How to avoid emotional landmines with your mother-in-law

Could This Woman Become Your Best Friend?
Could This Woman Become Your Best Friend?

Son Caught Between Two Extremes

Problems with Mother-in-law: When Moving To Another Country Is Not An Option

You couldn't wait to meet the other woman in your fiancé's life. Visions of outings at the mall, gossiping over coffee and sharing each others clothes danced in your head. How could the woman who raised your brilliant beau not be a kindred spirit? If you are reading this article chances are things did not go according to your pre-nuptial fantasies. Perhaps your thoughts have taken a darker turn these days. Maybe you've considered changing your cell number, or buying real estate in Costa Rica.

If mother/daughter relationship is often fraught with drama, it is not surprising that the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law dynamic can be even more difficult. Why is it so hard to relate to the woman who raised the man in your life? How can you relate to this woman who comes from a generation so entirely unlike your own? And how do you avoid toxicity in your relationship with this woman who is, for all intents and purposes, your second mom?

Walking in a minefield could be easier than navigating the emotional terrain with a mother-in-law, but it is better to think optimistically. So in that spirit, here are a few ways to ease the frustration of this often awkward relationship:

Realize That Some Tension is Normal

When you first married it might have come as a shock to realize just how different you and your spouse were raised-even if you come from similar racial and social groups. When you married these differences were likely amplified and the friction between your beliefs and his beliefs might have been very unsettling.

The same holds true for your relationship with your mother-in-law. A little tension because of differences in background and belief is quite normal and nothing to berate yourself (or them) about. You and your in-laws will naturally see things differently. This can be a benefit in the long run as you both expand and grow in your relationship to one another.

Make Sure You and Dear Husband Are United

Even if your hubby is a mama's boy when he married you his allegiance should have changed to you. There is nothing more demoralizing for a wife than to have her husband choose his mommy over her. It is also difficult for the husband when his wife puts him in the middle of a spat with his mother.

What to do?

Communication with your husband about this topic, before and after marriage, is crucial. If at all possible try to communicate directly with your mother-in-law instead of using your husband as a go between. Refrain from being unduly negative but let your husband know if you feel he is freezing you out and has an unhealthy attachment to his mother. Only by being united as a couple can you deal with in-law issues effectively. If after you talk to him you notice that your husband is still very immature about his mother a visit to a couple’s therapist might be in order.

Give Up Being Right

Something to keep in mind when dealing with your mother-in-law is that she has a lot of emotion and expectation invested in her son. She nursed him and kissed his boo boos and counseled him in his teen years. She was there for most of his "firsts" and, psychological cliché though it is, was the first woman in his life. That, coupled with her life experience, might make her seem a bit bossy at times. She might want to tell you how her little "sweetums" likes his eggs or the best way to make a bed or dress your baby. Instead of interpreting her advice as a veiled criticism, even if it is, take a deep breath and thank her for her efforts. Choose to see her assertions and advice as well meaning by thanking her for her opinion. This does not mean you must or should agree to her advice. Remember: Everyone likes a dose of appreciation now and then.

If you want her to listen to you it might be wise to let her know that you can also listen to her. Sometimes all a person wants is some validation that they still matter, which can be especially difficult for a mother who has entered the empty nest phase of life.

Kindly Delineate Boundaries

If you don't establish healthy boundaries in your relationship with your mother-in-law she may never realize certain things she does are inappropriate. As a couple you and your husband should decide how you want to integrate your mother-in-law into your lives. Communicating your needs with your mother-in-law can be done in a kindly manner; feathers may be ruffled but things will often straighten out in the end. Allowing for a healthy give and take is essential in order to foster good communication and the possibility of future friendship.

An example of bad boundaries: Your mother-in-law decides to rearrange your house when you are gone and she is babysitting. In order to stop such behavior in the future you need to let her know, in a nice way, that you would prefer it if she would check with you first before she tidies up your food cabinets or moves your sofa. Good boundaries are formed when both families have mutual respect and consideration and, most importantly, ask how the other party feels about things before they do them.

