Dealing with the Monster-In-Law

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Are we pre-destined not to get along with our Mother In Laws?

While most mother-in-laws are brilliant and get along with their child’s chosen partner really well, there are some that do seem to create issues between themselves and daughter-in-laws. I see many problems come into the Counselling room generated between the mother-n-law and the sons wife.

Many of the issues could have been either dissolved or negated if they had known some basic rules to follow. Rules that apply to both the son and the wife regarding the mother-inn-law. The issue is not solely between the two women, it clearly involved the son and he is the one that needs to be more pro-active in resolving any problem.

Why is there friction between some “Mother-In-Laws” and new brides?

Some mothers raise their son’s to be independent individuals while others believe they as the mother are needed to protect and care for their son forever. It is these mums that struggle with letting go of their child allowing them to evolve into their adult life.

Once married and their son has a wife, the position has changed for the mother, and she should come second to the wife. The son must make decisions and choices with his wife and place her first. The mother can sometimes struggle with this change which can cause an issue between the mother and the daughter-in-law as she has taken the new major role in her son’s life.

How do we deal with ‘smothers’ (Smothering Mothers)?

The best opportunity to reduce any issue is for the son to have a conversation with his mother before the wedding or certainly soon after. He can respectfully advise her how important she is in her life and now his new wife will become his main priority. He then thanks her for doing such an excellent job of raising him to be an independent and loving partner and man.

If the mother continues to smother her son and this infringes on his partner relationship, it must be discussed. Perhaps utilise the support of his father and siblings if they can see the issue or have experienced similar. If she continues trying to smother him, then it is essential he instigate respectful boundaries around her comments, behaviours and demands.

Remember the mother is not the behaviour. She may be a loving and kind person not yet clear on the boundaries she needs to learn. There is a difference between a behaviour and the person.

How to deal with a mamma’s boy?

If you feel you are the third wheel in your relationship, time to take steps to correct this. Research tells us it is more of a common problem with single mothers or where the father is not proactive in their relationship.

  • You as his wife have to tell him how you feel. 
    Men are not mind readers and often do not realise that what they are doing is damaging their relationship. If his mother has always been overprotective, he may see no issue with this as it is what mum has always done.
    Get your point across in a respectful and calm manner. Be careful to choose your words wisely as this is a very sensitive situation. If you start throwing around nasty comments about his mother, he may rebel, and you could lose him and the relationship. It should never be a her or me situation, ever.
  • Set boundaries.
    Encourage him to set some boundaries with his mother’s interference and see if he makes an effort to do this. Ensure the boundaries are made jointly between the two of you and are made clear so his mother easily understands. Don’t expect things to change overnight as this is a process and may take some time.
  • Don’t speak to his mother about the problem; this is his job.
    Respect the fact that this is a personal issue that he and his mother need to resolve. If boundaries are part of the plan, your man needs to communicate it to his mother.
  • Prepare yourself that change only sometimes occurs.
    Be fair but do not settle for less than you deserve. Don’t make empty threats expecting things to change, this borders on blackmail and never ends well. You need the solution, a joint plan on how this change can happen. Both partners must be on the same page. YOU can always decide that if things do not change, you will make the decision to remain or leave.

Counsellors can assist you and your husband both to set boundaries and discuss ways to speak to the mother to reduce conflict and distress. It is also a wonderful opportunity to discover what it is your husband really feels about the issue and if he also believes it is a problem.

How to handle those difficult mother in laws?

Genuinely try and get to know her. Find a common area or areas of interest and some spend time doing that together, like taking her for a movie or lunch occasionally.

Make sure she understands how much you love and care for her son, that you are there forever and will be the mother of her grandchildren in years to come. You may even suggest you hope you can raise your son as well as she has raised your husband.

If you have a husband who is loving, kind and sensitive, his mother helped create this, so she has done a fantastic job for you. Speak about her son only in the positive, compliment her and then subtly make comments on how you are trying to assist him to become stronger and more resourceful by learning additional independent skills he may not yet have acquired.

If she makes a negative comment toward you, look at her, smile and quietly say how unnecessary that comment was and how regrettable. Say no more, allow her to know you will not react, yell or scream as if you do she has more ammunition to paint you as an unstable and out of control person. Speak to your husband about her comment and allow him the opportunity to speak with his mother and set clear boundaries of acceptable and non-acceptable behaviours.

How do you keep your couple relationship strong if your mother-in-law is a monster to you?

Women need to keep the peace and not make an issue of their husband’s relationship with their mum. Instead, women need to discuss boundaries and limits with their husband and not their mother-in-law. You may need to assist your husband in respectful firm ways to speak to his mum as he may feel threatened and uncomfortable to make stipulations to his mother. Understand there will be a processing time, it may not happen immediately.

Couple counselling can often assist couples to recognise their relationship and the boundaries; this can ensure the couple relationship remains happy and strong.

Rules to assist dealing with your difficult mother-in-law:

  1. Speak to your husband about how his mother makes you feel and have a solution already worked out e.g.: maybe you could ask her not to comment on my cooking in a negative way
  2. Accept this woman loves and adores her son and wants to ensure he is happy and cared for
  3. Understand she has raised him and help make him the man he is today, the man you fell in love with
  4. Agree you both have different roles in his life
  5. Have your husband speak to his mother first. This may resolve the issue if she is made aware of your feelings and has suggestions on what to say and what to avoid
  6. Be respectful and understanding toward her behaviour
  7. Try to develop a relationship with her. The more she knows you and accepts you are a good wife for her boy, the easier it may become
  8. Never make a negative comment about her son to her or about her to your husband
  9. Decide your husband will never discuss any relationship issues with his mother as this may escalate her feeling of aversion toward you
  10. Make a fuss of her when you see her, show how much you appreciate her role as your husbands mother
  11. Never have him choose between you and his mother
  12. Consider attending a Counselling session with your husband to acquire skills in dealing with this issue. Learning new language skills often deflates any conflict

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