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4 Tips to improve the relationship you have with your mother-in-law

Updated on April 17, 2014

Where to start

I have noticed over the years, mostly with my girlfriends, that the relationship between you and your spouse’s mother can be tricky. I am lucky to have a great MIL, but I work at our relationship like any other one I have. It is a complex relationship, and most issues I find are because either the MIL, the new wife, or both are having trouble identifying their new role in the family. The MIL was in charge, or at least had a very large influence in her son’s (your husband’s) life. These tips will focus on the MIL and daughter-in-law relationship. In the many discussions I have had I find a few bumps in the road for the son-in-law, but for the most part that is an easier fix. The one exception to this is if you are the husband and your MIL is disrespectful or intentionally hurtful your wife needs to step in immediately. For the most part, these tips can be followed for all. I only have two young boys, but I hope when they get married someday, their wives will be nice enough to keep me in their lives. My husband and I have spent sleepless nights making decisions we hope are right for our boys. It will be hard down the road to watch them make any mistakes, let alone ones where I am not the one to whom they run to for help or guidance. That breaks my heart already; so coming from this place it is much easier to see how my MIL could feel. If you are a MIL, keep reading and get some insight to what your son’s wife may be thinking!

Be understanding

The mother of a son is used to being that one important woman in his life. She was the one he called for advice on cooking, medical issues, and maybe even a broken heart. Now, she has to let him grow and be the man she taught him to be all those years. If you are a mother, you know this is/was a very difficult task at times. The wife feels she has to “fill mom’s shoes” for certain things. I think if both the MIL & new wife care about the man in the middle they will work on their relationship. You just have to start working at it. Everyone needs a little grace, and forgiveness now and then. If there is something that has truly hurt you, it will need to be addressed for you to move on. You also don’t want it to happen again. If it something you can let go, by all means do that. We all say things we didn’t mean, or shouldn’t have said. Try to drop it unless it will continue to bother you. Remember that your MIL was the woman he may have been getting advice, or “direction” from for the past twenty-some years. This does not stop feelings the minute you are in his life, whether engaged or married. As much as she may like, or even love you as her son’s new bride, she may still be sad. It is now official that her boy is a man. More than that, it is official that she has to move aside and let a new little family grow. She will have to, most likely, share her son’s time on holidays. She will have to listen to, and watch all the thing she may think can be done better. This may be difficult for her to let go of. Don’t provoke her or try to start a fight. Think about how you would want someone to treat your own mother. You are now “the first lady,” you don’t have to prove it, or rub it in her face. She may need to go through an almost mourning process for the role she no longer has. This has shifted, and she will need time to adjust to that.

Listen to what your MIL has to say

Notice it is not “follow everything she says,” but listen. She is an important person, and if you are yet to have children you don’t know how important her role will become. She will potentially be a grandma someday. She has years of life experience over you, and has made many more mistakes because of that. Listen to what she says so you can make your own choice with the most information. For example, if she tells you, “Johnny never did like peas.” Does that mean you can never cook them? No, she may be referencing a 15-year old memory. He may love peas now, but you listened. In the privacy of your own home you and your husband can decide what he now wants with his steak. Remember, you and your husband decide in your house, not her. Listening is not going to hurt you. Be sincere, and don’t judge her. Do not intentionally set out to “get back at her’ or prove her wrong. Treat her kindly, and fairly. If you say you are going to come over, do it. If you say you love her, mean it. Don’t judge her for how she does something. Instead, just acknowledge her feelings and move on. You don’t need to tell them every last detail of what goes on in your own home, and neither does your husband.

See her differently

She is a loving, and caring person.  Try to remember that when you are working on your relationship with her.
She is a loving, and caring person. Try to remember that when you are working on your relationship with her.

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What is your relationship like with your MIL?

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Don’t put your husband in the middle, too often

There are times where it is a husband’s place to do the communicating and times it is not. When starting off, in this process, and no one is really sure of the boundaries it is more his place. After the relationship is established, and boundaries are set, then the husband can step back a bit and let the woman take it from there. We are, for the most part, civilized creatures! I think the biggest thing to remember is that she is a person too, and trying to figure things out. Don’t ever be harsh or rude with her. Always remember the Golden Rule, as you may be a MIL too someday. Just to get you thinking, here are two examples of times it is good to have him involved:

  1. MIL coming over unannounced. Yikes! Nip this one in the bud. This may be a place for him to step in and say something like this, “Mom, you know we love to see you, and I know you respect our relationship, so please let us know before you would like to stop over. This way we can make sure we have time to visit with you.” Now, the real reason is because like a madwoman you will be scouring the house to make it look perfect so there is nothing out of place. You wouldn’t want her to think, “Oh my, this is how she keeps her house?”
  2. Is your MIL making decisions for your family? This is also a good time for him to step in just enough to establish a boundary. It could go something like this, “Mom, you have always given me such great advice about cooking my favorite meals. Sally has some really good ideas too. Maybe you two could get together and make a cookbook.” Now, although you don’t want to, and aren’t really going to make a cookbook with her, he has complimented both of you, and confirmed that he still loves his mommy. He has also shown his mom that you now have a place there too.

Just play nice

After the boundaries are set, and the first couple situations have been addressed, it is easier for the MIL and wife to work it out. Always remember how special the woman is, that helped mold this man you married. Don’t ever be jealous or resentful of the relationship your husband and his mother have. I have two young boys, and hope to never be pushed out of their life. I only want what is best for them, and makes them happy. In most cases, this is where your MIL is coming from. If not, just pretend! Whatever happens, you and your husband should be a united front while in discussions with your MIL. Make sure you agree before you discuss it. One of the worst things for you would be to have a discussion about something important and have your husband disagree with you and back her. Now, for trivial items, this doesn’t matter. Everyone has a different take on things. For the things like where you will go to church, and other important topics, know ahead of time what each other’s views are. Also, address any issues privately with your husband first. Don’t catch him off guard, or put in on the spot. He will cave, and potentially back out of the situation, or take mommy’s side. After all, spouses fight; you can’t hurt mommy’s feelings, right? Keep in mind that is how he may see it. Following these simple steps can help improve your relationship with not only your MIL, but also your husband. A better relationship with your MIL will release tension between you and your husband too.


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    • Erin Trefz profile image

      Erin Trefz 4 years ago from South Dakota

      I agree. I think that often & pray my boys find nice women who will be kind to me!

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      This is a really important subject. I'm glad you tackled it! I love love love my MIL. She is amazing. I know some people who are not so fortunate. And I know others who never gave their MILs a chance to succeed. But every time I look at my little boy I hope his future wife gives me a chance. - Ginger