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Friday, October 2, 2009

A Man, His Mother and His Wife: In-law Conflict

A recent report about men choosing to stand up for their mother over their wife in conflict made some important points, but also gave information that I think does not adequately consider the nature of conflict. (In-law conflict and troubled marriages by Dr. Terri Apter ) While it is indeed possible to end up with the mother-in-law (or the daughter-in-law) from hell, much of the conflict can be prevented and good skills can help you navigate the rest.

Part of what I did like about the article was the comparison of the neurochemical similarities in parent/child love and early romantic love. Dr. Apter mentions gazing into each other’s eyes and Dr. Helen Fisher’s research on gazing into each other’s eyes has caused her to frequently recommend a 2 minute gaze (without talking) for couples who have ‘lost that loving feeling’.

Dr. Apter also points out what I think is one of the primary fears of the parent that can cause reactive behavior in the parent: “how will my son’s marriage change my relationship with him?” From what I have seen, mothers often have a fear that they will be replaced, that they won’t be ‘needed’ any more, and that they are not going to have time or attention from their son. They fear him 'going away' in some way. The daughter-in-law can be viewed as the reason he will 'go away' and as competition for time and attention, even if on an unconscious level.

One of the examples Dr. Apter gave was woman who tried to talk with her mother-in-law about feeling frozen out of family gatherings and that the mother preferred the son’s ex-wife and it spiraled into a shouting match with name calling (probably on both sides). While I think the example is a common situation, I disagree with what seems to put the problem on men. When the son calls his wife about the names she called his mother (which he could have done in a better way), the wife retorts by telling him he should stand by her (the wife). What Dr. Apter doesn’t say, at least in this article, is that as soon as you give any message that says “you should choose me over your mother/children/family”, you are dead in the water. That is a terrible place to put your spouse or anyone in – choose me against someone else that you deeply love because I’m your wife/husband/partner. Understandably, the husband goes ballistic. As I read it, I thought, “what do you expect”? Of course he is going to get reactive, feeling he is being torn and having to choose his wife over his mother. Dr. Apter label’s it “Cal’s aggressive response" and that it "puts his marriage at risk” I would say that Cal’s reactivity (a response to ‘danger’ in his emotional brain, was not the triggering event. The reactivity had started between his wife and his mother, who both reacted angrily to each other. He adds to the distress, but the inability of each person to talk about difficult things in a respectful, effective way is what puts the marriage at risk.

The next example was a woman who screams at her husband because she felt the mother was rude to her. As she is screaming at her husband, he freezes then leaves the house. He comes back, she starts screaming at him again and he leaves again. The wife’s interpretation is that when she tries to talk to him about his mother, he clams up and leaves. Once again, we have the situation where the wife is reactive -- screaming to the husband and then blaming him because for some seemingly mysterious reason, his emotional brain says ‘danger’ with her screaming at him. Big surprise that he “freezes” and leaves. If she starts screaming as soon as he comes back, why would he not leave again? Dr, Apter does go on to describe the men’s actions as ‘defensive reactions’ in response to perceived danger in conflict. So it is not just the man's issue, it is also and initially, the wife's.

My take on the situations are that they are a normal response to ‘reactivity’. Reactivity is some human version of freeze, flee, attack, threaten, or submit in response to real or perceived danger -- physical OR emotional 'danger’. Blaming, attacking, criticizing, controlling, whining, complaining (which are also reactive expressions to perceived 'danger'0 will nearly always get you some form of 'defensiveness'. Reactivity breeds more reactivity.

Learning to create emotional ‘safety’ is skill to continue building and refining in all our relationships, especially those most important to us.

So how do you create more ‘safety’ in these man, mother, wife hurts, fears and frustrations? While it may vary from situation to situation, I think there are some basic suggestions that can help:

1. When you find yourself hurt or frustrated with your mother-in-law, first look at what that is really about for you. What is the message the mother-in-law’s behavior communicates to you (even if she doesn’t mean it?) (Examples: you aren’t good enough, you are not important, what you need doesn’t matter, etc.). She has probably accidentally bumped into one of your emotional buttons--most likely because of her own fears. (More on that in another blog post!). So one explanation might be that your initial interpretation is true. But maybe that is not at all her intent and what you tell yourself about her words or behavior is more about you. What is another possible explanation for her behavior that comes from a neutral or even positive motive on her part -- even if it is to protect herself?

