Dealing with difficult in-laws the grown-up way

September 23 | Guest post by S M Prescott
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Thanks to found and sewn for uploading this photo to our Flickr pool.

You don't need to look far for stories and jokes about horrific in-laws. Mother-in-law jokes are so commonplace they're tiring, not to mention horribly sexist and demeaning. It's so cliché that I feel guilty admitting to it… but I am having issues getting along with the in-laws.

We didn't have the wedding that my mother in-law wanted us to have — it was quick, cheap, fun, and fast. In other words everything that we wanted it to be, but not everything that my conservative, traditional mother-in-law was either expecting or desiring.

I took as much of this as I could within my good graces, deflecting her suggestions with as much kindness as I could muster. All of this with the hope that she would settle down after the wedding, and we could then begin to develop a normal adult relationship — one that wasn't based on attack and defense. Needless to say, this didn't happen.

This is hardly a unique situation; many people struggle to form cohesive, happy relationships with their in-laws. My husband is hardly best buddies with my own mother. But where he has been blessed with an easy-going personality and the ability to make small talk with everyone he meets, my own social skills leave a lot to be desired and I find family gatherings much more challenging than he does. I need to continually bite my tongue, through fear of saying something that I might regret later, and for me it seems to take more and more effort to remain unprovoked.

My husband being an only child contributes to this, of course — she is very clingy and protective of him. It took me too long to realize that she feels she's lost part of her son to me. I needed to be more sympathetic to the fact that they are no longer as close as she would like them to be, and I obviously have played a role in that.

Whether I like it or not, these people are now members of my family, and family is important to me. I needed to learn techniques to help me deal with her in a kind and considerate manner, without exploding with internalized stress. For me, the following things have helped:
 

  • Be aware that you might not be the in-law they were expecting either. My mother-in-law buys Christmas presents for the daughter-in-law she wishes she had. Instead of getting upset, have the patience to thank her kindly for thinking of you.
  • Don't let the little things wind you up. It irritates me when she paws at my husband's appearance, but it is his job to tell her to stop it if he wants, not mine.
  • Don't be a pushover, but don't be rude either. Try and find the middle road between the two. Shut down the insidious remarks firmly, but be open to friendly suggestions which might get lost or misinterpreted along the way.

  • Find common ground. Talking about my husband works for us — after all he is the thing that has brought us together. Which is something I can hope we can bond over in the future.

Nothing would make me happier than eventually considering my mother-in-law as a friend, as well as my husband's mother. And it's up to me to keep working on developing the relationship. I've only been married a year, there are miles to go… and we'll all be happier in the long run if we can just get along.

Any further techniques or ideas that you all use to get along with your in-laws?

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  1. My mother in law is a very sweet lady and I have been married to her son for 18 years. BUT I don't think she "knows" me.
    I know what she likes or does not like and know what kind of gifts to get her. I realized it is not about the gifts, but I hate for her to get me (or my husband for that matter) stuff for the holiday's and we end up giving the stuff away as it is not "us" (Billy the singing bass fish, other cheesy mail order stuff that we will never ever use). The couple times she has come to visit us where we live, she would ask if we go out for breakfast (one of her fave things to do when we visit her). But she has never caught on when we go out to breakfast when we visit her that I would get oatmeal or a bagel as I don't eat pork or any other "normal" breakfast food (bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, eggs). BUT I can order her breakfast as I know what she likes. So obviously going out for breakfast is not a treat for me. This is also the same woman that would ask us if we got a new car everytime she sees us (we have been driving the same car for the past 4 years. Kinda hard to forget a 1996 Camery).
    I think my MIL is not in tune with that kind of stuff. She does not even seem to be in tune with what even my husband likes when it comes to food or even gifts as she wanted to feed him tomato soup (he HATES tomato soup and has since he was 8 years old). But I have been in tune as mentioned with her likes and dislikes.
    She did not know I lived in the UK for 8 yrs when I was a kid until about 3 yrs ago, but I have always asked her questions about life growing up and her husband (who passed away before I married her son). The only real thing she knew about me until that point was how I met her son, where I born and my birthday (which is the same day (different year) as her son).
    So I am not sure if it is her trait not to ask questions, as I don't care if she asks me about my family or me as I am married to her son or what. But all in all she is a good woman and I LOVE her daughter like she is my own sister. So she did something right 😉

    8 agree
    • This sounds like me and my MIL! She is the most loving, sweet, adorable older lady (my parents were young when they had me and his were older so I think of her as older than a "mom" figure)…yet she is absolutely clueless about me, or him, and our likes and dislikes. What really helps is realizing what her love language is and accepting things as given with immense love because that's what speaks love to her. She showers both of us with ridiculous gifts that are nothing like what we want but we graciously accept them all and wear them/use them for the week that we're at their house (and then give them all away!)

      9 agree
      • what is it about mother-in-laws that love to buy terrible, thoughtless gifts?? I love my mother-in-law and we really do get along well, so I can't complain too much… but she has a firm "quantity over quality" ideal for gifts. for EVERY. holiday. For example, she sends our daughter home with 2nd hand baby dolls in non-removable fourth of july firecracker outfits if she sees her any time that month.

        I truly appreciate her thoughtfulness and initially was more flattered than anything that she had taken all the trouble to find these random things that she thinks I'd like… but really, if she knew me a little better would know I really don't. Just because I mentioned once how much I like frogs (real frogs, when we're outside and I see one hopping along!) forevermore I'll be receiving frog christmas ornaments, martini glasses, change purses, photo frames… and since I love cats (we have 3) I must love all cat chotchkies too, right? Who doesn't want a ceramic cat statue that also opens to a little jewelry box? Or a pair of salt & pepper kitties? or… pillowcases? The list goes on & on. My husband says she's always been like this & no matter what he says she won't stop. Maybe she thinks we're being humble or insincere when we say "you really shouldn't have gotten us so much." But, short of out-&-out telling her "I don't like this kind of junk you've always gotten me & I always thanked you for," the best I can do is talk about how we're trying to de-clutter and how much we love perishable gifts that we really get use out of so much more than decorative things that we don't need. Or experience gifts–we'd much rather have a date night out at the movies, say, or a gift certificate for dinner with them, so we can all spend time together which is so more important than material things. She has taken some of the hints and it's gotten better… but we still can't fully escape those chotchkies. So what am I gonna do? Resent her for showering us with useless junk she believes we'd like? Or just say thank you and tuck it into the "giveaway" box? Maybe someday she'll notice we don't have any of this stuff around the house, ever.

