When families combine, tensions can arise between you and your mother-in-law. Recognizing traits of a jealous mother in law can help you find appropriate ways to manage the situation while minimizing your level of stress.
Traits of a Jealous Mother-in-Law
Beneath the jealousy your mother-in-law exhibits are often more complex emotions that she may not be conscious of. When families combine, relationship roles shift, and that may create a lot of anxiety for your mother-in-law. Instead of appropriately explaining what she is experiencing, she may lash out at you, try to create stress within your romantic partnership with her child, and attempt other tactics to belittle you or cause a rift between you and your partner. Her motives, both conscious and unconscious, may include:
- Feeling scared about losing her relationship with her child
- Feeling scared about her relationship with her child changing in any way
- Feeling threatened that you will alter her relationship with her child
- Not knowing how to process that her child will likely align with you going forward instead of her
- Grappling with the idea that her child is growing up and not feeling ready to let go
Her behavior towards you may have nothing to do with you whatsoever, but more so may be in reaction to what you represent to her and her family unit. That means that you may not ever understand why she behaves a certain way towards you, but you can begin to observe her behavior and better decipher her motivations. In doing so, you will have a better chance of responding to her in healthy and appropriate ways.
She Sabotages Your Plans
In an attempt to create tension between you and your partner, she may interfere with your plans as a way to test your partner's loyalty to her. This can be really challenging for couples to deal with, especially if it is happening often. Examples of this include changing your dinner plans without telling you and requesting your partner's presence when you are supposed to spend alone time together. If this occurs:
- The most appropriate response is for your partner to have a serious conversation with their mother regarding appropriate boundaries.
- If she attempts to confuse you and your partner separately to purposefully interfere with your plans, be sure you always connect with your partner and discuss exactly what she said.
- Discuss with your partner the importance of communicating with each other when their mother gets involved so you both can stay on the same page.
She Speaks to Your Partner About You Behind Your Back
Your partner may disclose if their mother speaks badly about you when you aren't present. Their mother may do this to create a rift between you two and pull your partner back into their old role within their family of origin. If your partner tells you this is happening:
- Discuss with your partner what you feel comfortable with in terms of resolving this.
- You may want to have your partner speak with her alone and set some boundaries, so she knows this is inappropriate.
- Refrain from saying anything to her on your own, even if you are tempted to.
She Triangulates You
Triangulation is when someone uses another person to communicate, instead of speaking directly to them. While this may not sound like a big deal, triangulation is an unhealthy way of reducing anxiety, instead of dealing directly with conflict or tiffs. Your mother-in-law may speak through your partner instead of directly to you or may insert herself in conflicts between you two that have nothing to do with her.
- Speak with your mother-in-law about discussing issues directly with you and have your partner present.
- You can also have your partner let their mother know that it's not appropriate for her to insert herself in conflicts or tiffs that don't directly involve her, and that they will not be a messenger for her when it comes to conflicts involving you.
She Pits You Against Your Partner
Your mother-in-law may attempt to spark arguments between you and your partner. If she has done this in the past:
- Be sure you and your partner are very careful regarding the information you choose to share with her about your life together as she may use this information against you at some point.
- Do not take the bait if she tries to incite an argument.
- Make sure you and your partner know not to resolve conflicts in front of her and refrain from sharing conflict related information with her, even if you've already worked through it.
She Drives a Wedge Between You and Your Partner
If you get the feeling that your mother-in-law is attempting to create distance between you and her child in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, keep in mind that this probably doesn't have anything to do with you, but may be more about her feeling anxious about her relationship with her child shifting. This behavior, known as splitting, can be difficult to verbalize, but it's critical that you and your partner discuss her behavior and how it makes each of you feel.
- Avoid letting her see that she's gotten to you and remain calm and neutral as best as you can.
- Discuss her attempts to split you and your partner in private and be sure you both are on the same page regarding solutions.
She Doesn't Respect Your Boundaries
Your mother-in-law may speak over you, announce something personal and private about you in front of others, invade your space, show up unannounced, and behave in ways that you've already verbalized being uncomfortable with. Continuously violating someone's boundaries is an unhealthy way to test them and see how far they can be pushed or manipulated.