2. Remind yourself that you have choice in terms of your response, even if it bumped into your button. Stephen Covey says "Between the stimulus and the response is your greatest power--you have the freedom to choose your response. one of the most important things you choose is what you say." How can you respond more from your core values, from the kind of human being you want to be? How can you respond in the most constructive and sensitive way possible, while still being able to express your concerns?

3. Be curious about what might be going inside your mother-in-law’s mind and heart. What might be her fear or concern? How might she feel threatened, even if that is not your intent. Know that a common fear is somehow ‘losing’ her son to you. Find ways to communicate in a variety of ways that you do want him to spend time with his parents/family – sometimes alone and sometimes with you and that you want to be connected to them too. Appreciate to your mother-in-law how important family is to them and how you share that value. If we were to take the first example about mother-in-law inviting ex-wife, think about being in her shoes. Here is likely a former daughter-in-law that they did bond with, that might even be the mother of a grandchild. Many parents tell daughter-in-laws in divorce situations that they will always be part of the family. Maybe she is also worried about the awkwardness of having ex-wife and new wife there together. It would be important for new wife to not criticize that, but to also express her understanding of mother-in-law seeing the ex as part of the family and that while it may be a little uncomfortable for everyone at first, you are hopeful that all of you can move past that. Ask what she thinks might be helpful to ease that tension and also give your ideas. And, reiterate your desire to also become part of the family, even though you are the new kid on the block, so to speak. Express understanding to your man and then in some way communicate it to the mother. Seek to work together, not to complain or criticize. Those situations can be hard for everyone. Ultimately, everyone has to learn to be a grown-up in those situations, even if it is simply to be civil. Talk to your spouse beforehand about what he could do to help support you in that situation and then ask what support he needs from you. Is there a way you both can also help support his mother in those situations?

4. Never, ever, ever directly or indirectly imply that he has to pick you, choose you, or support you against his mother/children/family. Always, always, respect his love for her and seek to find ways to work through tough or awkward situations together in ways that address everyone’s concerns – including his and Mom’s!

5. While it is important for you to build a relationship with your new family-in-law, also recognize that it is important for him to sometimes spend time with them/Mom alone. Encourage him to visit, call (assuming he wants too!). Build your own one-on-one time with Mom. Invite her to help you pick out something, teach you to cook something. Ask her what she has learned in marriage, in life for success. This spending time goes for sister-in-laws too. You are building friendships/family relationships with them. Some of them you will like, some you may not. But do your best. You can only control your own behavior, attitude and approach.

6. Learn good conflict handling skills between you and your husband. If you have an issue with his Mom, say you have a concern and because you know how important family is, you want to find the best way possible to resolve it and you don’t want to put him in the middle. How can the two of you approach it in a respectful, caring way? Never criticize a family member. Even when someone doesn’t have a great relationship with a family member, even if they say negative things about them, they usually don’t want anyone else to say anything bad about them and will become very protective. That doesn’t mean you just swallow your concern. Name the behavior, how you end up feeling, and how you want to find a way to get along and make it work better for everyone involved. Sometimes a sister-in-law that you DO get along with can be a help!

Working through the inevitable hurts, frustrations, fears and misunderstandings of in-laws, and any relationship, is part of our journey toward greater wholeness. We will all make mistakes, but the journey can be just as rewarding as our ideal destination if we are committed to peaceful, caring, respectful honoring of both our own needs and those of others. Always seek ways to address the concerns of both!

45 comments:

Anonymous September 28, 2010 at 12:01 PM  

This seems to really be taking the man's side. I think some points are valid, but these things would lead to divorce and the wife feeling terrible. Ultimately the married couple needs to stand together rather than divided, and this is saying that they should be divided. I'd caution anyone against taking such advice.

DawnL September 28, 2010 at 2:41 PM  

Hi Anonymous -- I would agree if this was saying the couple should be divided and each just ignore the needs or hurt of the other or take the side of the family against the partner. I tried to make clear that what is important is to address the needs of BOTH spouses/partners, not just one person's, AND those of the family member. Communicating about it and trying to understand both partner's needs and concerns is what is key so that you can act together, but not forcing either person into a win/lose situation. The same would be true if a man has a problem with his wife's family. I firmly believe that the more we pathologize normal behavior (even behavior that needs to change) or set up either/or that leads to someone 'losing' something or someone important to them like family, the more you move toward resentment, disconnection and more conflict. Often, there are relatively easy solutions that DO honor the needs and concerns of everyone if we consider that other people's needs are as important as our own.