        Sorry to go way off on a tangent but it's good to hear I'm not the only one!

        8 agree
        • I think you and I have the same mother-in-law when it comes to gifts. I find it very overwhelming, but I have also accepted that she is not likely to change when it comes to gift-giving. That being said, my house is my house. I keep what I like and can use, and re-gift/sell/donate the rest. It sounds terrible, but it is part of establishing boundaries and keeps me sane. She is welcome to spend her money as she likes (although damn it would be great if she gave experience gifts or RESP contributions), and I am welcome to make repeat donations to the local thrift shop.

          7 agree
          • I´d agree with you (and do the same you do), BUT hubby thinks it´s totally cruel to give away/donate unwanted gifts…So if I do as you do, he acts like I´m a total BIACH. What´s a girl to doooo?! It also does not help at all that hub´s parents/ hubby himself are ALL PACK RATS! :s

        • Ha! The frogs/cats thing amused me because 50% of the things in my house are adorned with butterflies…all of it due to her. Many of my T-shirts have butterfly motifs because I love nature/rainbow motifs on shirts and for some reason, much of that has happened to go with butterflies. I don't actually have strong feelings towards butterflies, I just love rainbows and nature designs, but now I have butterfly albums, butterfly blankets, butterfly hair clips, butterfly vases…

          2 agree
        • My husband once casually mentioned that I like owls- my mother in-law has been buying me owls ever since…I keep pulling stuff out of the cupboard under the stairs every time she visits. There is only so much space for owls you know? I totally know what you mean about balancing gratitude with careful hints to please please please stop because we have no more space!

          2 agree
  2. Lucky for my husband and I, my parents refuse to speak to both of us. Sadly, my husbands mother died in 1990 and his father died in 1960 when he was just a baby. He feels sad that he grew up without his father and he obviously misses his mother still. His mother sounded like she was quite interesting and I would have loved to meet her, but who knows, she may not have liked me!

  3. My husband and I started dating when my husband's parents were going through a divorce, and we were 19. It's been a difficult relationship for a couple reasons:
    1) We were young and stupid
    2) My parents are still married and like each other a lot, so I had no experience with negotiating relationships with two people who are not
    3) My mother-in-law is the sort of person who believes that loving her requires that you hate her enemies
    4) My mother-in-law believes that there is a Right and a Wrong way to do everything, and that includes aesthetic preferences
    5) I am way more lassiez faire and honest about my indifference to the above, which my mother-in-law believes to be morally wrong; I also have different aesthetic preferences than Mother-in-law, which she also considers morally wrong
    6) Mother-in-law is extraordinarily insecure and is sensitive to when she feels others may feel like they are better than her, which she projects onto anyone who is accomplishing something that she perceives might be better than her, regardless of what their feelings are
    7) Mother-in-law resents that I will not take her side of an argument that she is having with my husband, which was about how all of his efforts to make her happy failed to read her mind. I point blank told her that I'd always take her son's side and she found that offensive.
    8) I have little patience with items 4,5, 6, and 7 which I regard as toxic behaviors.

    You know what? When I was younger, I tried to have a genuine relationship with her, but that failed. I was walking on eggshells and walking a minefield. She'd be offended if you said the wrong thing. It was terrible. I refocused the goal of my relationship with her as being on that is a step behind my husband. I don't have an independent relationship with her. I don't call her. I don't email her. My husband does all of that. I just make sure I don't stir up any conflict, which generally means keeping my mouth shut in her company, and thus avoid make my husband's life more difficult. My life is less stressful, my husband's life is less stressful, and I think I am more at peace because she doesn't annoy me anymore. I pretend to like the stuff she gives me, and have given up on having her know me. She doesn't care. She's just seeking validation from other people.

    I really thought that being a good wife to my husband meant having a warm relationship with his mother. No. Not true. Would my husband rather we be friends? Sure. But I think he's come to see that these are problems that any wife of his would have had. We set some boundaries whereas folks who do not support us as an independent unit are kept a bit farther away, and that includes his mother.

    I would recommend this to anyone who has a mother-in-law, or other family member-in-law who exhibits some very toxic behaviors. You don't have to like them. You don't have to be friends with them. You just have to be their for your spouse. That's it.

    58 agree
    • This. So. Much. This.

      My particular situation is pretty complex, but the short version is that my father-in-law (and subsequently his wife) is super selfishly passive-aggressive, has made it very clear to everyone but my husband that he doesn't like me AT ALL, and my husband has this complex where he still almost acts like a child desperate for his father's approval. It's a mess. Thankfully, we live over 1200 miles apart, so we don't see them but every few years.

      This is exactly how I get through it. Whenever we see eachother, I just go with the flow. I draw lines when it comes to the kids, but even most of those are pretty blurry. Everything else is just whatever. I can keep my mouth shut and get through the week with a smile just to save the drama and be there for my husband.

      9 agree
    • I think I'm just starting to really come to this conclusion- at the end of the day it's MIL's decision to express these toxic behaviours and I should just acknowledge them and move on! I'll be there for him, and help him deal with her rather than consciously trying to deal with her myself, which will probably be much better for my mental health at the end of the day. I don't need to have an independent relationship with her…which my husband realised long ago…This is very good advice- thank you!

      4 agree
    • Sounds like a narcissist… my mother is one and my poor husband has it pretty rough.

