May 28, 2013

If you have a wonderful relationship with your mother-in-law, congratulations! You’ve beaten the odds…at least if you are the wife. Research says that just over 60% of mother-in-law/wife relationships are strained compared to 15% of mother-in-law/husband relationships.

It can cause a lot of problems in a marriage when the in-laws don’t get along. Here are a few tips for handling a difficult mother-in-law situation whether you are the wife or the husband.

  1. Never stay silent if your mom is criticizing your spouse. You ALWAYS have your partner’s back. Dr. Phil said if you take your mom’s side, you better plan on sleeping with her for the rest of your life. You can be respectful and firmly tell your mom that being critical of your spouse is hurtful to your marriage. If it is getting ugly, you may have to leave or ask your mom to leave until she can behave herself.
  2. If your spouse has a problem with your mom, you need to handle it. Whoever has the primary relationship – mom/daughter or mom/son, needs to have the difficult conversation. Leave the in-law out of it.
  3. Once you decide to marry, your parents move out of your most intimate circle and your partner moves in. This means your marriage is your priority. Set good boundaries to protect that relationship. Boundaries are not a bad thing. They keep all relationships healthy. I had a client who could not tell her mother no. She came to counseling because she was always so angry with her mom but she felt setting boundaries was mean or unloving. Once she learned how to respectfully set healthy boundaries, she stopped feeling taken advantage of and the relationship improved. They were closer after she learned how and when to say no because she stopped resenting her mom’s unintentional intrusion.
  4. I can’t stress this enough. You’ll hang up, your spouse could walk in the room and say something nice, and you’d be over it.But your mom will remember what you said. You don’t need or want your parents’ to feel protective over you when it comes to your spouse. Call a friend, journal or see a therapist if you need to vent.
  5. Most parents do not want to come between you and your spouse. They only know what you tell them. Let them know when something isn’t working and don’t forget to let them know when something is working.
  6. Talk to each other about the role you want each set of parents to have in your lives. Don’t assume you both are on the same page. Be reasonable in your expectations. You might not particularly like your spouse’s parents, but they raised that person you chose and they deserve your respect.
  7. Try not to criticize your spouse’s parents to them or others. It will only hurt your partner. Your partner may tell you her mother is insane but she isn’t giving you permission to repeat that to her later or bring it up at a party.
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If you find yourself in a difficult in-law situation you can’t resolve on your own, let us help.

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KIM BOWEN is a licensed professional counselor who offers relationship therapy through her company, The Marriage Place. Her blogs and newsletters have been featured in various publications


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