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  • Writer's pictureMark Seevers


Monster in law

Some of us are lucky to have a mother-in-law that treats you like the you’re the best kid she ever had (even if you arrive in her world by marriage) but others are not so lucky. My wife was one who was not that lucky. My mother was like a drill Sargent, not asking but demanding answers like what is the real reason you’re with my son? Do you know how to cook?

Just last weekend I forgot to ask the bride and groom how they would like me to announce, “the kiss.” I told the bride that we could do the “OLD FASHION” way, or I could say, “Bride and Groom, I invite you to take your first kiss as husband and wife.”

Before the bride could answer, her mother-in-law overheard the conversation and said,

“Why would they want you to say that!” “They have kissed a thousand times!”

The bride turns to her and says, “you’re right, we have kissed a thousand times but not as husband and wife.” She then stepped up to her MIL and said “thank you” as she gave her a hug! Wow! Talk about knowing how to shut someone down without them knowing what happened!

I’m here to help you get your point and feelings across about questions and actions your monster-in-law may place upon you.

Did you know that one in four daughters-in-law (DIL) have a bad or very rocky relationship with their mother/monster-in-law (MIL)?

I found a list on Psychology Today that may have the answers you need to have a face off, get your point across and still have a great… OKAY, decent relationship with your MIL.

1. First, sit with the self.

Before you can take on your MIL, you need to give yourself a time-out (probably more than one) to evaluate the situation and develop a game plan that’s right for you. Find a quiet space free of distractions where you can note everything that has taken place to date.

Allow yourself to process the list, mulling and fuming over it — getting all your feelings out — until you can revisit it with a calmer frame of mind. This will enable you to constructively take on the situation, coming from a more rational space when moving forward.

2. Consider where your MIL is coming from.

With or without empathy or sympathy, try to see your MIL’s side, and how her behavior may be a symptom of larger issues she has with herself and her relationship with your spouse — and not you. In some cases, a mother-in-law's hostility may be an act of frustration over being disconnected from him. If this is the case, this is something that your husband needs to work on with his mother.

While it's challenging, try to be objective as you evaluate the situation. Honestly ask yourself if she has a valid opinion. Consider if her actions and words are coming from a place of love, and if this needs to be acknowledged. Consider, too, if she’s struggling with feelings of having been dethroned in her family, and if there are ways you can make her feel important and needed in her own way.

3. Ask yourself what role you’re playing in the situation.

There are situations in which a person has done nothing to cause the relationship with in-laws to become strained. Yet there are also situations in which the DIL is doing, or not doing, something that is causing the in-laws

to treat her the way they are, warranted or not. Think back to how you’ve engaged your mother-in-law and ask yourself honestly if a third party could find fault with that. Are you a total victim in this scenario, or do you do or say things to instigate a negative response? If so, consider how you can change the way you’re handling the situation or reacting to it, so as not to invite any antagonism.

4. Don’t have any expectations.

We can all learn from the Buddhist belief that expectations lead to suffering. Don’t allow yourself to suffer anymore. Let go of expectations around how things "should" be when it comes to family relationships. Don’t want what you can’t have. Instead, be realistic about the situation, including any nonnegotiable circumstances. If you’re not going to be close, given what has transpired, maybe that’s for the better. Instead of trying to live out some Hallmark illusion, contemplate how you can work with the way things are. For example, is a coolish relationship possible?

5. Be okay with not having their approval.

You don’t need anyone’s approval to live your life the way you want. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to get your in-laws' thumbs-up. Not caring what they think about you could be freeing and empowering.

6. Trust your instincts.

If your intuition sounds the alarm, listen to it. It’s there to take care of you, as Camilla, a 35-year-old consultant, learned: “The first time I met my mother-in-law, I found her warm and beautiful. But when she hugged me goodbye at the end of that evening, something went off in me indicating that this wasn’t a good person. Sadly, my instincts weren’t wrong.”

How to Engage

Unless your spouse wants nothing to do with his parents, you can’t ignore your in-laws. So, when you find yourself in their company, do the following:

7. Don’t try to fake a relationship that isn’t there.

Yes, they’re legally your parents-in-law, but are they really treating you like family? You don’t need to refer to your in-laws as “Dad” or “Mother,” if there is no intimacy or warmth that warrants the use of the terms. Using these words also adds to a power dynamic with them that may not work for you. In calling your parents-in-law by their first names, you create a more level playing field.

8. Be assertive.

This needs to remain central, no matter what you’re communicating. While initial attempts to engage your in-laws should be courteous, the problem with being too polite for fear of coming across as rude or pushy is that you don’t establish the necessary boundaries. Thus, you can’t communicate how deep the problems are, and how troubled you are.

9. Opt out.

Some in-law situations never get to a better place. As Christina Steinorth stated on “Just because you’re married, you’re under no obligation to be emotionally abused by toxic people.” If your MIL was a boyfriend, your friends would tell you to dump him. If your MIL bullied someone, people would advise that person to keep his distance and set limits. Just because she’s your MIL doesn’t mean that you must tolerate abuse.

10. Limit your in-laws’ involvement.

Whenever anyone becomes toxic to your marriage or family, you have the right to roll up the “Welcome” mat and say, “Game over.” You, your spouse, and your primary family have the right to a peaceful existence, with the people in your circle being those who are a positive and supportive presence. If you are being disrespected and mistreated by your in-laws, then they aren’t entitled to the privileges that come with being in that circle. You have every right to draw and maintain strong boundaries in protecting yourself and your marriage. Nobody has the right to make your life miserable, and only you can make sure of that.

Written by Yvonne K. Fulbright PH.D., MSEd


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