Anonymous November 28, 2010 at 12:59 PM  

I agree with anonymous. I feel like the article is telling me to always watch out for the husband and mom in laws feelings before my own. Not to tread on their relationship no matter how much it interferes with the relationship with my husband. I feel the wife's feelings are put on the back burner and the son and mom are or should be my main concern.

Anonymous January 5, 2011 at 5:45 PM  

I think its about knowing what your priorities are in life. God saids when men form their own family they will leave their direct family to become its own. Mother-in Laws need to understand that their children need lives of their own and that they should never get involved, they should only support their child and see that they are happy. RESPECT is the key. I am going through a similar situation and its hard and sad. But how much can you give of your emotions? The husbands need to put their foot down and learn how to divide the LOVE for both. Its 2 completely types of love.

Dawn L January 6, 2011 at 7:36 AM  

I think what you said about respect is key. It is a different love and their are obligations to both. Both men and women often struggle with setting boundaries with people they love. Navigating the parents/spouse relationship requires that they learn for the good of their spouse, their parents and themselves. When couples can sit down and discuss what those 'lines' need to be for their family in a way that honors both loves, but that sets clear boundaries, all will be happier, even though there is some initial stress. The one who needs to talk to their parent should talk it out or write it out ahead of time, review together as a couple, and listen respectfully to any concerns either of you have about it, and then seek win-win approach. Talk about the best way to approach one's parent -- is face to face or written better? Stressing love for one's parents, but as part of that, needing them to respect boundaries can often help. HOW you go about it can make all the difference.

Anonymous August 16, 2011 at 9:21 PM  

I agree with all of the above comments. I have been through terrible situations with my husband/mother-n-law. I wish my husband would acknowledge my hurt and admit that his mom should not be rude to me. I understand we need to see all perspectives and why she does or says what she does...but at the same time I am not a door mat. I can only take so much and then I react which usually ends up not good.

Dawn L August 17, 2011 at 10:00 AM  

I agree that you should not be a doormat and simply 'take' ongoing rude behavior. As I said in the blog, HOW you approach it is key. Ask to talk about something important to you at a time when you can have his full attention. Use the opening approach in #6: "say you have a concern and because you know how important family is, you want to find the best way possible to resolve it and you don’t want to put him in the middle. How can the two of you approach it in a respectful, caring way? Never criticize a family member. "
Then, say something like "when your mother says/does _________ it is frustrating and hurtful to me. I'm not criticizing your mother, but I need you understand how that behavior effects me. It communicates to me that ____________ and I end up feeling _____________. It may or may not be her intent, but that is the effect it has on me.
I want us to find a way to address it in the best way possible so we can create more of a connection instead of me shutting down or getting angry because of situations like that.

Saying "so you need to talk to your mother" won't work. It is more helpful to brainstorm together ways he or you might approach it. "My thinking is that maybe one way you (or I) could approach it would be to go over to talk with her and say _______________

That approach is a softer conflict resolution approach than criticizing or complaining -- both of which will nearly always get you defensive behavior on the other side.

Anyone out there with stories of how they addressed this issue successfully in their own relationship?

Anonymous October 31, 2011 at 7:01 PM  

i think once it gets to a certain point especially after all the avenues have been explored the husband really just needs to let his mother know shes wrong and its not ok. i have dealt with my in law in every way mentioned and tried so many times she just wint stop so the problem lays within the husband not doing what is right which is finally choosing sides(WIFE) because the in law wont stop if she thinks he thinks its ok

Anonymous April 3, 2012 at 12:08 AM  

What I find mindboggling about this article is that it talks about a mothers "fears". Fear of what is my question. If she has fears , then either she or her son is to blame. Blame herself for not raising him in the way as not to depart when he grows or the son should be blamed because he is foolish.
Why should a responsible decent son forget his mom simply becos he is getting married. Only a stupid son would do that, no matter how lovely his lady is. Afterall what is the point of her loveliness if she does not accept his mom. I believe mothers that have these "issues" are those that have low self esteem and those that love to dominate their children whether married or not

Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 7:16 AM  

It seems so simple on paper. I am at a point where I want to tell my husband to choose! I can only take that much of selfish, self centred, rude and disrespectful behaviour towards me. At some point I would love to hear the words "BACK OFF, she is my wife and mother to my beautiful children" come out my husbands mouth.Guess that will never happen. Then people wonder why their wives lose respect for them, don't want to be intimate with them etc etc. Its pretty obvious in my mind!