Parents who consider their children extensions of themselves or think they "own" their children have a very difficult time giving their adult kids the space to individuate and create boundaries. If this is the case in your situation try to have a firm but loving talk about your expectations for the relationship. Tell your mother-in-law how you love and respect her, but make it clear that there are certain things you and your spouse will and will not tolerate.

A good book on the subject of boundaries is Martha Beveridge's Loving Your Partner Without Losing Yourself.

Consider Her Feelings

It is easy to look at the world through the narrowness of our own opinions and prejudices but when we do this it makes it harder to understand the other perspective. Sometimes the best way to bridge the gap between you and your mother-in-law is to consider her feelings. Don't talk negatively about her son to her. Don't gossip about the family with her. Be kind and considerate. Be gracious and grateful when she gives you a present or tries to connect with you. How would you feel if you were in her shoes? Empathy is a two way street and you might be amazed how different your relationship can be if you focus on her feelings and thoughts instead of your own.

Try To Bond through Similar Interests

It might seem like you and your dear mother-in-law have absolutely zilch in common. She prides herself on having been a homemaker whereas you are climbing the corporate ladder. Keep asking questions and in time there is sure to be something you have in common-even if it is only the man you both share. Ask her to show you baby pictures of your husband or tell stories from the past. Be prepared to listen and learn from her experience. And when you find something in common try to spend time together pursuing your shared interest, whether it is a girl’s day at the spa or a day riding horseback in the country. Outings to the park or zoo with the grandchildren can be also being a great way to bond with your mother-in-law.

If She Is Toxic Get outside Support

Most mother-in-law tension is normal and, with mutual respect and care, can be replaced with friendship and mutual respect. Caveat: There are some mothers-in-law who are pathologically controlling, bullying and show no respect of you or your husband's boundaries. Such mothers-in-law can go as far as to try to destroy your marriage or hurt your children. If your mother-in-law is interfering with your marriage in a negative way, and devalues you as an individual, it is important to get some outside support and perspective. She may have a personality issue such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder or suffer from another psychological issue. There are several resources on the web that explore the unhealthy mother-in-law relationship. One site, maintained by Dr. Terri Apter, is called Mother-In-Law Stories (www.motherinlawstories.com). If you are having issues with your mother-in-law it helps to share your story with others who are going through similar issues.

The Founder Of motherinlawhell.com

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Comments 29 comments

LowellWriter profile image

LowellWriter 7 years ago from Lowell, MA

Definitely things to consider. Thank you for answering my request! :o)


K.D. Clement profile image

K.D. Clement 7 years ago from USA Author

You are welcome!


anjalichugh profile image

anjalichugh 7 years ago from New York

What if nothing really works?


K.D. Clement profile image

K.D. Clement 7 years ago from USA Author

Well, then I would suggest you check out the two links I provided to get some validation for your experience with your MIL. Mother in law stories is a great site.

My MIL and I have a very difficult relationship. I tried a lot of the things here but nothing much worked. Then I learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and her actions toward me and my husband made a lot of sense.

One thing I have learned with my own MIL is to let her comments roll off my back. I also moved to another country so that makes it a lot easier now! ;-) I have realized that her dislike and belittlement of me is not personal but it still hurts sometimes. I cannot control how she sees me but I CAN control how I see myself and how I react to her.


k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California

This is full of great advice! You have some really good links to go along with it. You are very right (even though you gave it up :D), you can only control how you respond to her, not how she acts to you! I think you show a great deal of love and respect to your husband in trying to deal with his mom, you have obviously given this much thought.


K.D. Clement profile image

K.D. Clement 7 years ago from USA Author

I really liked your MIL hub as well. I think I will link to it. Thank you.


queen cleopatra profile image

queen cleopatra 7 years ago

My mother-in-law is toxic. There are two reasons why I can stand her bullish attitude: one, I love my husband very much; and, two, my husband also has to deal with a bullish mother-in-law. Yes, my mother and his mother are birds of the same feather. lol.


