conditions attached to protect the emotional safety of all involved.

You don’t mention whether your mother-in-law has done this before. A master-manipulator will go back to the “second chance” storyline repeatedly. This is all part of the destabilizing process.

Recipients of this manipulative treatment eventually realize that while hope springs eternal, emotional wells do run dry.

The benefit of approaching this as a couple is that you and your husband can both have this experience with his mother at the same time, and while you will likely have different takes on what has transpired after the fact, you will at least have the opportunity to gauge your mother-in-law’s intent, her sincerity, and her prospects for success.

It is wise to put up some walls during this encounter, but don’t put up your dukes.

Children of disruptors face perennial challenges. Even if you choose to completely disengage, don’t prevent your husband from trying to have a relationship with his troublesome mother. If he does, he will need a gentle partner in his corner.


In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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