5 Tips on Dealing with Mother-in-Law Madness!

While it’s a common joke that a mother-in-law may act like a “monster-in-law,” there is a grain of truth to it as well. An overbearing mother-in-law can exact a heavy toll on a relationship, causing significant stress affecting everyone involved. However, there are steps that couples can take to manage the situation and to prevent damage to their relationship.

Some Statistics about Mothers-in-Law

According to Yvonne K. Fulbright, Ph.D. in an article for Psychology Today, “one in four daughter’s-in-law despise their mother-in-law.” They reported that their mothers-in-law were “controlling.” One out of 10 women wanted to get farther away from their in-laws. Also, almost 25% of respondents referred to their mother-in-law as either “terrible” or “bad.” Fulbright refers these moms as a “monsters-in-law.”

How Do These Relationships Get Started?

Some thoughts on how these unhealthy relationships get started include:

  • Some mothers-in-law oversteps the boundaries and interfere with their sons’ relationships. This also includes getting involved in parenting issues and pushing their own agendas.  
  • Some mothers-in-law often suggest that the daughters-in-law are not good enough for their sons. They can be judgmental and consistently interfere in the couples’ lives.

It’s important to note that one shouldn’t assign all responsibility to the mother-in-law. Relationships are a two-way street. The daughter-in-law may also be an instigator. Daughters-in-law can exacerbate situations too, and become overly protective of their relationships.

What Happens in These Situations?

When the relationship is strained, it can cause a tremendous amount of stress on the couple while dealing with the mother-in-law. The daughter-in-law, in particular, may experience a lot of stress, which can cause the relationship to unravel. 

What Can Be Done With “Monsters-in-Law?”

Here are some tips to follow:

1. Try to understand and empathize with what your mother-in-law is likely experiencing.

Recognize that your mother-in-law is not evil (hopefully!) and has issues that are getting in the way of having a healthier relationship with you. Some common issues she might be struggling with: relinquishing control over their son, feeling jealous that her daughter-in-law is now the recipient of her son’s attention, and struggles to let go now that her role has changed (as a less involved parent).

2. Get on the same page with your partner.

Come to an understanding about the difficulties of dealing with the mother-in-law so that both of you are in agreement with how to handle the challenging issues and situations with all in-laws.

3. Husbands need to find a healthy balance when in the middle.

On the one hand, husbands should absolutely not blindly defend their mother (a recipe for relationship disaster), but on the other hand they need to avoid taking on their wife’s battles as their own. It’s unhealthy for the husband to take up 100% (or even the majority) of the fight. This only causes a triangulation to occur between the husband, wife, and mother-in-law, which is unhealthy and makes the situation very messy! The daughter-in-law should communicate directly with the mother-in-law most of the time. 

It’s critically important for the daughter-in-law to set firm boundaries and assert herself. Don’t sweep concerns under the rug. However, finding the right balance can be a challenge, especially knowing when to let the little stuff go and share other issues that truly matter to you.

4. Critique your mother-in-law’s behaviors or words, NOT her character.  

Character assassinations will set you up for a long, unfortunate war you’re not looking for!  (This also clearly applies to your intimate relationships too.)

Getting Professional Help

If your mother-in-law is causing significant stress in your relationship, don’t hesitate to seek professional help as soon as possible. This support can be invaluable. Productively expressing your feelings about the “monster-in-law” situation helps determine how to deal with your situation together. Without finding common ground, it will be next to impossible to establish a working relationship with your mother-in-law.

 

It is definitely important to avoid letting an unhealthy mother-in-law situation fester. Don’t let the situation between yourself, your partner, and your mother-in-law become a disaster. Be sure you and your partner communicate. Find ways to get on the same page. Consider professional help if difficulties persist. Otherwise, you will likely deal with the “monster-in-law” madness for a very long time. In the process, you may seriously risk damaging your intimate relationship.

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