      3 agree
  4. Thank you for this post! I needed it.
    I too have a disappointing relationship with my mother-in-law, and find myself seething at every family visit… but the point that struck me the most is the first one; I know I am not the daughter-in-law she expected. I'm certainly not one she would have chosen. And yes, being with me has affected her relationship with her son; he started standing up to her once he moved in with me, and now several years later, he often calls her out on her ugly behaviour in a way no one else in their family dares to. In my eyes, I gave him confidence; in hers, I turned him against her.
    If I'm trying to be a little more empathetic and looking at it from her point of view, it's no wonder she resents me. And that's something that it might help to keep in mind when we do have to spend time together.

    …on the other hand, the vile old bitch can't live forever, right?

    53 agree
    • Mine is so very similar. Since I've been around (about 5 years) my fiance actually voices his opinion, and tells his mom no. He will even call out some of her toxic behavior. We have a 6 month old daughter and I'm constantly dodging the "She needs to come stay the night with me!" statements because just no, I don't trust her and he knows that, so he's even gotten to the point where he will hurry and change the subject for me. Its like she lives in her own world and when something doesn't go her way she freaks. There was even a point at about the 3 year mark where she would TRY to start drama with me and I made it very clear that I'm not going to go along with it. I'm not going to fight or argue when she throws clothes at me; I go straight to my fiance and tell him I am leaving because x,y,z. She doesn't do that now, but she still tries to seep money out of us some way or another when we have less than she does. >.>

      That turned into a little venting. sorreh.

      7 agree
  5. Ok ok. I have a fine relationship with my in-laws. My FIL is a gruff military alpha male, but we talk about history and politics. I think he finds me intellectually spunky and respects my prowess. My MIL is a career housewife who is putzy and focuses on the small stuff (perfect towel to use to dry the dishes, etc.). I find myself irritated by this focus on things that I don't have time for nor will ever really care about… but I also have to allow myself to be mothered a bit by her. I'd love to tell her that I could give a shit about the finer points of housekeeping and decorating because I have a life, a job, grad school, etc., but it takes some maturity and humility to just nod, smile, and thank her. She wants to share these things with me because they're important to her. To her credit, she doesn't try to control me and never comes across as condescending, and I try to not read too much into her gifts of a gravy boat/strainer because I didn't have them. I don't make gravy, but still…

    Anyway. More serious things. My brother's wife does NOT get along with our mother (nor does he). I do, and so does my husband. The first time she came home, she clipped her toenails in the middle of the living room and didn't offer to help with anything (clear the table, etc.). Who taught this suburban, upper-crust princess her manners??? She's not willing to meet my mom where she is (in a blue-collar household in a rural town), and my mom finds her repulsive. I don't think there is any meeting in the middle except over the kids/grandkids.

    It's a tough situation for me to witness. My mom is not going to change. So, why not work towards harmony and talk with her about her pets, ask her what's new around town, ask her what she's been cooking, etc.? There is very little meeting in the middle with family situations because emotions run deep. What I have learned from having in-laws for the past 1.5 years is that I am able to interact with the people who raised my husband and find some type of common ground, share in some traditions, and then go back to our own life/home and do our own thing. Many are not that fortunate, so I am grateful.

    5 agree
    • I dont think this is really what is happening with your brother´s wife, but I came from a VERY hands-on, we-all-pitch-in family (and get in each others face aka we´re NOT perfect either!), and hubby doesn´t. His family has weird "codes" which I don´t understand. When I met them, I was asked to bring a pitcher of water from the fridge. I opened it (the fridge) and brought it to the table. For YEARS MIL and SIL rumored how "improper" I was from not making the "polite" requirement of asking permission to open the fridge (even though I was actually filling a request given by the homeowner), of not abiding certain unknownst-to-me superstitions (like throwing salt over your Dunno Which Shoulder when you spill it), etc. Plus, in that house only MIL is allowed to help (aka slave away, while SILs are sitting idolly watching TV), so I stopped helping since this was not welcome/expected of me, and was always criticised by how I did things (Yes, it´s a my-way-or-the-highway family!). So now, they bitch at how I dont help anymore when they are moving furniture, which to them is the only thing I can do well (Hi, totally preggers! Doc forbid me to lift any weight!!)

      1 agrees
  6. If I had my way, I wouldn't have a relationship with my MIL. She's toxic. However, it seems important to my husband to have a relationship with his mom, even though she's toxic. I gave up on having an independent relationship with her because of something she said to me before our wedding. But I am very committed to honoring my husband's desire to have a relationship with her. So I do what I need to for him to have the relationship he wants. That sometimes means biting my tongue and making nice. But it isn't about me. It's about him.

    The last time I saw her I played nice and she seemed to really appreciate it. I don't have to like her. I don't have to enjoy spending time with her. I do need to honor my husband and not make things harder for him.

    24 agree
  7. My method with my mother-in-law, is not to deal with her. I can't hold my tongue with her and we do not get along.

    The second time we met face to face, my Honey and I told her I was pregnant. The moment we got alone, she told me that she would take my baby if she could. When I asked why, she told me it was to "save the baby from being raised by heathens". My response was less than stellar, I told her one of us would be dead before she got my baby.

    Before that though, she coerced my Honey(her son) to give her his son(M) while he was having issues with M's mother. She has refused to return him to Honey and has drawn out a legal battle for him. She has also raised him to believe she is his mother and anytime we try to visit she makes excuses or is miraculously somewhere else.

    She is a mean-spirited, and cruel lady. She favors her older son over Honey, even as far as writing him out of the will to give his inheritance to older brother and not informing him that his great aunt and then his grandmother died until after the funerals. When he was injured in Iraq, her first call to me was not 'is he okay' but 'when is the funeral'.

    So I just don't speak to her except to inquire after M and try to make arrangements to visit him.

    6 agree
    • Your response may have been less than stellar, but it was the only right one. Good luck dealing with her in the future.

      I hope your SO has recovered from his injuries.

      9 agree
      • He has, thank you. He has a moderate TBI and PTSD but manages very well. But at the time she spoke to me we had no idea what the extent of the injuries were. And I found out that she was using his injuries to get sympathy from her ward(she's Mormon).

        1 agrees
        • Ahh, isn't it great how religion brings people together in an atmosphere of love and understanding?

