Controlling Man Is Breaking Mother-in-Law’s Heart

By Amy Dickinson | August 18th, 2023

And he’s using his daughter as the pawn

A middle-aged man and older woman smiling at each other over outdoor dinner and glasses of red wine. Image by motortion. For article, Her son-in-law uses her granddaughter as a pawn, refusing to let them get together. What does “Ask Amy” advise for this controlling man?

Her son-in-law is using her granddaughter as a pawn, refusing to let them spend any time together. Why? Because he doesn’t like his mother-in-law dating his brother. What does Amy Dickinson of “Ask Amy” advise for dealing with this controlling man?

Dear Amy,

I am an older woman who fell in love with a man 17 years younger than me. I love this man with everything I have. We met about five years ago at my home during Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately for us, his brother is married to my daughter. I have practically raised their daughter from infancy; she’s going into second grade this year.

When my boyfriend and I started seeing each other, my son-in-law decided he would punish me by keeping my granddaughter away from me. (She was four at the time.)

The pressure and pain I endured was overwhelming and I broke up with the first man I’ve ever loved, who I was completely comfortable with, in order to spend time with my granddaughter.

Then, last year, my guy and I reunited. I love him more every day, but the same thing happened again – my granddaughter wasn’t allowed to come to my home anymore and my son-in-law treats me like dirt.

So we broke up again because the pain is almost unbearable for both of us.

I would like your thoughts on this, please, because I need help.

I don’t want to live a miserable life without the love of my life.

– Heartbroken

Dear Heartbroken:

I’m going to take it as a given that your partner doesn’t present any risks to your granddaughter, and that your son-in-law’s treatment of you is a reflection of the rage he feels at his perception that you are encroaching upon his family.

Nowhere here do you mention your daughter, who is married to this controlling and abusive man.

He is managing to control the lives of four people: his wife, his brother, you, and your granddaughter.

Perhaps it’s time that someone stood up to him.

You can’t stand up to him if your heart is aching and breaking, and so you will have to train yourself to withstand the consequent separation. It might help if you see your own choice as sending a strong message to both your daughter and granddaughter: “I won’t let him control me.”

Live your life. A counselor could help you and your partner to navigate the anxiety you feel.

You should also consult with a lawyer. In my state, grandparents can file a legal petition for visitation, as long as it is “in the child’s best interests.”

You would seem to fit the basic criteria:

  • “They [grandparent/s] had a substantial relationship with the grandchild.”
  • “The parents have prevented them from having a relationship with the grandchild.”

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

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 – ranging from dealing with a controlling man to dark family secrets and DNA surprises. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

©2023 by Amy Dickinson

More from Boomer