Anonymous June 9, 2012 at 5:13 AM  

Im only ten months in this relationship and it hurts to feel this from him. I get called every name in the book when I get too mouthy with him. She gets mouthy towards me and "she is just being crazy and we'll pray for her and ignore her a bit". So soft. I'm lost, hurt, and torn. Man if my dreams minus the mom attachment.

emotional sabatage July 9, 2012 at 11:41 PM  

A son is to leave his mother when he decides to wed as it states in the bible. The mother should understand that it is now time for him to honor and support his new family including children. I had a mother-in-law from the hell below that was so jealous of me. She tried continuously and eventually became successful after 22 years in helping to rip apart our relationship and marriage of 16 years. Our lovely child was the one to suffer from all the devastation of deception that she also took part in. All the while she knew exactly what they would do to sabatage my life and my dreams.

Anonymous August 11, 2012 at 2:18 AM  

What if me, the wife had tried to be "friends" with my mother in law, but my mother in law is a narccissit and I never equated with her except to be made into negative gossip for the whole family? I've tried to ask for recipes only to be told "I have no idea what you are talking about, I NEVER made such a thing" and two weeks later the dish is served for the whole family. Another time I asked mother in law what she wanted to prepare for dinner and she said "falafals" and I said "Oh falafals are made from chick peas", instantly she started shouting, "NO THEY ARE NOT!" I proceeded with "Well, last week," (I patronized a Middle Eastern restaurant and the description on the menu Falalfals: Made from chick pea flour) only to be interupted by "NO, THEY ARE NOT MADE FROM CHICK PEAS!" This continued to the dining room table, where she asked, "WHERE IS THE DICTONARY?" When she found it she asked, "HOW IS FALAFAL SPELLED, F-E?" When she found it, she read outloud, "Felafal: A Middle Eastern recipe made from gound chick peas..." She slammed the book shut and huffed. That incident just made things worse. She has since pushed me out of her hall way physically, ignored me, argued with me by stating something in a loud voice and then leaving the room as if to have the last word in a conversation, she's called me unforgivable names, etc. I haven't done anything to her. My husband defended her until recently when we saw a therapist. My husband blamed everything on me for over 25 years. I've had my fill and I can't get over the lack of support from him. What should be done now? Therapist has no suggestions other than for me to never see my in laws again for my protection against MIL. My husband's idolizing of his mother hasn't changed and he still doesn't support me.

Anonymous August 14, 2012 at 3:12 AM  

Most of the comments above reveal insecure daughter in laws who are in the habit of blaming others (in this case mother in laws) for their own insecurities and low self esteem. It is refreshing to read an article that deals with reality. I'm not a mother in law but I am a counselor-psychologist. In my years of counseling I've discovered over and over again, that it's the daughter in laws who do the most damage in the triangular son, mother, wife relationships. Many daughter in laws are loved by their mother in laws, but they treat the "moms" as a threat. Their attempts to put a wedge between son and mother is manipulative and quite frankly, I think mother in laws who are thretened this way by daughter in laws out to ban together and change this societal problem that seems to be growing.

crystina midian August 20, 2012 at 4:22 AM  

I think this article is wrong. Men should not favor his mother over his wife ever. If his mother was what he needed to be complete he wouldn't have found himself a wife. A man should never allow his mother to cause friction in the marraige. Someone who is not in the marraige aka the mother should not have the right to cause problems in the marraige. This article is not sympathetic to the wife and makes excuses for bad behavior towrds their wifes. I speak from experience as a woman who had her marraige destoyed over the mother in law I feel this article is quite distubing.

pinkflower09 November 8, 2012 at 8:42 AM  

I have to add something here. I disagree with Dawn L. 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. A wife should not have to defend herself, all by herself all of the time concerning her mother in-law. I have a fiance who would rather run, and deny there is any problem with his mother rather than face it and try to the best of his ability to resolve the situation. No matter how many times I try to talk to my future mother in-law , she does not listen or care.I have tried many times to empathize with her but it does not change her behavior. So I have concluded that if he would step up to the plate and handle (the dilemma) and not just one situation but ALL OF THEM I believe there would be fewer problems, and maybe much more peace. He talks and talks of doing these things, but doesn't do them in reality. I love him, but it is terrible to live with.