          (Okay I know it does *sometimes*… but just as often it's used as a weapon and excuse for shitty behavior. "Raised by heathens" indeed.)

          18 agree
          • Not cool.

            Shitty people are shitty people whatever their religious affiliation or lack thereof.

            16 agree
          • I only mentioned her religion as a reference for ward which is the Mormon version of a parrish. Her religion doesn't matter, she would be a horrible person anyway.

            7 agree
  8. Oh my goodness this could be me! My Fiancé's mum is really protective of him. He's an only child and very close to his parents, plus super laid back. I'm really bossy and assertive and I guess I can come across as domineering though I'm not really, honestly I prefer him to take the lead but he's often happy to go with whatever I want. Which has caused conflict cos his parents didn't like him suddenly having ideas of doing stuff his own (I guess OUR own) way.

    But anyway his mum is really infuriating in that I'm clearly not meeting standards even though honestly they're impossible and I'd have to be a whole other person to meet them. His dad has accepted me mostly, cos I think he can see how determined my OH is, but his mum wants to change me. OH assures me no girl would live up to his mum's standards but it's still hard. I'd love to have a close relationship with her but u can't see it happening as long as she holds out for new turning into someone else.

    Oh and Lord help me when we marry! We'll be living in the same city and she tears up at the thought of him moving out. It's like he'll die rather than get married. The most silly thing is he really wanted to meet someone and his parents were so thrilled to meet me at first, but now he's proposed and things have settled and he's actually happy his mum has forgot that and moved onto this pervasive dissatisfaction that is really obvious and hurtful.

    LOL I obviously needed a rant. I keep reminding myself that it's me and him that matter, and he's the one for me so I've just gotta deal one way or another.

    2 agree
  9. There's a lot of discussion over at Captain Awkward about negotiating relationships with families, both families-of-blood, families-of-acquisition, and families-of-choice; I'd recommend reading a bunch of the threads there. You're definitely not the only one.

    7 agree
  10. I think the way not to explode with internalized stress is to honor yourself. Show up as your true self. Honor your true "yes" and true "no" when you feel them. If there is to be a real relationship, it is going to be when your real self and the other person's real self are both welcome. When you are not using all that energy trying to connect, you actually have much greater ability to be warm and open, because you are centered in yourself. The important thing I have learned is that I am not responsible for how others feel–and I AM responsible for how I feel. Take care of yourself. Many people will be attracted to your centeredness. If they don't like you being you, you can't have a reciprocal relationship anyway. Let them go.

    24 agree
    • I agree with this in spirit, but I have a hard time putting it into practice. I know I stress myself out to the point of being sick when the inlaws come to visit because I feel like if I show my true self they'll hate me. My mother-in-law is also very superficial and phony, so I suspect she's more comfortable with me pretending to be someone I'm not (or just pretending to be nobody, which is kind of how it turns out).

      She won't like me being me, and I have to put up with her for the sake of my partner. The only thing that helps a little is to reframe the relationship as something I do to make my partner happy, not to get her to like me.

      5 agree
      • I agree that it is extremely hard to do. It's just that now I find it even harder NOT to do. The cost to my self is too great.

        I definitely don't show up as Me all the time. But where I was afraid to and avoided it before, now I am afraid to AND committed to doing so as much as possible.

        Good luck with whatever road you take!!

    • This is something I need to try and do more…I find it difficult and acknowledging that I am not responsible for everyone else's feelings is probably something to take on board for all of my relationships. Although it is something I find hard to put into place in practice- I want them to like me because I think it will make life easier for all of us. Which is problematic obviously…

      • Yes! Trust that people will like you for you, with your own needs and boundaries and preferences. (And the ones who don't–better to know that now.) You deserve to be a real person in your relationships.

        1 agrees
  11. Strangely my relationship with my now ex-MiL improved incredibly when her son left me! She has always driven me bonkers with the things she does but now I see it for what it is, she's just absolutely crazy and very lonely. She has known me for over 25 years and every single time she see's me she asks me if I want a cup of tea. I've never drunk tea!

    When he left, whilst she did her classic sitting on the fence routine, in her own way she tried to be supportive and that was appreciated. My own Mother died 6 years ago and going through a very bitter divorce and separation without a maternal female figure however bonkers would have been much worse.

    My fiancé's Mum however reminds me so much of my own Mother it's scary, we do get on very well mainly because we are both infuriated on a regular basis about the behaviour of his ex towards her children and we both love gardening. I think she probably thinks I'm the sensible one in the relationship as she has a tendency to over-Mother my beloved and see him still as a little boy (Ha! If only she knew). How our relationship will develop when he finally moves in with me I don't know, she's much more house proud than I am and she's never been to my home yet because she doesn't really drive more than 10 miles.

  12. This sounds sssooo cliche, but sometimes honesty is the best policy. I love my mother-in-law to death but we have different ideas about family(which is to be expected). She is super opinionated though and sometimes her comments would put me on the defensive because my husband grew up an only child with both parents being extremely supportive and loving whereas I grew up as an adoptee who had wonderful parents but a very confusing family dynamic(it was an open adoption) and the constant need to compensate for what I felt I lacked because I wasn't actually related to my family(I thought that was really important for some reason). I finally called her up one night after stewing about my feelings all weekend and explained to her why I get so defensive and how it's hard for me to be open because there are things that have happened in the past that I don't like to divulge. She was sweet and understanding, and made it clear that if she ever says a thing to hurt me that I am welcome to be as open with her as her son is.

    We are still different people, but it's perfectly okay not to identify with another person on every level. That's part of being human-everyone has a different perspective. I think sometimes mom and daughter-in-law relationships get clouded because of the person involved. I want to be good enough for my husband and she hopes she WAS a good enough mother to her son. The main thing it taught me is to open my mouth when something's bothering me instead of trying to push it to the bottom-cause clearly that NEVER works.