K.D. Clement profile image

K.D. Clement 7 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for the comment. Too funny. There are always two sides to every coin... Do you ever wonder if you were attracted to each other because of your toxic parents?


jtboswell profile image

jtboswell 7 years ago

Hi,

My mother-in-law was a pain. She just didn't think I was good enough for her son. I tried to get along with her but her getting along was minding my business and trying to tell me what to do. She felt I owed her expalnations to things that really weren't her concern.  My husband took her side so I told him to choose. Me with some boundaries with mom about us or find someone else to put up with that foolishness. I know that sounds harsh but I wasn't feeling up to playing second with his mom. My mom can be toxic too but I never let her interfere in my marriage. I surely wasn't going to let him allow his mom interfere. I respected his mom but she never seemed to show me any respect. I beleive in being stress free. I love my husband but I was not having all of the drama. Now I am happily married with my hubby. I want to say to all the women who are getting ready to walk down the isle, talk to your future husbands about boundaries before they become your husbands. As for my mother in law, we are civil. I don't attend famliy functions because she insists on inviting my husband's ex spouse. If my husband wants to go, he goes alone. After a bit, he wised to the reasons why I didn't like his mom. I just wish his light would have came on sooner but better late than him being divorced again.  In-laws can ruin your marriage. Create some boundaries that way your on the same page. Because if I knew that my mother in law was toxic, I would be single....


Burungi profile image

Burungi 6 years ago

hahahaha I sometimes think that time is my friend sorry for the disrespect but my mother in law is a royal bitch.! She never owns up to my contribution. Her self righteous religious jesus freak ways need to take a step back. I swear I am tempted to say if no one is good enough for your son why the hell didn't you marry him you freak from hell but i have decided that I will not engage nor entertain nor give her the power to control me with her f'd up ways. I am not a bad woman and i sure as hell don't need her or her son to point that out I don't need them to have a meaningful existance . I didn't always have a healthy view of things so they preyed on me but I know there are other things I can do and they have not power over me

f them.


the pink umbrella profile image

the pink umbrella 6 years ago from the darkened forest deep within me.

you should definitely read my hubs. They are dripping with mother in law issues. just try and establish boundries, she is a gold medal winner when it comes to intrusion.


rimini 5 years ago

My mother in law is so rude and always try to hurt me in one way or other.i feel very upset .i have never seen such a bad person in my life.my hubbys elder brother's wife has left the house already ,and his second brother's wife has no relationship with her and now its my turn to react to her attitude.


not white trash 5 years ago

I love mother in law hell, although I thought the site crashed? Funny and very witty, saying that I get along with my mother in law,,,,sometimes. I can see issues when I have children she is someone who will pickup, clean up and financially support her children as much as her husband will allow her. And so I have the spoilt brat of a husband, ok maybe he's not so bad and maybe I'm just irritable at the moment. But seriously folks do they need a medal for the twice a year they put a load of towels in the washing machine? Mothers if you have maids and you let them clean your sons room and allow him to create and live in his own filth you are doing your future daughter in law a grave disservice...she will not love you for doing this to her.


jencooper profile image

jencooper 5 years ago

I just wrote a hub on the subject of the MIL vs. DIL dynamic. I have not published it for fear that some of my inlaws would find it in the future. I probably won't publish it. It was written in the heat of the moment. Your hub was on my sidebar so I decided to read it. I really enjoyed your hub. I know that there are a lot of sensitive area's when it comes to dealing with inlaws. My main problem is I really like my MIL, it's her daughter that causes most of our problems. The sister in law is very selfish and needs to be the center of attention. Anyway, thank you for your hub. I know that problems with inlaws definitely cause stress for the man in the middle.


tired 5 years ago

my mil is a royal freaking bitch, and the sad part is my husband still feels she is such a kind woman......its driving me mad.............i feel apart from a bitch i have a spineless husband..........who is not seeing the disaster that woman is n soon i feel we will split if he doesn't wake up.....


and 4 years ago

My mother in law is very controlling. She calls names and wants her way in everything. I am in college and she resorted to teasing as a teen calling me names just because i don't hang out with her. I don't like staying out long periods with her because she yells in public asks me how much money I have and she gets angry if I am spending money around her but haven't helped her buy something she wants.

