After responding to a few initial comments a long time ago with my initial post about A Man, His Mother and His Wife, I deliberately stayed out of the discussion because I wanted YOU, my readers, to give your experience and your views on mother-in-law problems without me jumping in all the time. Some comments I agree with, some I don't. Some of you brought up good points.
Now, I want to write more about the topic to clarify and to address some of what you have written. My comments and yours can also apply to other in-law relationships as well. Sometimes the offending in-law is a sibling.
- 1. In this post I want to summarize and clarify some points of Part 1.
- 2. In Part 3, I want to give suggestions about what you can do as the unhappy spouse/partner to approach your partner and to survive even if nothing changes with the in-law. Don't let it eat up your marriage or partnership.
- 3. In Part 4: I want to give suggestions to men (or whoever has the obnoxious parent) on how to approach your family member and protect your spouse/partner.
• My original post was first about avoiding reacting and attacking your husband or mother-in-law. The examples I used were a woman screaming at her husband about his mother and wondering why he left the house and a mother-in-law and wife getting into a screaming match. My point was that when you 'attack', the other person will react and it is not productive.
• A second point was to be curious about what the mother-in-law's response triggers in you and why, to be curious about how she might feel threatened in some way, and then to choose consciously how you want to respond to her or your husband/partner in way that is aligned with your own core values and the kind of person you want to be in the world. And if there are things you can do or say to reassure what you think might be a fear or concern she might have, do. If there are things in your own history that feel 'familiar' -- disrespect, criticism, not being important, look at your own buttons and ways you might be able to prevent the intensity of reactivity in you. That is personal work that everyone has. No matter how wonderful our own families were/are, we still end up as adults with one or two buttons that can easily get triggered. I am NOT saying that an obnoxious mother-in-law is your fault. I am saying be willing to look at your own tender spots and your level of reactivity around them. AND, whether or not the upsets are related to both your buttons and ways she triggers it, or when she is just mean and obnoxious in general, don't let her trigger a reaction in you that is a mirror of her!
• Learning good conflict-resolution and communication skills to use with your partner is extremely important when it comes to something as touchy as family. He DOES need to understand the effect she has on you. HOW you express your concern, upset, hurt to your husband is key -- both to help your partner understand AND to avoid acting like your mother-in-law by attacking.
• Another point of Part 1 was to not force your spouse or partner into an either/or situation. What I mean by that is to not demand that he cut off his relationship with his mother in order to choose you. I DO think he should address the situation with his mother in private, and later wherever her rude behavior happens, but more on that later.
• And finally, in my initial responses to the first few comments, I made clear that you should not be a doormat and just take ongoing rude or abusive behavior. My focus was on HOW to talk to your husband.
So I find it curious that several people think I am saying to just put up with abusive mother-in-laws! I would never tell someone to do that. Nor do I think that the mother is more important than the spouse or partner. His primary focus should be his new family and he should put them first. But it doesn't usually mean that he needs to cut off contact with his mother. YOU might need to cut off your exposure to the toxic situation.
Before we go into Parts 3 and 4 about ways to approach your husband/partner and ways for the husband to approach the his mother (or any offending member), I want to mention 3 things:
1. Crazy in-laws:
There are mentally ill mothers and fathers -- and sometimes spouses. As some of you have described, sometimes no matter how civilly or respectfully you approach your mother-in-law or your partner's family, you have a mentally ill in-law that neither you nor your spouse can do anything about, no matter what either of you do or say.
If that is the case, don't continue to put yourself in those situations. Nothing will change no matter what you or he does or says and you can expect more of the same. He is welcome to go to his parents for a family event or to visit his parents, but you don't have to. (In Part 3, I'll give you some ideas for to explain it to him and then you can put it into your own words.)
2. A spouse who is afraid of his mother/father or will not try anything to change the situation or consider your hurt feelings.
While I will give suggestions to approach your spouse, you may still have a partner who is afraid of his parent and will never, ever try to set boundaries with his mother/father/sibling -- for a variety of reasons. (He should probably do some counseling to help know how to 'grow up' in this area! Both men and women can be very competent, loving, fairly mature adults and turn into a 10 year old or 15 year old when they visit their parents!) You will probably need to remove yourself from the family situations if he is unwilling or unable to speak to his parent (see Part 3)
• For the husband, grow up and be a husband or partner to your spouse. Protect your partner (and children) from rude, demeaning, disrespectful and sometimes abusive parents. While your parents will always be your parents, your family that you are creating is first priority. You also teach your parents how to treat your spouse or wife and your children by what you do or don't do. You teach them by how you talk about them in private, or in how you fail to speak up when family members might be saying negative things when your spouse is not there. You can't always change their behavior, but you can stand up for your spouse.
If you need more help than my suggestions in Part 4, get some help on how to approach the offending parent. But don't let it just 'slide' and stay silent. Would you be OK with them treating a guest at a family dinner that way? Would you let them do that to your children? Husbands need to stand up and let their parents know that they want their wife treated respectfully because she is a human being and his wife or partner. You don't have to attack your parent, but you do need to bring it to their attention and sometimes to draw the line. Best to do it in private first.
One reader who commented on the original post said it so well:
"A man should morally, ethically and lovingly put his wife on a pedestal. He should talk to his mother for his wife's sake in a loving, but firm manner. "
It's called setting boundaries and more importantly, it is about cherishing, honoring and protecting each other. (See Part 4 for a few initial suggestions on how to talk to a parent/family member.)
3. Parents' do not have to like or value their son-in-law or daughter-in-law (although I think they should at least make every effort possible for the sake of their child who they say they 'love' and who has chosen this person.) However, I firmly believe that they DO need to treat their son's wife civilly and respectfully as a human being and as the person their child loves. It is not about like or dislike. You cannot make someone like someone else. It's about being a decent, respectful and civil human being.
I will add links here when these next 2 parts are ready:
Part 3: Approaching your partner about the situation (not yet published) and what to do if nothing changes
Part 4: For Men (or the person with the rude or demeaning parent): How to speak to your mother/family member about the way they are treating your spouse or children (not yet published)