Years ago, I dated a guy who was very close to his parents, particularly his mom. At the time, in my twenties, I didn’t appreciate the complexity of that situation and I had to figure things out on my own. My family certainly didn’t have boundary issues, so all of this was very new. It wasn’t easy and it tried my patience but as long as I wanted to stay in that relationship, it was important to manage. He was important to me and his mom was important to him. It was that simple. Dealing effectively with that situation required compassion, patience, finesse and honest reflections on my part.
Today, as a relationship expert and a wiser person, I can offer some pointers for dealing with in-laws, a common struggle for many. If you’re fortunate to have wonderful in-laws, count your blessing, ladies.
First, you have to consider the seriousness of your relationship. If you just started dating, your approach would be different than if you’re engaged or
married. Let’s assume you’re in a serious long-term relationship or married and his mother is driving you nuts. She is mean, demoralizing, and makes
you feel inadequate. No one likes to feel that they are not good enough. Consider the following strategies:
Take the other person’s perspective: Remember that the way she treats you is not about you; it’s about her. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. It may be hard not to take things so personally, but often, it’s just your ego wanting to be “right.” Hurt people hurt others and she may be hurting. You can eventually come to love your in-laws but you may not like them at first. And that’s okay. You still should treat them with kindness. Why? Because your husband, the person you chose to marry, loves his mom. She is also your children’s grandmother. You can’t use children as leverage to control this situation, by the way. That is extremely immature and hurtful for all involved. This isn’t just about you. This is about your family, biological and extended. Ask: what are you unconsciously teaching your children about relationships when you behave a certain way?
When you marry, you’re marrying into your spouse’s family. If you didn’t properly discuss boundaries BEFORE being married, that’s on you. You can’t just fall in love and think the rest will take care of itself. Every marriage starts out loving so how do we explain the high divorce rate? Other factors beyond love can make or break a relationship, long-term. Work with a coach; it’s the best investment you’ll make.
I came to realize that my ex-boyfriend’s mom was deeply unhappy with her husband. Sure, she put up a great front and was ever the doting wife while in public. They owned fancy houses, took expensive vacations, and hosted lavish parties together. Beneath the façade, she was absolutely miserable. She also would have never left her husband. Her son became her savior. He took on the role of her husband in many ways, helping with handy work, escorting her to events and being her emotional sounding board.
The situation seemed pathetic to me but I became sympathetic because I understood her dilemma. I had stepped into the role that she was used to having and she felt threatened. I also knew that he was trying to do what was right by supporting his mother while also honoring my needs. I didn’t want to make him choose between us.
Your Spouse Comes First: If your in-laws are destructive and emotionally harmful, it is up to your husband to create strong boundaries on your behalf. Your husband needs to have your back. This doesn’t just stop with your in-laws; this also applies to your colleagues, friends, and anyone in your circle. If you come home upset because of a fight with someone at work, your husband needs to have your back, even if you may have been in the “wrong.” What makes a sound marriage is the “I got your back, babe” and “we’re in this together.”
Create Boundaries: Communicate openly with your husband about issues. DO NOT BLAME his mother or him for all the problems. A man does not want to be stuck between his wife and mother (his two greatest loves). For example, if your MIL stops by your house unannounced on a regular basis to see the children, talk with your husband and come up with a reasonable schedule that works. Perhaps every Tuesday evening can be set-aside for grandma’s visits but not the weekends. Talk to your man. Your goal isn’t to get your way; it’s to come up with a compromise. If your in-laws are Republicans and you’re a diehard Democrat, make sure politics is off limits when you get together. Establish clear boundaries. Enforce them. Make it peaceful. You don’t have to like the in-laws; they are not your best friends, but I would expect you to extend the same courtesy and kindness you would extend to a stranger at your church.
Kindness: After years of quiet “battle” for power (let’s be real, it was a power struggle), I eventually won over his mother. In fact, she and I had established such a strong relationship that we continued to meet from time to time, even after her son and I broke up. Imagine that. When I was able to look beyond our immediate issues, I could see that she and I had many shared sensibilities. What ultimately won her over is this: I consistently showed her that I was good to her son and also to her, even when I didn’t want to be. I went out of my way to be respectful and to show her kindness, with my words and actions. I rose to the occasion but it wasn’t easy.
Remember, you chose your man out of millions of people for a reason. His mother likely influenced many of the good traits he possesses, whether you like it or not.
Forgive: Forgiveness isn’t about the other person asking to make things right although that would certainly expedite the healing. Forgiveness is about releasing the negative energy that is holding you back. Negativity can grow like cancer and eventually, infect everything you touch. You can let go and forgive. You can start fresh every time.
Being in constant battle with one’s mother-in-law (or anyone else, for that matter) is stressful and trying. Stop with the power struggle. You have already “won” because he chose to marry you. Be loving. Be kind. Be understanding. Take the perspective of the other. Rise to the occasion. You are the wiser, more powerful and capable one.
The fastest way to create positive change is to start with you. In any relationship, whether marriage, friendship, in-laws, or colleagues – you have the power to change things for the better even if the other person does not acknowledge your efforts. You are that powerful, my friends.
Breathe. Mediate. Give thanks. Love. Love always wins.
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