    4 agree
  13. I have been blessed with amazing parent in laws, and for the most part all of his extended family are just lovely – it was just the one side that were a little stand off-ish in the beginning but after a few years they've even warmed up and now it's just "that one uncle" lol! But I think this advice could be applied to any sort of "in-law" (or "out-law" as my one friend puts it) relationship. Great article, and great tips – thank you so much for sharing. I will definitely be applying these tricks to that one uncle, as weird and awkward as that may seem – I can't imagine it will get any more awkward than it already is (he already won't address me and just chooses to glare me while making comment about "those city people" and how we are ruining the world, even though both me and his nephew live in the city and my family is from a farming background too… *sigh* lol… )

    1 agrees
  14. I have a fine relationship with my in-laws, but it breaks my heart to see how they manipulate my husband. He chalks it up to Catholic guilt, and boy do they guilt-trip him. Whenever he doesn't do exactly as they want (from small things like not visiting on a specific day to big unwieldy things like not being able to help his brother get a girlfriend), they tell him he's a bad son, a bad brother, a bad husband, etc. Early in our relationship he admitted that they often told him I would probably leave him, that he wasn't doing the "right things" to "keep" me, and on and on. It made me furious but he asked me not to confront them because it was family business. To this day, my in-laws don't know what I know about their manipulative tactics. It's hard to act cheerful around them and be seething inside. But I trust my husband to handle things and ask me for help if he needs it.

    6 agree
  15. I wish I knew what to do about mine. My husband is not her only child, but he is her firstborn, and her only son, and he has always been a bit of a mama's boy. She was very open and welcoming to me for the first year, right up until the point when things got serious between me and her son. She tried to take over our wedding; she was inviting people left and right, there was a confrontation when she told us we absolutely had to change our venue, and she accepted a project to help out that she bailed on literally the day before the wedding. She even tried to convince my then-fiance to cancel! After the wedding, things simmered down for a while, but she absolutely will not let go of him. She calls every day. She tries to swindle him out of money all the time (I am talking thousands of dollars). She comes by my work and then expresses frustration to him when I don't visit with her for what she feels is an acceptable period of time (while I am on the clock!) She Facebook messages him all throughout the day, and will text or call if he doesn't answer her right away. She regularly tries to convince us to move closer to her (she lives less than an hour away). She has nagged about my cooking (not enough steak! too fancy! where is the normal food?!) and yet attempts to invite herself over for dinner regularly. Before I met my husband, she apparently manipulated him into moving thousands of miles by saying she would kill herself if he didn't move back in with her and help take care of her. She has a pill/self-medication problem.

    I have been dealing with some health problems and made it clear to her that I was not comfortable discussing them with her; after a MONTH of nonstop probing, she went to my husband and got him to spill the beans, and I found out when she Facebook messaged me to try and tell me how to handle it (which was very intrusive and very personal). I thanked her for her input and told her that I appreciated her concern for my well-being but that it was between me, her son, and my doctor. She's barely spoken with me since, but has become even more weird towards my husband, bordering on hostile, and back to trying to swindle him out of cash.

    I am at my wit's end.

    6 agree
    • I'm so sorry. 🙁 She isn't respecting your boundaries. You may have to set them more explicitly or you may benefit from getting some help with setting and maintaining boundaries (from a counselor/therapist/coach). She sound like she would react really extremely to boundaries (based on the suicide threat), so you might want that extra support navigating those difficult waters. Best of luck <3

      4 agree
      • In addition to boundary issues, she thinks everything is about her. She pitched fits — on Facebook, publicly shaming her own daughter — when she went to visit my SIL after the birth of the second grandchild, because my SIL wasn't letting her be the only babysitter. Mind you, SIL was suffering from PPD and had all family from all five sides (two sets of moms + their families on her side, her dad's side, and then his mom and dad's sides) visiting and helping out/babysitting/holding the baby. She couldn't get over it. I was horrified. It's making me seriously nervous about having any kids. She's that obsessive over the kid two thousand miles away. What is going to happen to us when we have kids less than an hour from her?

        1 agrees
    • And she was right back at trying to bully my husband into giving up intimate specifics of my health issues this weekend. When namecalling didn't work, she moved on to getting him alone and crying.

      So over this MIL/DIL relationship.

      1 agrees
  16. My relationship with my inlaws is weird. My MIL tries so hard to be a part of things, even from A province away, that it sometimes becomes a little overbearing. I also have a chronic illness that she's trying desperately to understand, and while she reads all the articles I post, she doesn't absorb them. The FIL, on the other hand, lacks tact on a large scale. Most things I can ignore, but the constant comments about my husbands weight, especially when they made it to a public forum, finally pushed me over the limit. I pointed out the fact that constantly commenting on someone's weight is incredibly rude, and he took it to mean I thought he was just a rude person. Not true.

    It doesn't help that they project all of his sisters bad relationships onto us. I'm just going in to ignore mode from now on.

    2 agree
  17. Oh lord… my MIL and FIL are smart people, hard working and thoughtful. I hope my baby girl picks up their work ethic. BUT… they are horrible at interpersonal communication. Small talk, no problem. But I can take only 3-4 hours of his father telling me my methods of doing things are wrong, or that I don't understand what I'm talking about. Then I start to lose it and either rip their heads off, or try to keep the peace by hiding in our room and crying in frustration.
    It is absolutely not personal. This is just how his father is, unable to think outside the patterns that work for him. I get it. The spouse knows it gets to me and makes sure contact is limited.
    His MIL is slightly better, but very cutting if you say something she doesn't think is the "right" response. When she asked what I wished for after giving birth to my daughter, I laughed and said a 2 hour nap. She snapped at me that she wasn't going to watch the baby while I slept. I was shocked… 1. That she got pissed off, 2. That apparently when asked what I want, I was supposed to say what she wanted. It's happened countless times, too. My spouse runs interference between us, too.
    I don't begrudge them seeing their granddaughter at all… I would just like to be in another building while they do, if possible.

    3 agree
  18. Once I knew what to expect, I felt a lot more comfortable with my in-laws. They are homebodies. You take slippers and a book when you go visit them. They like cheap beer and wine, and they like what they like. Every couple of visits they will make an effort to "do something" for me like visit a local attraction, and I really appreciate their effort for that.