Anonymous November 19, 2012 at 1:21 AM  

This article/response to Dr. Apter's article is short-sided and frankly, not realistic. To me it seems to suggest that wives should just give in and accept that they are the ones that need to change and this is far from acceptable. I am married and have dealt with the "MIL from ****" problem for 21 years - which by the way is 21 years too long! I have tried everything to make peace with this woman - talking, laughing, shouting, explaining, crying(mostly alone and by myself) and NOTHING solves the problem! Unfortunately, we also have a daughter who is impacted by this situation but who is also very smart and able to understand and realize the selfishness of her grandmother (too bad her Dad cannot). I have heard every excuse in the book for her behavior, things like, "that's just the way Mom is" and "she's always been this way and is too old to change now" as well as "I know she is annoying but what do you expect me to do about it" and on and on and on. I am sick to death of the excuses made for this woman and frankly what I expect him to do is STAND UP TO HER AND PUT HER IN HER PLACE FOR ONCE. I know some suggest it is a bad idea to ask your husband to chose but in all honesty and according to God's word he chose when he got married and wives everywhere have the right to expect their husbands to live up to their wedding vows. After 21 years, I did give my husband the ultimatem a couple nights ago because I am at my wits end with it. I truly beleive this situation has prevented us from becoming the cohesive family unit that God intended, now it is up to him to decide to either be a man or continue to cower. My advice to anyone not married but facing this same dilemna - RUN - hopefully you will meet someone without MIL baggage to deal with!

Anonymous December 2, 2012 at 4:20 PM  

I am in a similar situation. we have only been married for 2 years, and it feels like 2 years of hell. I am crying all the time, his mother is not nice. he has 3 sisters and they have daughter's that are my age and they are not nice. his nieces act like they love him more than me. I wish I had not married him. please run and run if you are not married and u don't like the inlaws. I have no idea what to do.

Anonymous December 6, 2012 at 7:04 AM  

I am currently dealing with a MIL problem that is making my life miserable. I am an American living in Africa and have left my family to be with my husband. My husband is the only son with 5 younger sisters and a mother is currently in the process of divorce. Most days no matter what I do I cannot please my MIL which in turn displeases my husband. Her and her daughters treat my husband like their HOH instead of realizing he has his own family to provide for (we have 3 kids). I am at my wits end whenever I talk about them he gets upset with me a shuts down. Now, I try bot to even talk to them, but it is just making things worst.

Anonymous December 11, 2012 at 5:38 PM  

Part 1.
OK, here it comes from "that" son stuck in the middle. I am in this serious situation right now. We have been married for 33 years and my parents are in their 70's. We now have two new granchildren, which makes them my parent's great-grandchildren. Tensions between my parents (mostly my mother) and my wife has been going on for years. So here are my thoughts on this. I see that most of you on this thread are the daughter-in-laws so I can see the trend for the daughter-in-laws on here to defend their situation and understabably so it is human nature. I always have been, am and always will be a supporter of my wife; I left my parents and my home at 19 to spend my life with her. I also was raised in a loving home by my parents. So the conflict happens between daughter-in-law and parents and yes, we (husbands\sons) are caught in the middle. I understand 100% that a man leaves his parents for his wife and should honor his wife - I get it completely and I agree with it 100% but here is the catch that Dr. Apter I believe is trying to get at and I don't see the wives on here getting it. It is not the same to honor and love your wife above others, as it is to honor and love your wife above others while the husband\son is unhappy himself - two very different things! If the wives on here have a great loving relationship with their parents, try to imagine the pain and sadness of your husband telling you to put him first and then knowing that doing that will negatively alter the dynamics of the relationship with your parents. For those wives on here who do not have a good relationship with their parents, I don't think you can clearly understand the pain. For those of you who do love your parents, think about the terrible position of having to sever the relationship ties with them in order to honor your husband (try to really imagine it, feel it in your heart). Can you imagine the deep scar in your heart that you have to learn to live with. I don't see any way for you to be truly happy while you have to choose between the people you love.

I guess what I am trying to say in a nutshell is that even though I treat and told my wife that she is number one in my life - and she truly is, I would and have moved heaven and earth for her; she is the best thing that ever happened to me, and makes her happy, down deep inside I feel as if I have lost the relationship with my parents because now they resent her more than ever before. As a matter of fact, as of yesterday, they are nor talking to me and that is because I have alienated them for my wife.