She ll do anything to get him to be with her. She even asks him to help her female friends that are my age despite what I may feel about it. I know there are so many failed marriages but I am really trying to hold on my husband is on and off about our marriage because he s been married before. I could rite all day but I ll stop there.


paula 4 years ago

Most mothers in laws are passive aggressive anyway. Limit time spent with her and don't engage in any type of relationship. It will drive her nuts for a change. Don't make her important in your life


offended 4 years ago

I can't say that my mother-in-law is an unkind person. She is very nice and pleasant to be around. Her husband recently passed away and she has come to stay with us twice for 7-10 days each time. This second visit, she went through every drawer, cabinet, closet and moved and rearranged MY things and my husband's things while we were away at work. I am very upset and am trying to cool down before I approach my husband. I would never dream of going to her home and go through her things or move her stuff around. I feel exceedingly violated, need to broach the situation but don't want to cause hurt feelings. Any suggestions on how to tactfully approach the subject with her or my husband?


cbrown 4 years ago

How should I deal with my mother-in-law? She is a very kind person and we get along very well. But sometimes she is just too babysit my husband and it makes me feel like he is a mama's boy. I want him to be a regular grown up man.


Cutenautistic 4 years ago

Autism, Autism, Autism! I know you don't want to think about the word, but you are dealing with symptoms of the condition. An unhealthy, unnatural, over-bearing, and controlling relationship between a mother-son or father-daughter is due to AUTISM! The best way to find out is YOU get a behavoiral test, then ask your mate to do the same. If you do it, it will be easier for him to follow. If he fights the idea, then it's possible he has been told by others, there is something wrong with his relationship with his mother. It's better you know NOW than Later. Trust me, I married a man with this same issue and found he is AUTISTIC and so is his mother. Get tested, get him tested immediately.


John  Lakewood profile image

John Lakewood 4 years ago from Lakewood, CO

I disagree with your strategy of posting all this on line like dirty laundry. Best way to bust up your marriage.


Carme 4 years ago

I hate my mother in law with all my heart, she moved from her country when her husband died, I tried to be a nice person, but that woman is impossible, just because i was married to her son she expected me to serve her and treated me as her slave, I had to do everything for her and on top of that she was making up stories to her son who was my husband about me mistreating her, she is EVIL of course she WON, my husband left me and his daughter to go live with mami and his sisters. Now she is a happy with her son and I am struggling to raise my daughter she is enjoying the fact that her son left me and she is now looking for a girl friend for him from her country. I still love him and my daughter miss her daddy. I hope they can sleep at nights and I also hope that they both pay for that they have done to our lives.


two sided coin 4 years ago

I have had Mother in Law troubles and so, when I became one I decided not to do the things my MIL did that irritated me, to my DIL.MIL problems can be detrimental to a marriage and a man should put his wife(and his own children)first.

I stay out of their business,don't call often,don't stay over at their house nor even go to their house.I don't bad mouth my DIL nor try to put my son in position to choose sides.

BUT....Ladies remember something.You have a marriage and some of you have children.Those children will grow up and marry then it will be your turn to take a back seat and you should take a back seat.YOU will be the dreaded MIL.And just as it takes time to learn to be a DIL,it takes time to learn to navigate being a MIL.So,small mistakes(like saying"back in my day"or "back when little joey jr was a baby")get over yourselves and just grin a bear it.There are worse things a MIL could do(like try to set your husband up with an ex girlfriend like mine did)or try to come in your home and run it which is also something I went through but have never done to my DIL.

No matter how kind,accepting,non interfering I and members of my family have been to DIL?She throws fits if my son calls me(once every few MONTHS),won't allow him computer access,had his phone shut off after complaining he used it too much and threatens to leave over the fact there are females(some near retirement age)at his workplace.

My son can't speak to females he went to school with if he sees them in a store,nothing.I no longer have my son's number and I rarely called when I did have it for fear she'd leave with the kids.I do have a life of my own and live hours away from my son.This girl rarely sees me.She has never called me,sent a card,nothing.I have acknowledged her birthdays,Mother's Day and Christmas...still nothing.So,I am done.