    The only problem is really my FIL's politics. My MIL is a wizard at changing the subject and avoiding certain topics altogether. But sometimes the FIL will still go on a rant, and I've learned to just ignore it. I feel shitty ignoring someone in conversation, but past experience tells me that it is the kinder option for everyone involved. If anyone has some alternatives for addressing this, I would love to hear them!

    1 agrees
    • If it's something you really can't let pass you by, you might try something I think I saw in a comment on a related article here: "If you're saying that because you think I agree with you, just know that I don't." If he's ranting, he might not even notice, but other people listening won't mistake you for someone who shares his opinions.

      10 agree
  19. Thank you for this! I have a difficult mother-in-law and things are doubly difficult because we live together. She had her first child at 15 and still very much like a teenager. She throws tantrums worse than my 6yo autistic stepdaughter and has no concept of boundaries/personal space. I fear having anyone over because the moment I do, she's in their face showing them a youtube video of a barking dog/complaining about her waitress job, or talking about her dog's genitals.

    When I first started dating my husband, she was very nice(if a bit harried) and we got alone wonderfully. The moment we got married and she wasn't my stepdaughter's substitute mommy anymore, the claws came out. Despite nearly two years of cohabitation, I still haven't been able to truly adapt. I've always been a person who got along with everyone, but I guess the good thing I've gained from our living arrangement is getting over my "nice Southern girl" syndrome and learning to communicate more directly. It has taken time and therapy, but it's nice to be able to say what's on my mind, even if she locks herself in her room and sulks for a week afterwards. My other coping mechanism is to mentally play Crazy Mil Bingo when I have to be around her. I've thought about having cards printed up.

    4 agree
    • Please do come out with Crazy MIL Bingo, and make sets available as printables. I would SO play it when my husband is on the phone with his mom. May I suggest a "You Owe Me" square? 🙂

      7 agree
  20. My in-laws didn't show their true colours until my husbands brother-in-law passed away. They had no consideration for what he needed, and only cared to talk about how hard done by they and his sister were. Then we got engaged and the only wedding planning they wanted to talk about was what the three of them wanted. Which wasn't what my Blondie wanted. He was taught not to speak his mind, especially not to his family. And so he began on a great big learning curve, learning to own his feelings and opinions, learning that his feelings and opinions are just as valid as anyone else's. In fact, in regards to our wedding, they were MORE valid than anyones's except my own.

    I got very angry at them in the beginning. I even told them that if it wasn't the wedding they wanted, then they were more than welcome to not come. At our wedding itself, I blocked them out. My Blondie was physically sick that they had even turned up, given the way they had treated him and I. Our relationship with them has only gone down hill since. Thankfully Blondie and I have learned better ways to deal with the situation as it affects us. He is learning to be assertive in his own way, how to be authentic and how to own his truth. And I am learning not to get indignant on his behalf and to shut up sometimes! He is still perplexed at why they are treating him this way. Every time he is honest with them, they stonewall him, telling him he's making a big deal out of nothing, that he's overreacting or that he's being incredibly selfish because he wants to talk about himself. They still make me angry, and yet I simply remember that my Blondie and his well being is my priority, that and our relationship. And anger doesn't help us.

    My focus right now is supporting my Blondie to be the person he wants to be. Sometimes this means keeping my opinions to myself, something I am still working on. I can easily tease him about being his fathers son (cos they both talk a lot!) or his mothers son (cos they both love attention) without it being a negative thing. Because there are many aspects of him that I love that I know he inherited from his parents. And I am totally ok with that. They raised an amazing son that is now my partner in life. And I think that helps him hugely in dealing with this whole mess.

    To be honest, its been an amazing learning journey for us as a couple. One that has been incredibly hard at times. And yet one that has ultimately made us closer. No matter how mad I have been at them nor how hurt he has been we have never forgotten the other and I think that has made all the difference. We remind each other of the person we each want to be and we support each other to that purpose. Its amazing having someone by your side against the world. Even when his parents are part of that 'world'.

  21. My sister in law is my problem. She is very critical, judgemental and bitches behind backs. We had to live with the in-laws for a few months due to circumstances, including SIL. We have a <1yr old son, the first Grandchild on both sides and I wore myself out with stress and anxiety running after him, not sleeping well as we were all in 1 room (despite a spare room in the house!), keeping the house tidy to SIL's standards (not MIL's, but SIL's as she was the one who'd be guaranteed to complain) and generally prioritizing myself last to keep peace in the house.

    Even though she's nice to my face, I later find out that both sisters in law (who are still living at home, unmarried and 6+ yrs younger than me) were bitching about how I never tidied, neglected my son, was always on my tablet device (because I couldn't nap when Son napped due to neither of us sleeping well when in the same room, so yes, I'm zoning out in other means), left stuff lying around the common areas… Just really mean comments for stuff that would be entirely reasonable for any sane, kind, gracious person.

    Now we're out, I don't want anything to do with her. I can't handle knowing that after a visit she's going to judge me for the blocks left on the floor, for the crumbs I haven't vacuumed, for the washing I haven't folded yet. Stuff that is very normal for people with kids. But she doesn't have kids and, most importantly, doesn't care to understand, listen, admit she's wrong, or be kind. Am I a horrible person for hoping she has a rotten child and suddenly can't cope? In seriousness though, I think she's disappointed in her own life and judges everyone else harshly to make herself feel better. But I am over dealing with her and refuse to care for my own emotional wellbeing.

    5 agree
  22. I'm very lucky that I get on really well with my in-laws. But my partner and I do sometimes have some issues about boundaries with both our parents. Sometimes I feel pressure to agree to things like trips and joint holidays. We're trying to be much more disciplined about saying "That sounds lovely, but we really can't confirm until we've checked our diaries". I think the problem is that our parents forget we're adults now, and occasionally regress to assuming "If I'm free on that date then my child will be free too" – they don't always remember about our hectic work /adult life schedules!

