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How to Handle Difficult Mother-in-Laws

Updated on January 11, 2012
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Can they be handled?

Seriously, can difficult mother-in-laws be handled? Obviously, they must be dealt with but, in many cases, they can be so toxic, the best thing to do is cut them out of your life! I wish I had that option, I honestly do, but many of us do not. Mother-in-laws must be managed for the sake of our husbands and children (or future children, as in my case). It is for their benefit that we must deal with the snide remarks and exasperating situations.

Take my mother-in-law. She is controlling and manipulative and my husband absolutely adores her (although he will be the first to admit she can be a witch half of the time). It has been a power struggle with her since day one of our relationship. I "stole" her boy away from her and she has been on a mission to take control back anyway she can. I often wonder why she struggles so when it is obvious she wins! Hands down, my hubby will choose his mother over me in every battle. In fact, one time he allowed her to point her finger in my face and yell at me when we were engaged! She has him under her thumb and that is just the way she likes it. Unfortunately for her, I do not like it that way and fight constantly to free my husband from her control.

Sometimes I feel as if it is a useless battle. Should I just give up and let him be a mama's boy forever? They are both obviously okay with the way things are so why interfere? Honestly, I wish I could just step away. I wish I could look the other way, turn a deaf ear, pretend she does not exist, but I cannot. My hubby is irrevocably attached to his mother and I must find a way to deal with it.

Ways I have tried to deal with it:

1. Embrace it. Yes, I have thrown myself into their little "click" of a family in order to be involved in some way. It worked at first. I've always been accepted, even by his mother, and his parents often call me their daughter. However, the facade always cracks at some point. I can only suck up so much before I need to take a break and breathe. It is at that moment that hell breaks loose. Oh yes, I can pretend to be the perfect daughter-in-law and she can pretend to be the ideal mother-in-law but it is all fake and one cannot keep up a false image forever. The main issue is that my mother-in-law just does not care about anyone but herself. This is very frustrating since my own mother is loving and selfless. Her selfishness can only be tolerated for so long, especially considering all the comments and issues I have to deal with on top of that! By the time everything crashes down, I am hurt and my mother-in-law is feigning innocence and declaring I am too sensitive. I admit, I wear my heart on my sleeve but I am not a softy. I have a temper and I can hold my own, I do not overreact unless provoke by extreme rudeness. Once provoked, I retaliate. At that point, my mother-in-law cries foul and blames me for the insurrection. The whole family is put in the dog house while my mother-in-law goes on the rampage, punishing everyone for our spat. Then, I look like the bad guy and get ugly glances from my husband and father-in-law. Our relationship is then moved back to square one and we start the dance all over again. Thus, I have learned that the close mother-daughter relationship is not possible with my mother-in-law.

2. The second option I discovered was to ignore her, to pretend my mother-in-law does not exist. I have actually been able to keep this up for several weeks at a time and it is very effective for a short while. During these brief episodes, life at home is sublime. My hubby and I get along fantastically when his family is not involved. I breathe easier and step lighter; the world is at peace. However, this cannot be kept up forever. Did I mention my husband works for my father-in-law? Thus, it is impossible for me to pretend my in-laws do not exist when they are a part of my hubby's daily life. "How was work, dear? Oh, but please don't mention your boss." Yeah, that doesn't work. As much as I would love to pretend my in-laws have dropped off the face of the earth, the simple reality is that it cannot be. They live only 20 minutes from us and they will always be a part of my husband's life. Therefore, they exist.

3. Separation. I attempt to create distance between my in-laws and myself. This is very effective except that I cannot ask my husband to distance himself from his own parents. While I may cringe at the very mention of my mother-in-law, my husband is whole heartedly devoted to his mother and father. It would be unspeakably cruel of me to insist my husband choose my own selfish desires over his relationship with his parents. Plus, when I do consider the option of just cutting them out of our lives, I am reminded of our future grandchildren and the relationship they will miss with their grandparents if his parents are not in our lives. Yes, my mother-in-law can set my teeth on edge, but she will be an adoring and doting grandmother - at least I hope she will be. Again, to deny my own children this relationship would be heartless of me. As long as she is loving to my husband and children, I must learn to endure her.