However she was caught receiving calls and txt from other men on her phone and my son stays with her ....which is his choice and I stay out of it.It hurts to see but it is his life.

Not only do I have no contact with my son but also my Grandchildren.DIL will be a MIL and G-parent one day.We shall see how she handles having a DIL since she is so threatened by every woman there is on earth.

Now,controlling,interfering MIL's,I don't agree with.It goes against nature and the fact your grown child must start their own family unit.But being so insecure you won't allow your hubby to speak to not only his Mother but many other members of his family AT ALL?THAT is also toxic,it is abusive,it's not healthy for children to see and if your own children do see it ?Do not be surprised if in 20+yrs if the same does not happen to you once the chicks have flown the coup.

That is just for toxic,insecure DIL's only, not the ones struggling with a Mommy who can't cut the apron strings(I truly get it-I had one).Always remember YOU will be MIL someday as well.Treat your MIL the way you'd want your DIL to treat you.Especially if MIL is really trying to be good to you and not causing division in your marriage.


mizwoody profile image

mizwoody 3 years ago from Clarksville, TN

You make some valid points, but there comes a time when you just learn to keep your mouth shut. As the saying goes "you must choose your battles."

Because in the end your mother in law just starts hurting your husband (her only child), by guilt tripping him and accussing him of awful things. My husband knows I bite my tongue, but he also knows that one day I just might loose it all together. We have talked about this and he has even given up just to appease her. Especailly, since it always has to be her way or no way. A few year ago when I began my journey to become a counselor I realized my mother actually fits a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. Sadly there is no medication for this.


pooja 3 years ago

hello i want some clarification to deal with my mother in law.

me and my hubby is arranged marriage. From day one itself she hurts my parents not only she , my father in law and my sister in law and my hubby too. i cant leave my family for these people . they are not mingling wit my family members i dnt know y? then they are forcing me to keep mingling with their family i m doing that properly . other than that i m calling daily to my mom in law everyday morning and evening if suppose i miss one day means she started scolding me and my family... other than that she buy dress and she is doing every thing to me.. i want my family to mingle with this family .

anybody know means post the comments give a solution

thank you


Jazme 2 years ago

The main reason why I am divorcing!


sunshine 2 years ago

my in laws are old in 72+. but doesnt mean they are doddering skeleton. there are on their feet. they had a maid. but very calculative to spend for the maid. eventually they turned at me to look after them. fine.

but i am over loaded when they expect me to serve their other children as well. she would stop her son to push her wheel chair and would call me instead. well, my husband is blind, deaf and dumb!!!!!!!!!!.

she would squeeze me to pamper her son. she would trick me to do things, instead of asking it straight. literally i am her maid with no expense.

UNLESS THEY ARE GOOD AT HEART NOTHING CAN IMPROVE THE RELATION.


No name 2 years ago

My fiancé's mom acts like she is perfect. I know I am not the best house keeper when it comes to cleaning and I know I am doing the best I can. She acts like she is better because she ran a daycare and has taken care of multiple kids and was able to make her house spotless while taking of them too. My fiancé doesn't help with anything and when I need her help to talk to him she turns around and makes it my fault somehow. Just yesterday we got into an argument and she said I owe her money that my fiancé borrowed from her for rent. She came into my house ready for war because I told her that her son needed to help me clean the house. She starts yelling at me in front of my daughter and then expects me to apologize when I yelled back. My daughter was out of the room when I did it. While this is happening her daughter has my son at her house and my mother in law calls her up and tells her about the argument. I texted her an told her that we are not going over to her house this Shabbat. Her daughter is going to show up over here and I am going to have to say that the argument is none of her business and that she doesn't need to let this affect mine and hers relationship as future sister in laws. She was supposed to take my son for a week and he was supposed to be there until Monday. When I try to talk with my fiancé he says he doesn't want to take sides but he ends up going for his moms side.


paula s 18 months ago

my mother in law opened our wedding cards. Paid for the reception with our gifts. she offers no apology . thief !!!!!!!! she is dumpster juice to me

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