- Hold firm with your boundaries and continue verbalizing clearly what you are and are not comfortable with.
- Be sure your partner backs you up to reaffirm to her that what she's doing is not appropriate.
- Adjust the consequences for her not respecting you (for example: if she continues to discuss something you asked her not to, calmly leave the situation).
She Subtly Ignores You
Your mother-in-law may ignore you as an attempt to get you to react. If this happens:
- Don't let her see she's getting a rise out of you - it's best to remain neutral and not feed into her behavior.
- Remain calm and be respectful of her.
- Behave in a way that communicates to her that her behavior towards you does not affect you whatsoever.
She Criticizes You
If she criticizes you or gives you insincere compliments privately or in front of your partner and/or others, it can feel absolutely exhausting to endure. If this occurs:
- Speak with her in private about her behavior towards you and how it makes you feel.
- If you feel unsafe speaking to her, you can have your partner speak with her about what they have observed in terms of her behavior towards you- just make sure your partner isn't speaking on your behalf and is stating what they have witnessed.
- Do your best to ignore her behavior, limit your time with her, and remind yourself that you don't need her approval.
She Speaks Badly About You to Your Children
If you have a child or children and your mother-in-law is speaking poorly about you to them, it's critical to intervene. This type of behavior is completely inapprorpriate and puts your child or children in a terrible position.
- Discuss the situation with your partner and come up with appropriate boundaries to set (for example, maybe she doesn't get alone time with your child or children).
- Speak with her, along with your partner, about why it is inappropriate and be sure to set boundaries right away.
- Be sure to discuss with your child or children why this behavior was wrong and let them know that they did the right thing telling you what happened.
Even if she doesn't apologize, or understand why it was wrong, it's up to you as parents to shield your children from this type of behavior, even if it means limiting their time with her, and/or always being present when she is around your children.
She Incites Chaos
If you have yet to have a peaceful encounter with her, keep in mind that the chaos she reflects outwardly mirrors her internal state as well. While this doesn't change her behavior or actions towards you, it may help you understand why she behaves a certain way. It is also likely that her behavior towards you isn't unique and she may treat others in a similar fashion.
Being Around Her Is Stressful
If you feel overwhelmed by your mother-in-law, and visits are becoming stressful:
- Be sure to speak with your partner about your feelings in a respectful way.
- Limit the time you spend with her.
- Keep visits short and be sure to decompress afterwards.
How Do You Know if Your Mother-in-Law Is Jealous of You?
It's important to remember that jealousy is likely the surface emotion that you may be observing in your interactions with your mother-in-law. Often times, there are complex emotions and thoughts that may have more to do with what your relationship with her child represents than her actually being jealous of you.
How Do I Know if My Mother-in-Law Is Manipulative?
Signs of manipulation include:
- Playing the victim
- Drawing you in only to reject you
- Using resources to influence your partner's thought process
- Attaching strings to every favor
- Using distractions to minimize circumstances they are confronted with
- Exaggerating faults to get what they want
- Threatening to do something if you don't agree with their decision
What Is a Toxic Mother-in-Law?
A toxic mother-in-law has an unhealthy relationship with her own child and therefore views any romantic partnership with them to be threatening to the homeostasis. She will use inappropriate and unhealthy tactics to ensure that her relationship with her child won't change, even if it means hurting people in the process. This can put your partner in an especially challenging position, where they may be forced to align with you or their family of origin.
Working Through Mother-in-Law Related Problems
When working through a difficult situation with your mother-in-law it's critical to realize that:
- You will never be able to control her behavior or reactions.
- You may never have a healthy relationship with her, because it takes two people to make a healthy relationship work.
- You may need to let go of the idea of what you wanted your relationship with your partner's mother to look like.
- You may need to have some difficult conversations with your partner about what you are experiencing with their mother.
- You may need to shift your expectations of what you want the relationship with her to look like.
When it comes to in law related relationships, it's a good idea to see a couple's counselor to help support you and your partner as you navigate this difficult situation.
Jealous Mother-in-Law Signs
Working through mother-in-law issues can feel very debilitating. Be sure to take care of yourself and seek appropriate support to help you process this complex situation.