    Sometimes I feel quite exhausted by times like Christmas and summer holidays, because we always seem to end up over-committing ourselves in order to please all our in-laws and extended family… I hope that in time (we've only been married a year) it will get a bit easier and gradually our relatives will understand that occasionally our marriage (aka our new family) might need to take priority over extended family.

    6 agree
    • This – so much of this! We're being so strict this year on our boundaries! Especially as both parents are already laying on the pressure for our Christmas plans… no one seems to think we might want time for ourselves over this period!

  23. This came at just the right time! I'm really struggling with my MIL right now. In many ways she's amazing, including letting us live with her for 6 months rent free. But our relationship is very strained. My husband is one of 8, and she already has a few daughter in laws, and I really got the impression that I'm just another one and it's not that important to her that we have a good relationship. It's such a contrast to my husband's experience with my family – I only have one sister, and we were first to get married, so my parents were over the moon to finally have a 'son'!

    Thankfully we finally moved out this week, so I think that will take some pressure off a bit. But my husband is definitely a mummy's boy (even though there are a lot of them, he's the youngest boy!) and is still over there all the time. I really get the feeling from her that nothing I do is right or good enough for her son, and as he was the last son to leave home she's made it clear to him that he doesn't really have to leave – to the point of leaving dinner out for him every night when he doesn't live there any more!

    I think like a lot of other commenters, I definitely needed to vent..

    Thanks so much everyone for the great advice. I think I've realised from reading all your comments that I'm going to have to accept that I don't need to have a relationship with my mother in law (which I've always wanted, as generally I think she's a really cool lady!) and that there's no point trying to force things or get annoyed when I don't meet her standards. Perhaps it's time to leave well enough alone!

    3 agree
  24. My issues range from all the females in my husband's family crying the second anything heavy is brought up, to being demonized for standing my ground. No one communicates. Ever. My mil plays favorites with children and grand-children. Her husband is beyond self-absorbed, so naturally I'm expected to fall in line, and allow my husband to place himself above us. My love languages are acts of service and quality time. Being horribly abused as a child, I pay close attention to what is needed of me by others. I have be speaking in their languages for years. I have become adept at shifting and adapting for their painfully conservative comfort. In return I get only what they are willing to give. Yet I'm expected to adapt, to understand and be the bigger person. All I want is balance. They are too weak to fight for anything. Too scared to do anything outside their comfort zones. My husband chose to move us so we could breathe a bit from his family. 2 hours away, and they still demand (passively) our presence every weekend. I pray for guidance daily. Any thoughts?

  25. I don't think my MIL knows what to do about me. She and her son have a very tense relationship (I liken it to fighting dogs that are too busy licking their own wounds to see that they hurt the other one), and here I am committing to this man. She's big into education and talks down to my husband because of his lack of it. She can't do that with me and my master's. Basically I try to make polite conversation, but I will always stop her if she starts bitching about my husband. It doesn't help that we live with her, but the husband and I stay on the same side and always have each other's backs, so that helps. I respect that she is his mother, which I think is a big part of it too.

    1 agrees
  26. My MIL and I simply don't talk. Her son (my husband) has requested it be this way. She's horrid, but honestly, she also has deep deep mental issues stemming from losing her husband 15 years ago, and she refuses help. She's an old southern lady, and resents that I am not a version of her younger self. My husband looks and sounds so much like his dead father it's nearly uncanny, and she said all through our marriage until we stopped talking to her "You're just his wife, we (she and his little brother) are his FAMILY".

    Well, that's not the kind of marriage we have, we have an old school "leave and cleave" biblical marriage, and she knows that. I am his choice. She does not respect that, she has never respected that, and she's made it very plain she does not like me or respect me and she thinks her son should leave me. Sucky for her, her son is madly in love with me and loyal to the Nth degree.

    She's literally scowling in all of our wedding pictures unless it's just her and my husband, and when she's with my husband she's staring at him adoringly like a schoolgirl with a crush (which is how she treats him). It was remarked as creepy by so many people that we haven't gotten any pictures of her printed, because you know, scowl or creepy.

    So we simply don't talk to her or my husbands little brother (who is a whole other story) anymore. Husband had issues with them before I came along, and them disrespecting our marriage, not respecting or accepting me as his choice, and constantly saying or implying that they were a family "before me" or that I'm not my husband's family is just an extension of them not respecting my husband.

    And you know what? It's awesome. It really is. Holidays don't make me fret for weeks leading up to them, we actually enjoy them. No one is constantly telling me how my husband doesn't really like how I do things and is just lying to me, no one is constantly downplaying our marriage vows, no one is telling me my husband only likes my fuller figure because he has emotional damage. No one is telling my husband his choice in spouse isn't good enough, and subtly pushing for divorce. The people we have in our lives, particularly those close to us, are those who respect each of us and just as importantly respect us as a unit.

    I don't know if it'll always be this way. Maybe at some point we'll patch things up? But honestly, not talking is OKAY. It's OKAY to reach a point where you step back and go "I don't like this person. They make me sad/angry/full of self doubt/etc, they try to manipulate me or downplay my role in my SO's life. I don't *have* to talk to them or interact with them. In fact, everyone would probably be happier if I didn't." There's no reason you HAVE to keep putting yourself and your relationship in a toxic situation -even for a few hours or days at a time – for some social status quo.

    I think we downplay the mental and emotional havoc a shitty MIL (or FIL, if that's your situation) can have on an individual or a relationship. Even if your relationship is strong and awesome and kick ass, it's a judgement and a stresser you *don't* really need. I'm a strong, intelligent, well read, opinionated woman, and after years of my MILs comments they dug into my head and did some damage that's still being worked through, at times, because of the assumption that she knows her son better than I do. She doesn't. It's not a sitcom situation, it's not funny or okay because it's only a few times a year.

    Allll that rambling above said to say – Sometimes there's nothing to be done. Sometimes people, even in laws, are just toxic and they will persist in being that way, and the best thing is just to cut contact, be it for a Holiday ("No, mom, we aren't coming over for Christmas this year. {omit the I'm sorry}") or indefinitely. AND THAT IS OKAY. Protecting yourself and your relationship is a beautiful, important thing.

