When I was engaged people gave me a ton of unsolicited advice about marriage. Random friends and relatives alike would walk up to both my husband and I and start blabbing about something that they thought we should know before we jumped the broom. From keeping it spicy in the boudoir, to not having kids too soon, my husband and I heard it all. Or at least, we thought we did. Out of all of the advice I heard, no one said anything about dealing with monster-in-laws. Oops, I meant to say mother-in-laws. No one warned me about the tensions that can be created in a marriage by a mother that does entirely too much.
Dealing with my husband’s mother was one of the most difficult areas I’ve had to deal with in my marriage. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a really nice person, but for the first few years we bumped heads quite a bit. Especially when it came to my children. I’m sure that many of you out there may be currently having issues with your mother-in-law. Please know that things can and will get better. You just have to make a concerted effort to work toward that end.
When it comes to dealing with a mother-in-law that is pesky or manipulative, there are generally two ways we respond: 1) keeping quiet about it and internalizing our frustration or 2) going off on them in order to nip it in the bud. Needless to say, neither response is a good idea.
Here’s my advice for managing mothers-in-law:
1. Be understanding. I know you’re thinking, “Wait. What? Why would I try to understand her, she's the one that’s disrespecting me!” Hear me out on this one. Before addressing an issue, it is important to try to understand her perspective. Oftentimes, mothers-in-law don’t mean any harm and don’t have any idea that they are behaving in a way that makes you uncomfortable. On the other hand, some may know that they are behaving in an inappropriate manner, but are doing so out of hurt. Sometime mothers feel like they are being replaced and don’t know how to handle that. Understanding their motives makes it a bit easier to deal with.
2. Talk to your spouses about it. Men can sometimes be sensitive about their mothers, even when their mothers are the ones causing problems. Discuss your issues with his mom with him and let him know how they make you feel. It is important to have his support. This also prevents your husband from being blindsided by hearing about the situation after the fact. It ensures that your motives and your words aren’t twisted by your mother-in-law and she won’t be able to embellish and accuse you of saying something that you didn’t say.
3.Have a heart-to-heart talk with your mother-in-law and choose your words wisely. Do not start the conversation by accusing them of anything. Instead, start the conversation on a positive note. Point out something that they do well or a quality about them that you find admirable. This way, they won’t feel attacked and will be more receptive to what you have to share. The entire point of this dialogue is to inform your mother-in-law of her actions, but we need to do so in a gentle way. Remember, you want her to be receptive. Instead of saying, “You are manipulative and I don’t like it.”, say something like, “When you do (insert action here) it makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes it comes off as manipulative and I know that’s not your intention.”
4. Be specific. I’m not talking dates and times here, but rather actions and behaviors that need to be addressed. That way, they’ll know exactly what it is that they need to modify.
5. Set boundaries and express your expectations. Do you not want your mother-in-law to pop up over your house unannounced? Do you want her to respect your decision when it comes to your parenting style or decisions you make regarding your children? Tell her. Let her know how you do things and how you expect others to behave when it comes to your family. This takes it a step further from merely telling her what she’s doing wrong, but also gives her a idea of how she should behave and respond.
6. Give her the floor to express themselves. It is important to give her the opportunity to respond in your dialogue. This keeps her from feeling attacked and it gives her a chance to get whatever is bothering them off their chest as well.
7. Give it time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. People are creatures of habit and need time to recalibrate. Give them time and hopefully, you’ll see a change for the better.
What say you? Do you have any issues with your mother-in-law? How have you handled her? Are there any tips I’ve missed? Do tell.
Briana McCarthy is a digital journalist, lifestyle, beauty and culture writer, blogger, vlogger, speaker, social media strategist, and an advocate for special needs children. Check out her lifestyle and beauty blog www.themanesource.com, her health and weight loss site www.lisforloser.com, and follow her on Twitter @themanesource.