Whether you have a great relationship with your mother-in-law or you have tense struggles, maintaining good communication with your mother-in-law will help ease tension in your marriage. It is possible to get along with your mother-in-law, even if you both don't see eye-to-eye some of the time.
How to Get Along With Your Mother-in-Law
When establishing and maintaining a relationship with your mother-in-law, it's helpful to follow some guidelines that all healthy relationships share. This will help you maintain a positive relationship with your mother-in-law, as well as set things right when tensions arise.
Boundaries can be thought of as a set of rules you will need to be happy in a relationship. Are you comfortable with your in-laws dropping by unannounced? Are you okay with unsolicited advice? If the answer is no, you need to set some ground rules with your mother-in-law to let her know that you are not comfortable with her behavior.
While defining your boundaries can be uncomfortable, having the same boundaries violated repeatedly can be more uncomfortable in the long term, and will eliminate any enjoyment you can get out of your relationship.
For instance, if she comes over unannounced, you could say, "Oh, I was just in the middle of something. I'd love to spend time with you, but I'm busy now. If you come over on Saturday, I won't be so busy, and we'll have a really nice talk then."
Leave Enforcement to Your Spouse
When you are having a hard time getting your mother-in-law to respect or understand your boundaries, speak with your spouse about it and have your spouse speak with your mother-in-law to enforce boundaries.
It's important that you and your spouse are united and your spouse understands the reason why it is necessary to speak with your mother-in-law. In order to accomplish this, it's best to try to state your thoughts in a non-accusatory way. "It makes me uncomfortable when your mother comes over and goes through all of our stuff. Do you think you can talk to her and let her know that it makes me very uncomfortable?" Hopefully, your spouse will feel the same way and straighten it out.
Speak to Your Mother-in-law Directly
Some believe it is best to handle mother-in-law issues yourself, rather than having your spouse constantly play referee. It takes the strain off of your spouse, and he might stand with you anyway.
If your mother-in-law crosses a boundary, don't be afraid to state what you mean, but say it as constructively as you can. "I asked you specifically not to feed Johnny chocolate. It always keeps him up, and he has a terrible day the following day because he can't get to sleep. Can we please keep the treats on the healthy side so he doesn't suffer as much?"
Separate Mother-in-law Issues from Marital Issues
If you are having trouble with your spouse understanding the issue with your mother-in-law, take a step back. Your spouse might feel stuck in the middle. He probably knows on some level that your mother-in-law's behavior is causing trouble in your marriage.
If you have a problem with your mother-in-law, don't allow the issue to be a reason to state everything you are frustrated about in your relationship.
Establish Mutual Respect
If you have a great relationship with your mother-in-law already, maintaining mutual respect will keep things going well. Even if you have trouble feeling this from time to time, at least showing mutual respect will help you in your relations with your mother-in-law. Ways to show respect in a relationship include:
- Active listening - Make eye contact with your mother-in-law when she is speaking, and every once in a while, ask a question or make a statement to show you are listening.
- Absence of abusive behavior - If you want your mother-in-law to behave around you, do not engage in name-calling, yelling, or other abusive behaviors.
- Acknowledge when you agree - If you agree with someone, it disarms that person for the moment, even if they are upset or seem like they are picking a fight.
Assume and Acknowledge Good Intentions
If your mother-in-law is too intrusive, has advice about everything, and does not seem to respect your ability to raise children or clean your bathroom the right way, assume it's only because she cares, but she might not be able to express it in a constructive way. She might not even realize that you feel like she doesn't trust or respect you.
You can try saying, "I really appreciate your concern and how caring you are. I think your advice would be more meaningful to me if you wait for me to ask for it. I'll be in the right frame of mind and be able to process it better."
If this doesn't work, ask your mother-in-law for her support. "I know you are familiar with how challenging life can be. I'm trying to find my own way of being a good spouse and parent. Would you please let me find my own way for a little while, and I'll ask you for your expertise if I need it?"
According to a study in the Western Journal of Communication, when daughters-in-law made efforts to allow the mother-in-law to see the grandkids, the relationship was less fraught with problems. Also, when some common ground is found in the relationship and viewpoints on family and raising kids, things go a lot smoother. As long as you make an effort to schedule time in with grandma and continue to look for something in common with your mother-in-law, in most cases, it will make the situation better.
In other words, keep your focus on the positives if there are any. Focusing on the negatives of your mother-in-law's behaviors will keep you angry and agitated. Ruminating on her behaviors will cause nothing but heartache for you. You can't control the way she acts or feels, so don't worry about it. It shouldn't affect the way you feel about yourself.
Acknowledge Your Mother-in-Law's Changing Role
The friction between you and your mother-in-law could be due to the fact that she has to learn how to adjust to the idea that she is no longer the only influential female in her son's life. This is a big change for many mothers, and it could be difficult for your mother-in-law as she redefines her relationship with her son and learns to share him. She might not realize that she needs to learn a new set of boundaries in her relationship with her son.
Letting your mother-in-law know that you are out for your son's best interests might help ease her abundant concern. You can employ tactics such as active listening, or giving her something to do so she still feels involved and needed. This way, you are still in control and ensuring no boundaries are crossed, and everyone is happier.
As long as both sides are still talking, even if the conversation is tense, you can still work out your differences. Hopefully, your mother-in-law will recognize that relationships don't happen instantaneously, but take time to cultivate.
At first, things might not go along perfectly. Your mother-in-law is human and makes mistakes too. Withholding your judgment and keeping an attitude of forgiving acceptance will enable you to keep things healthy with your mother-in-law and move past her transgressions should they occur. If she makes a mistake, discuss it without anger, and accept that you might have two different opinions. You need to be willing to move on from there.
When All Else Fails
Some mothers-in-law will not accept their child's new spouse. Being shunned by your mother-in-law isn't easy, but there is little you can do about it unless your mother-in-law is willing to sit down with you and work on your relationship.
If you still allow your kids to visit your mother-in-law, be wary if she makes any disparaging remarks about you to your children. If she does, express to your spouse the fact that it happened, and that this behavior will damage your relationship with your children. Be adamant about sticking to this boundary. For example, you could curtail visits to grandma if she isn't able to abide by simple rules of mutual respect, even if from a distance.
Will Counseling Help?
Counseling with a family therapist could be useful if you feel you need help communicating with your mother-in-law, especially if you spent a great deal of time trying to express yourself in the most productive way you could, or if she doesn't seem to understand how she has crossed a line. However, both parties must be willing to sit down and work on the relationship. If your mother-in-law is willing to sit with you in therapy, it is a tremendous step in the right direction.