So, the best decision is to embrace the distance option. While the best option, it has its challenges. For instance, my hubby may love his mother but I do not. I cannot pretend I do and, frankly, I refuse to be fake. This may cause some tension at times but I have to remain true to myself through it all. I encourage my husband to have a relationship with his parents but to just keep me out of it. I will be the dutiful wife and attend major events and holidays but the image of having to pretend to have a beautiful relationship with my mother-in-law makes me want to gag. I try to be open and honest with my husband. I will be cordial and kind to my in-laws and I will not sabotage my hubby's relationship with them, but I will not be fake. It is what it is. I will put in as much effort into the relationship as my mother-in-law does - which is zero. Sometimes it is awful, sometimes it is okay. It is a part of my life that I have to accept because I chose my husband (for better or worse lol). I advise all my friends to make sure they like their significant other's family before they commit to them. This being said, I will never walk away from my husband because of his mother. As tempting as it is sometimes to think of ridding her from my life forever, my husband is more than worth it.

Thus I feel this post is necessary for all the wives out there who are stuck with a horrible mother-in-law they cannot get rid of! I toast all of you who suffer the insults and the comments for your husbands and children! I commend you for holding your tongue to hold the peace although, somehow, your mother-in-law is allowed to speak her mind without reproach. We all deserve much praise and recognition for our sacrifices! So here's to you - to all those plagued by a controlling, manipulative, sassy, devious, difficult, troublesome, meddling mother-in-law.

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    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      I can very much relate to everything you're talking about. And I agree, distance is probably the best realistic option, so here's to hoping it's all worth it! Great hub.

    • profile image

      megan 3 years ago

      I am having the same problem. And like yourself, ive tried your methods. While none of them is perfect, I think separation, and distancing yourself is the best way... You have to love and respect yourself too...

    • profile image

      Typical DIL 3 years ago

      Thank you for writing this article. It helps to know that others are in the same situation. My MIL is a manipulative ninja. She is always just trying to do the best for "you". She quietly demands everything she wants - extended family vacations in exotic locations, dinners our where she chooses, everything as she plans it. My husband and his whole family will bend over backwards to accommodate her and I am supposed to follow suit. It's gotten harder and she's gotten more demanding as the years go on.

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      Melissa 3 years ago

      My mil thought I stole her baby and freaked at everything he did for/with me. She convinced her whole family I was evil and I was treated like crap then I got pregnant and it was like a total 180, of course I knew that would happen but it's just so obviously fake and my dh thinks she came around, doesn't ever see anything! Now she comes over to see what she calls "my baby" and drives me absolutely nuts!

    • profile image

      Jen 3 years ago

      I have the mil from hell

    • profile image

      Militarywife23 4 years ago

      What should I do if my husbands mother is threatening our marriage? She has tried to fake these ridiculous stories of how unfaithful I am just to get her son back and by back I mean him giving her money and her controlling every move, phone call and transaction he does! Until we got married. It got so bad that he just accepted all the threats, nasty texts she sent to me and my own mother and it made me furious. Now we hit rock bottom because I am stubborn and want her as far away from my life as possible including my parents. What should I do?

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      Sarah Moore 4 years ago

      So glad someone is finally willing to admit that there are mother in laws that are horrible, wretched people. All I ever hear is how I should love my mother in law, because, after all, she raise my husband and look how good he turned out. My husband turned out good because of her all right, because he knew what he DIDN'T want to be. Thank you for your empathy, and know that you have mine as well. We're all in this together even if we don't know each other.

    • profile image

      leigh brown 4 years ago

      This was exactly how it was with my husbands mother. Except she was worse, she tried stealing money, set up a fake business with my husband I say fake my husband believed it was a joint venture but she and her husband had set it up in there name!

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      Rodgurl87 4 years ago

      After all the mental and emotional abuse I finally did the unthinkable and I actually laid hands on my mother in law but at the moment I didn't even care to all those mil you really need to stop it because it really affects us daughter in laws to this point I feel bad sometimes and sometimes I don't I was at my witz end but it definitely was not worth it so think before you react and mother in laws just stop it please because its pety at the end of day you just have to realize someone else in the mix and that's just what its gon be.

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      notadoormat 5 years ago

      I have been married 16 years and have decided to call my mother- in -law out on her behavior. Why should I let her make me miserable? I'm not a doormat and why let her make a habit of it? I have kept my mouth shut for years. Not anymore. And I don't do the kill them with kindness. Maybe it will help her keep hers shut. I distance myself and encourage my husband to be involved with her, but I don't have time for people like that and she doesn't have to like me. The older I get, the more I realize that I don't have to put up with it.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have a great relationship with my mother in law. I am one of the lucky ones. I did find your hub quite interesting though and love the picture you chose for this hub.

      Welcome to HubPages.

    • Wheels2sticks profile image

      Wheels2sticks 5 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      Good luck. After 17 years of doing each of your above mentioned thing..mother-in-law & I had a grand hanging of the dirty laundry in front the minister no less. Not well handled by either one of us. She still isn't reallyspeaking to me.