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The Trouble With In-Laws: Men and Their Mothers.

Updated on July 4, 2012

It should be every woman's rite of passage - to have in-laws that don't treat her like the spawn of Satan, or as a threat to the family. Actually achieving a harmonious relationship with your husband's parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, etc, can be a lifelong battle for some unfortunate wives and girlfriends, however, with feelings of inadequacy, bitterness and resentment, often resulting in marital fights, and in some cases, divorce.

While I am sure that there are many men out there whose mother-in-laws are the devil personified, men seem to wear blinkers, and feel less obliged to get along with their wife's family, often turning a blind eye to a bad situation, or avoiding it altogether. Us women, however, are far more likely to feel the need to please our in-laws, even at the expense of our own sanity or better judgment. And it's not just the mother-in-laws who have a flare for making their son's significant other feel like she's something on the bottom of a shoe; if your husband has sisters, you can bet your last buck that they'll be in on the lynching too!

The story of the cliché, manipulative mother-in-law is one that stretches back decades, and has been the favorite tale of authors and movie directors from California to Queensland, and all places in-between, and will continue to be so. But why? Why are so many wives and girlfriends subjected to nothing short of torture at the hands of their extended families? And how do those of us in that situation cope? We've all heard of Oedipus, the mythological Greek character who unwittingly killed his father, and then married his own mother, but surely our own beloved husbands aren't plotting the demise of their dear old dads in order to shack up in an incestuous relationship with mommy dearest? No, of course not! So what is it about men in general that has them clinging on for dear life to their mother's apron strings, while we wives stand back having daggers thrown our way?

Sadly, no one has yet come up with a definitive answer, although there is a common theory that some mothers subconsciously raise their sons to be so domestically and emotionally incompetent, that they find it near impossible to break that habit when they meet a prospective wife. And the mother of that son will continue to perceive herself as the only one worthy of her son's love - rejecting any other female that comes too close. It is certainly a form of hierarchy, where a possessive mother will teach her son that his mother is his main priority, and unfortunately, this kind of brainwashing is hard - sometimes impossible, to reverse.

Assert yourself - stay sane!

Women certainly rebel more against their own mothers' over-protectiveness from quite a young age, so that may be the reason we find it so hard to understand the organ grinder and monkey relationships that many of our significant others have with their moms. Older sisters can be almost as controlling and manipulative, so for some of us, when there's more than one female in-law to contend with, it can be an extremely stressful burden on both you and your marriage in general, especially if your husband or boyfriend refuses to believe that his mother and sisters are anything but perfect!

One great piece of advice which I only wish that I had listened to (ironically, from my own Mom) was, regardless of how much you want to, avoid ever talking badly about your in-laws to your husband. If he wants to bad mouth them to you, by all means listen and be a comfort to him, but stay neutral. Don't partake in any kind of bitch fest about how you hate them, and certainly don't bombard him with your mother-in-law's latest foul treatment of you. Confide in your own friends and family, but leave your husband to work his own family's issues out himself. By remaining the quiet one, and not passing on any kind of negative judgment about his family to him, should things get so bad that he is forced to choose between you and them (which sadly happens in many marriages), then you can never be accused of not making the effort to build a good relationship with your in-laws.

There is nothing wrong with being assertive. In fact, it's a trait that could save you even more stress and emotional turmoil in the long run, by preventing you from being taken advantage of. You've heard the old saying; "Don't mistaken my kindness for weakness". Well, the same applies with your husband's family. In my first year of marriage, I made the mistake of cleaning my mother-in-law's filthy house from top to bottom, (we're talking about a pack rat who didn't believe in throwing even garbage out!) and I did this on more than one occasion, just to be 'nice'. I thought I was being helpful, especially when one of the times I did it was because she was in hospital following an operation, and I thought it would be 'nice' to make her home welcoming and clean. What happened? She thanked me, then dirtied it up worse than it had ever been, in less than 3 days of being home again. And to make matters worse, it got around the gossipy family grapevine that I hadn't been a good daughter/sister-in-law, that I didn't pull my weight (we lived with them at this point), and that I should be spending more time entertaining my mother-in-law instead of sitting in another part of the house.

So, that's the thanks I got. Know what I learned from that incident? That I will never clean house for anyone in my extended family ever again! It's that simple. I have gone from being the 'yes woman', to someone who doesn't really care all that much whether my in-laws think I'm lazy or don't help out enough, or don't make any effort to spend time with any of them. I know different, and my husband has slowly but surely begun to see his own family the way I do. His mother is no longer with us, but his eldest sister has certainly strived to take her place - only this time, with a somewhat enlightened husband, and the knowledge of a thousand books that I've read on the subject of family behavior, I realize that I am the only one in control of my emotions, whether it's stress, depression, anxiety, anger, etc. I can react, or I can remain passive, polite, smiling, and apologetic. Whichever I choose, I know that it is I that will endure the outcome. So, until my hand is forced, and my temper is no longer leashable, I will go to bed each night with the same quote in mind: "“From the backstabbing co-worker to the meddling sister-in-law, you are in charge of how you react to the people and events in your life. You can either give negativity power over your life or you can choose happiness instead. Take control and choose to focus on what is important in your life. Those who cannot live fully often become destroyers of life.” ~ Anais Nin


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      curious 4 years ago

      what theory is that which mothers subconsciously shape their children's minds into thinking they are their priority?

    • CloakAndDagger profile image

      CloakAndDagger 5 years ago from Planet Earth (sometimes)

      Thank you, Laurasmother!

    • profile image

      Laurasmother 5 years ago from Europe

      Interesting thoughts, I like to hear more from you.

      Nice Regards