Single or married, we all have an idea what the dreaded “monster-in-law” means.
In fact, any man or woman becoming a part of the family probably has recurring nightmares of the terrifying vision that is their mother-in-law. She can be tough and, well, probably still hasn’t accepted the reality that you have married her child.
Jane Fonda’s portrayal of the overbearing (at times merciless) in-law of Jennifer Lopez in the 2005 film Monster-in-Law could be a tad exaggerated for some, but you get the picture. She’s constantly watching your every move with eagle eyes that even a single misstep could mean months—or years—of painful reminders.
You tend to wonder why you’ll never meet her standards or seem to be ever good enough. But before you lose all hope and finally resort to desperate measures such as leaving your partner because her being a pain in the neck is something you can no longer handle—hush now. We think it’s not entirely doomsday for you. We’ve got some tips to help you deal with her before it ruins your married life.
1. Give Yourself Time to Think (and Breathe)
Some people may have hit the jackpot when it comes to their in-laws. You can’t help but turn green with envy whenever you see them constantly together, laughing and holding hands—as if she was their biological mother. Now you, on the other hand, have to deal with a MIL whose constant hounding can get on your nerves.
If she may have said something offensive today or stepped out of line, don’t react right away. You just might make things worse if you’ll retort out of anger. Excuse yourself by stepping outside for a bit or go for a short walk so you can calm down, clear your head, and think straight. Psychology Today says “this will enable you to constructively take on the situation, coming from a more rationale versus emotional space, in moving forward.”
2. Be Objective and Don’t Take It to Heart
We know how difficult it could be trying to see things from her perspective, but her behavior could be her way of dealing with issues she has with herself or her son/daughter. Don’t take the things she says personally. Try to remain as objective as possible when dealing with a situation as sensitive as this—especially when emotions are involved.
Where is your MIL coming from? Is her tough love out of concern? Does she want to teach you a valuable lesson? But if you think that her attitude toward you stems from her disconnection to her child, then that is something your better half should definitely deal with. Sometimes it could be out of jealousy since she probably feels that her role as a mother is no longer needed or she’s having a hard time accepting that she has now become the “second priority.” Let them talk and work things out.
3. Learn to Set Boundaries
Make sure you’re firm about them too. Of course we love and respect our MILs, but if they cross the line and seem to meddle with everything, that’s when you have to speak up. Psychotherapist and author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along with Your Mother-In-Law or Daughter-In-Law Deanna Brann advises, “Be clear, concise, yet kind. No matter how they try to manipulate you, stand your ground.”
She also adds that “If they’re persistent, you may need to add consequences to whatever boundaries you have set. By letting them know in advance about boundaries and consequences, they’ll be making the choice, not you, for what happens next.”
4. Never Fight Fire with Fire
As tempting as it is to start yelling, call her names, or turn your horrible imagination of her into reality—don’t. You wouldn’t want her to think she was right about you all along. Try to remain calm and level-headed so that you can reason with her accordingly. Never, ever stoop down to her level.
5. Have Your Partner Speak Up
It could get frustrating and stressful when you’re the only one dealing with your MIL. You have to be open with your partner if you’re struggling and that you need help. The husband or wife should speak up to his/her mother or else it wouldn’t make the situation any better.
Greg Cason, a Los Angeles-based psychologist, says “by remaining passive to the meddling, your partner is giving a silent thumbs up to your in-laws.” However, Dr. Karen Phillip thinks that you should also respect the fact that this is a personal issue that your spouse and his/her mother need to resolve. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to improve your relationship with her too. Remember, never let your partner choose between you or your MIL.
6. Genuinely Try to Get to Know Her
Giver her a chance. It wouldn’t hurt trying to find common interests to talk about or hobbies that you think the two of you would enjoy doing. Of course you won’t be the best of friends in a snap of a finger. You’ll probably still have to endure snide remarks from her every now and then, but it’ll be a good start.
Dr. Phillip has a tip: “Make sure she understands how much you love and care for her son/daughter, 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 child as well as she has raised your spouse.”
7. Compliment the Positive Changes in Her Behavior
If you can sense that she’s trying to change, recognize it. Accepting constructive criticism can be hard so try to sympathize with her. Amanda Deverich, a marriage and family therapist based in Virginia, recommends you should be on the lookout for positive changes in her behavior adding that no person is 100% bad.
She says “The one time your mother-in-law honors your schedule or other requests or compliments your food, say something positive back. You would be surprised how this one small gesture can increase motivation to change.”
8. If All Else Fails, Seek the Help of a Counselor
No matter how hard you try, if things aren’t just working out then it’s best for you and your spouse to attend a counselling session to help equip you with the skills needed to further deal with the issue.