I am having a hard time getting along with my mother-in-law. Things seemed really good between us before the wedding, but after we said “I do,” she completely flipped the script. I don’t know what I did to make things change so drastically. When I talk to my husband about it, he just waves it off or thinks I am being nit-picky and overly sensitive. He refuses to stand up for me and talk to his mother about what is going on because he doesn’t want to upset her. I don’t want to cause any problems with me and my husband, but I don’t know what to do about the situation with his mother. What should I do? – Frustrated Daughter-in-law
Dear Frustrated DIL:
It’s amazing that so many women have to ask this question. Not once has a woman written to me asking for advice about resolving conflict with her father-in-law! I am sure she exists somewhere! I think conflict between a wife and her mother-in-law is a stereotype that has grown to be expected, and many people just accept it as “a natural occurrence.” There are countless movies and television shows that depict just this and though we find them entertaining, a real-life situation is no laughing matter.
I know from experience that having issues with your mother-in-law can lead to some very difficult holiday dinners and family gatherings. And even tension at home because the husband usually gets pulled into the middle of the conflict. If your husband is anything like mine, that is his least favorite place to be! It’s impossible to address all of the possible conflicts between a wife and a mother-in-law. Whether it be control issues, jealousy issues or just plain ole’ “you aren’t good enough for my son” issues it can become a big mess if not handled with care! And while I don’t have the perfect cure for in-law tension, I can give you a few suggestions.
First, try talking to your mother-in-law directly and see if there are underlying issues that can be resolved. Let her know how you feel and let her know that you want to have a good relationship with her. I suggest a nice lunch at a neutral restaurant.
Second, stop putting your husband in a position where he feels he has to choose between you and his mother! In his mind your constant complaining might begin to justify the situation. Instead, take control of YOU and YOUR actions. Yes, you heard me right. You cannot control your mother-in-law, or anyone else for that matter, but you can control your own actions and reactions. Stop letting your mother-in-law push your buttons and pull you into conflict. Soon your husband will see her constantly trying to push your buttons and he’ll see you deflecting the situation with loving kindness. Maybe if he witnesses his mother’s actions for himself, he will be compelled to come to your rescue and put his mother in her place by validating you as his wife and establishing some boundaries…okay, that is a great BIG maybe! But if that were to happen, your mother-in-law would definitely chill out! She wouldn’t want to upset or alienate her son if he took such a strong approach. She would do just about anything to stay in her son’s good graces, even if that means being nice to YOU!
Author of the upcoming book Been There Done That: And Lived to Tell About It (due out Spring 2011),Tamara R. Allen is Your Advice Guru giving REAL advice from REAL experience. Email your questions to [email protected]. You can follow Tamara on twitter @tamararallen or check out her daily column and archives at www.tamararallen.com.