A difficult mother in-law is every woman’s nightmare. If your mother-in-law repeatedly hurts you either physically or emotionally, it can permanently damage your marriage. Your relationship with your mother-in-law should be a bit similar to how you treat your own mother — while it’ll be less personal. Luckily, all hope is not yet lost. Here are some pretty common mother-in-law problems, and easy ways to fix them before you consider skipping the country and living with your husband on a different continent.
(1) Avoid Escalating Conflict:
Detach yourself emotionally. Think of her as an acquaintance and not your “other mother,” unless the relationship is warm, friendly and family-like. Don’t call her “Mother” or “Mom.” She isn’t your parent; you are on equal terms. Call her by her first name,unless you are living in (or your spouse is from) a country like Nigeria in which it’s considered rude to call your mother-in-law only by name. In that case, follow the custom properly as to how to respectfully address her and establish a name, with your spouse, you feel comfortable calling her.
(2) Understand the common problems:
There are often many reasons why a mother-in-law may be difficult towards her child’s new lover. She may feel less important to her child (or still see them as a child rather than someone’s spouse). She may have difficulty standing behind someone else in their child’s life. She simply may be a completely different person from you.
Understanding the reasoning behind her behavior instead of taking it personally will make it easier to deal with.
(3) Distance yourself physically:
You don’t need to move cross-country, but you also don’t need to show up at every event. It’s
acceptable for your spouse to attend some family events without you. This should not be
a common occurrence, however. You should not try to drive a wedge between your spouse and his family. It could also be a victory of sorts for that mother of his/hers – she gets to spend time with her child and avoid you completely. Even if it’s easier, this will cause discord in your marriage eventually.Remember that it’s highly unlikely that she’ll change.If your mother-in-law has criticized you,stabbed you in the back to other family members and has been dismissive of things you’ve said, she could be making a very clear statement about your relationship. If she’s done this, remember to keep your distance even when she’s being nice. Look to other women for mentoring,advice, kindness and role modeling. You may have to write her off as being a positive factor in your life.
(4) Recognize and avoid the triggers:
Before coming in contact with the in-law,visualize the scenarios which always manage
to get under your skin. What is it that is said or done that makes your blood boil? Once you determine those triggers (which tend to be the same emotionally, manifested in various ways), think about ways in which you can avoid them.
(5) Don’t raise the emotional temperature:
If conflict is impossible to avoid, go ahead and respond honestly. Don’t be rude, but be firm and don’t sugar-coat.Remember that despite your efforts to avoid
direct conflict, this person has shown little regard for your feelings on whatever the issue
is. Don’t let the fear of hurting the feelings of
your relative or in-law stop you from responding appropriately–it clearly hasn’t stopped them.
(6) Disarm guilt as a weapon:
If the mother-in-law attempts to use guilt as a tool of manipulation, it’s fairly easy to overcome.
Whenever you perceive her attempting to manipulate your emotions by making you feel
guilty, bring the whole matter to conscious awareness by asking, “You’re not trying to make me feel guilty, are you?” She will probably deny it, but soon the pattern will re-emerge. Keep interrupting the pattern of falling into a state of guilt by bringing attention to her emotionally manipulative tactics. You don’t want to be rude, but put a stop to the use of guilt as a weapon.
If you refuse to enter the emotional state of guilt, it will allow you to be more objective and compassionate in seeing that she is probably using guilt because she feels powerless. If you can address that sense of powerlessness, you have the opportunity to transform the relationship for good. For example, say something in front of the family to flatter her such as, “We usually reserve Friday nights for dinner with Mom and Dad. We need family time with them.”
This gives her a sense of importance in front of
everyone and helps her feel needed and wanted.
(7) Think about your spouse and child:
You don’t want to say or do anything to harm your relationship with them. Do you need to try to break the tension? Bite your tongue? Sometimes you have to suck it up and behave nicely for the sake of someone else’s happiness.
(8) Define your boundaries:
You set the boundaries in your relationships, both with your spouse and with your mother-in-
law. If those boundaries are crossed and your mother-in-law can’t seem to take the hint, and
if your spouse is unwilling to address the situation and stand up for you, then you have
to assert yourself to restore balance. Define boundaries which you consider to be bottom
lines that may not be crossed and make you feel violated when they are, and make them
clearly known. For example, if you value your privacy and a relative insists on frequent unannounced drop-in visits, that may be a bottom line for you. The first thing to realize is that it’s perfectly OK to satisfy your own needs. A relationship that makes you feel violated isn’t healthy.
If your mother-in-law drops over unannounced just before you and your spouse are headed out for dinner, you can say, “Gee, it’s nice to see you. I just wish you’d called ahead. Femi and I are on our way out to dinner. If we’d known you were coming, we’d have made plans to eat at home.”
This will make it clear to your mother-in-law that she needs to call first next time.
(9) Verbalise your boundaries:
If you don’t say something, she will not stop. And if you aren’t clear with your spouse about how you would like the matter handled, your spouse may continue to appease his parent
at your expense. Speak to your spouse first. If he/she is unsuccessful in putting a stop to the
overstepping, then go to the mother-in-law.If you’ve been going years without clearly verbalizing and enforcing your boundaries like a mature adult and let your mother-in-law treat you like a child for too long, she most likely won’t take you seriously at first. There may be a
“shock” reaction, which is usually feigned, at the mere suggestion that you dare attempt to put restrictions on this behavior. Just let her have her reaction and stand your ground anyway.
(10) Enforce your boundaries:
Do this compassionately but firmly. After all,there’s a good chance you’ve allowed this behavior to go on for years and that makes you partly to blame for the fact that your mother-in-law has not learned the behavior you want from her. But if she doesn’t respond to gentle reminders, adopt a no-nonsense approach to enforcing your boundaries.Let her know that for the next 10 days (start with 10, expand to 30 if she doesn’t get the message the first time), you intend to strictly enforce the
boundaries you’ve described. Make it clear that if she violates your boundaries even once during those 10 days, you will then begin a 10-day communications blackout. If you have to go to Blackout,have your spouse present and let the mother-in-law know she cannot have contact for 10 days. This includes drop-in visits, phone calls and e-mails —unless it’s absolutely necessary. After the 10-day “fasting” period, you can restart the original 10-day boundary enforcement trial and repeat the process. Let your mother-in-law know that both you and your spouse are equally committed to doing this (and it’s best if your spouse is the one to inform his/her mother, not you).
(11) Have your husband/spouse help Out:
Express your feelings to your spouse.Let your husband (or wife) know that the way their mother treats you is hurtful. You are entitled to share these feelings with your spouse. Do not criticize her – remember this is his/her mother – but don’t protect her either.
You can say something like, “Honey, your mom may not mean to be hurtful, but she was tonight. In the future, if she says something like (give the example that hurt you), I would appreciate it if you would speak up for me.”.