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20 Ways to Deal with a Difficult Mother-in-Law

A lot of us may have “difficult” mothers-in-law. Here are 20 ways to help you make things a little less difficult.

1. Understand the Problem

Is there a specific reason that she is being difficult? Most people have a reason and aren’t just difficult to be difficult. Your mother-in-law might be feeling less important. You just took her baby boy! You’re now the number one woman in his life, not her and she may not be quite used to that. It’s difficult for mothers to stand back sometimes and learn to be second.

2. Take a Different Perspective

Honestly think about what it is she might be feeling right now. Perspective is how we view the world, so what happens when you try to take someone else’s perspective? Put yourself in her shoes. Your understanding might become different.

3. Avoid Conflict

Did your mother ever teach you if you don’t give someone what they want they’ll eventually get bored and leave you alone? If you think about it, did you notice you picked on your siblings or friends just because it got an entertaining reaction? Yep. So, if your mother-in-law constantly picks on you, don’t give her a reaction. If she is criticizing or giving unwanted advice, just say thank you and go on with your life. There’s no reason to create conflict when it’s really not needed.

4. Be Compassionate

It’s really hard to fight with someone who is being compassionate. It may be incredibly difficult sometimes, but it will be worth it. Act the way you want to feel. If you want to be happy, then be happy. She’ll be happy too. If you start off with the wrong feelings, things will end that way. Being compassionate puts you on an entirely different level and her opinion of you might change! How nice would that be?

5. Make Her Feel Needed

At least in the beginning of your marriage until she gets used to the idea, make her still feel needed. Call her up to ask her questions. Encourage your husband to still call her up every once in a while. Give her a sense of importance still. Besides making her feel better, you might learn a thing or two about what you didn’t know about your husband.

6. Know Your Own Triggers

Know what makes you angry and how to handle your anger. Some things you might not be able to avoid, but if you prepare for it you will be able to handle it better. Most problems with mothers-in-law happen over and over again.

7. Define Your Boundaries

It’s ok to set boundaries such as “no unannounced drop-in visits.” Be sure to verbalize these boundaries with your mother-in-law though because she isn’t a mind reader. Make sure that both you and your husband are on board and both of you are enforcing them. It’s also ok to define literal boundaries and move away from her as well. You don’t have to be next-door neighbors.

8. Say Thank You

Saying thank you is a just a nice thing. It’s a very simple and easy thing that will score you some brownie points.

9. Don’t Change Yourself

If your mother-in-law gives you a few ‘criticisms’ or ‘suggestions’ on being a better person you don’t have to listen. Don’t doubt yourself and don’t change yourself because of a few suggestions someone made. Obviously they aren’t that important if only she is saying them. Plus your husband likes you for you and that’s all that really matters.

10. Pick Your Battles

Not everything has to be a battle. For example if you mother-in-law purposely picks your absolutely least favorite restaurant for dinner, that might not be a battle that is really that necessary. Just accept it, smile, and move on as hard as it is. Save your strength for the larger battles like setting boundaries that I previously mentioned.

11. Respect the Grandparents’ Privilege

When you have children you have to respect the grandparents’ privilege to spoil your children. I know, you don’t want your kids to learn to expect things from grandparents or ask them for things, but when grandparents do offer just let them. That’s one of those battles that just isn’t worth it.

12. Talk – Don’t Explode

When you have a disagreement or something you need to address with your mother-in-law, talk – don’t explode. Talk nicely and calmly and don’t yell at her. If you don’t yell hopefully she won’t either. If she does, then stay calm and be the bigger person. Nothing is ever solved when you’re yelling at each other. Be assertive, not aggressive.

13. Be Honest!

It’s ok to be honest! Don’t feel like you have to hide everything. If she keeps attacking you and saying hurtful things confront her on it. Explain that that was rude and you feel hurt and it’s not going to be tolerated. If you’ve got something you need to say it’s ok to say it, just say it nicely and tactfully.

14. Use “I Feel” Statements

Use “I feel” statements instead of “you” or accusatory statements. If you’re having a conversation with someone and they start saying things like “it’s your fault” or “you made me do this” do you not automatically shut off and stop listening? Or maybe you do listen, but you become defensive. By using “I feel” statements there’s no blame. Everything is in your perspective and it leads to a much calmer conversations than the blame statements.

15. Look for the Good

Everyone has a bit of good in them. Even if that good is she gave birth to your husband that is still good. Being positive could make all the difference. Appreciate the good and give her credit for it. Try to get to know her more, it shows effort on your part and it will completely take her by surprise and she might return the favor.

16. Clarify Misunderstandings

This can be one of the biggest communication problems with everyone, not just mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Clarify what you don’t understand, especially if this message is being passed on to you through someone else. Talk directly to her and ask questions. Not only will this keep things clear, but she will hear your questions and see that you’re actively paying attention and listening.

17. Use Reflective Listening

By being a reflective listener I mean being active in using empathy. Listen, and then reflect back what you just heard in different words. It shows that you are listening and truly trying to understand what she is saying. No arguments can come about through use of reflective listening either. For more information visit my blog post entitled “Empathy In Action – How To Be A Reflective Listener”

18. Don’t Criticize in front of your Spouse

Don’t criticize or complain about your mother-in-law to your husband. Husbands tend to be “fixers.” By this I mean they tend to hear things and think something needs to be fixed. If you have a problem with your mother-in-law and you’re just venting, your husband might accidently take that as a plea for help and talk to your mother-in-law about what you just said. If that doesn’t happen then it will just make you look bad and cause unnecessary problems between you and your spouse. If you must, complain and vent to someone else. Don’t wreck your marriage over your mother-in-law.

19. Compromise

Make compromises with each other. Don’t always feel like you’re the person who has to “cave.” Make sure things are equal between you. It’s important to realize that each of you has different expectations and it is possible to meet in the middle.

20. Most important of all…

No matter how hard you try, you can’t change other people. You can only change yourself.

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