    7 agree
    • "I think we downplay the mental and emotional havoc a shitty MIL (or FIL, if that's your situation) can have on an individual or a relationship. Even if your relationship is strong and awesome and kick ass, it's a judgement and a stresser you *don't* really need. I'm a strong, intelligent, well read, opinionated woman, and after years of my MILs comments they dug into my head and did some damage that's still being worked through, at times, because of the assumption that she knows her son better than I do. She doesn't. It's not a sitcom situation, it's not funny or okay because it's only a few times a year." <– THIS! So much! Thank you for this.

      1 agrees
  27. I just wanted to say I am SO GLAD this popped up in my fb feed just now. My mother-in-law is a lovely person, but we are very different. Our communication styles are so different some days we may as well be speaking different languages. Irritating, but no big deal…until we moved in with her after an apartment fire. We've been here over a month, and my frustration with her (seemingly deliberate) obtuseness, Catholic guilt tripping, and passive aggressive suggestions is at the boiling point. It's a relief to realize other people have similar problems.

  28. This article is what I need more of!I'm getting married in 2 days, and my mother-in-law has been part of the most stress since starting plan it. These tips I hope will help. Though, I wonder if anyone has any advice on how to deal with in-laws that have mental illness (because that is one of the things I'm needing to learn to handle with my mother-in-law)?

    • This was a great article. My MIL tried to break me and hubby up, so needless to say, there is a LOT of internalized stress for me…over the past 4+ years nonetheless. There's been a lot of 'taking the higher road' with her. But, she made an honest effort to be part of and help with my wedding. She is trying. So I have to realize that although she hurt me, she is only human after all.

  29. With our first Christmas as a married couple fast approaching the in-law issue has been on my mind a lot. I get along with my in-laws fine when I'm in their company, but I don't enjoy being in their company. Particularly his younger sisters who are only a few years younger than me but act like spoiled teenagers. The bottom line is that my personality, and my husband's for that matter, don't really mesh with those of his family. The difference is he has a history with them and can overlook their negative and toxic behaviors. He recognizes the behaviors (thank God!) but puts up with them because they're his family. I, on the other hand, bite my tongue nearly in half every single time I'm in their presence.
    What really resonated for me in this article was the concept of me not being the in-law they expected or wanted. I know that they prefer the type of person my husband's last serious girlfriend was … unfortunately for them my husband prefers the type of person I am, and I simply don't fit in with them. I also think they have some resentment towards me because my husband started spending less time with them once I came around and spending time with me emphasized just how different his values and personality have become from his family.
    They way I deal with them? I simply don't. I don't see them very often at all even though we only five miles away. I told my husband as soon as we moved in together that I would not spend major holidays with them because as an only child I feel I need to spend those days with my parents. I go to birthdays, I go to the occasionally Sunday dinner, and I'm pleasant and cordial when I'm there. I keep my mouth shut a lot and try to get him to leave as soon as it's polite to do so. I love that my husband loves his family and wants to spend time with them. It'd be nice if I felt the same way about them, but I don't, and I think that's okay too.

    3 agree
    • Oh my, this is a hard one. My daughter is not a only child but spends most of her time with her in-laws. My husband and I do spend time with her in-laws as well because they are lovely people. My daughter is spoiled as well but she loves her brother in-law until my daughter had informed her that she bugs her husband. They joke with one another and have always, but now my teen aged daughter doesn't know or want to talk with them as she may upset someone and start a fight between the couple. Don't push the in-laws away, do a family thing with only the parents on both sides and you and your husband. This may be a good starting point for the bond to grow stronger. We all love our child and sad to say we don't wont someone to come and destroy our family. NOT saying that's what your doing it's more how I'm feeling in my daughter/son in-law/and siblings. And it hurts that my daughter is't defending her sister.. Best of luck to you and your wonderful husband.

      • I think it's interesting that you felt I was "pushing the in-laws away" because I don't see it like that. I don't prevent my husband from spending time with them, I just choose not to very often and it seems to be working for everyone. We did had a little bit of a tiff about it on New Year's because I really didn't feel like spending my whole day there and my husband actually gets it a lot better than I thought he did. He said he understands that his family aren't my type of people and vice versa, but it's important to him that I show my face. I agreed to go with him to Sunday dinner once per month and to all birthday parties as long as they don't conflict with my rehearsal/performance schedule.
        I like your suggestion about doing some dinners or something with just us and each set of parents but it's just apples and oranges. Everything about my parents is the opposite of his and vice versa so I feel like that would actually cause more issues than it would solve! I am sorry that you're going through this with your family though. I'm sure your daughter feels the way my husband has on occasion, very put it in the middle and torn between her family of origin and her family of choice.

        1 agrees
  30. My in-laws visited us for a month. On second last day for their return, me and my husband had a very small fight. My in-laws on that day with my husband said many things about me which I didn't like and my husband as well instead of stopping them, made good use of it and provoked them. I didn't like their conversation regarding me and now they have left I can't talk to them like I used to do before. Also, from their side they have stopped calling me. I call them now once in a week and they don't. If I try to have a conversation with my husband regarding this incident, we again fight as he says,"You didn't respect em in front of my parents". I am really upset with how the things went and they were molded in such a way to make it look like a big fight. I want to forget all this and want to be normal again but the thoughts always come to my mind of the things they said and thus making me feel bad again. Please help me understand how to bring the things back to normal again with my in laws.

    1 agrees
  31. My daughter gets married in July. Her and her soon to be husband came to the house for a visit. My youngest daughter and soon to be son in-law have always had such a fun joking friendship. Anyway she joked with him when he was over the way she does every time, and he does every time. Son in-law just up and walks out of the house. My daughter than starts yelling at my youngest daughter to go out and say sorry. My youngest daughter 17 can't understand what is going on and says' no… my daughter getting married leaves. Telling me that every time they visit her further husband complains about the siblings.
    What am I to do to keep the friendship they have had for 7 years…

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