Anonymous December 12, 2012 at 10:29 PM  

I believe that any "good" parent will realize their place and naturally fall into their role in the sons life. The parents have a major role in the married couples lives, but it is not first or second or even third. My mother would find it very wrong if I EVER didn't side with my husband over her. She naturally knows her place. My husbands mother on the other hand is the reason I'm on this web page.

Anonymous February 5, 2013 at 12:36 PM  

I think the husband and wife need to grow up and be responsible for their own relationships, not only with their in laws, but with any relationships. Someone else can not fix your relationship problems...only you can. Also, if you truly love someone you are not going to blame them or expect them to give up or fix their blood relationships. After all, the love between most children and their parents is unconditional. When a couple gets divorced the love either ends or is not nurtured anymore. Blood relationships are usually unconditional. I think it's selfish to try to make your partner responsible for the fact that you don't like or can't get along with his or her family members. And....motherhood is sacred and all mothers should be highly respected, unless of course they have done something terrible and do not cherish their children. I think this problem is really about insecurity and jealousy. Time to buck up!

Anonymous March 24, 2013 at 2:18 PM  

I am currently separated and pregnant from my husband after 4 years of marriage (he has chosen to live with his mother), all of which have been hell dealing with my mother-in-law and sister-in-laws. from day one they wouldn't acknowledge my presence. They would throw away things I made and brought to the house and criticise all I did.
I never asked him to choose, but simply to acknowledge what they were doing. He always made excuses. I don't think any of the daughter-in-laws here have insecurity issues, rather they respect themselves enough not to accept or tolerate abuse.
My mother and I have a great relationship. If my husband was good to me I'd have no issue choosing him over her because my relationship with her transcends anything. She would always love me. So for the men who feel 'torn apart' between your wife and mother, maybe there are some deep-seated fears or issues that you need to work on with your mothers.
I'm happier alone and pregnant than being with a guy who sides with his mother. I am better than that and refuse to compete for affection with a mother. Pathetic!

angie waters March 26, 2013 at 11:33 AM  

''here is the catch that Dr. Apter I believe is trying to get at and I don't see the wives on here getting it. It is not the same to honor and love your wife above others, as it is to honor and love your wife above others while the husband\son is unhappy himself ''

Oh please. The problem is that men expect their wives to tolerate obnoxious and abusive behaviour from their mothers because they never grew up. These problems are more rife between wives and mother in laws because of the mil's jealousy of the wife, who she sees as competition, and husbands enabling this behaviour. I think in general wives support their husbands because they don't cling to a child like need to view their parents as perfect, like a lot of husbands seem to. We shouldn't be working to support this state of affairs, rather try and persuade our partners to grow a pair and support us in the way we support them.

Anonymous April 22, 2013 at 4:32 PM  

I have 21 years of an interfering, difficult MIL behind me. A man, raised by this type of woman, grows up to be too weak to break the tie and lives in denial of the control his mother has over his personal relationships. I take the responsibility for having made the error in marrying this type of man. He is a good man, but he has not successfully broken away, nor will he ever. I chose to stay married to him, and limit my involvement with his family. Some may say, this is avoiding the problem, not solving. I'm not a social worker, and I have no interest in changing the world or my husband's family. Let it be. What I have done is raise fine sons with an ease of independence as young adult men. At 18 and 20, they are not yet married, but they share my confidence in their ability to lead good lives and know that the women who become their wives someday will be number one in their life. It's a gift to give them this future. So much more promise of happiness. I am fortunate to have understood how vitally important this is to the future state of their own happiness. So, I humbly suggest to all these women out there like myself, with MIL's who have tattered the bonds of their son's marriage, find what you can do in your own sphere to put some good out in to your world. Rely on your own personal strength to not waste your precious time on things you cannot change. In the end, we only have ourselves. Decide you will look back over your lives and feel justified in saying, I did not waste it. I will leave good behind me, after I am gone.

Anonymous April 23, 2013 at 6:16 PM  

I dont agree with this at all, I have put up with 11 years of my MIL, becuase I do love my husband, I know my MIL loves and cares for me as I do her, But she is very intrusive, she decides something and my husband will go with whatever she says, even when I dont agree. He must seek his mother approval on everything, they make the decisions alot of them time without even speaking with me - A bankruptsy was discussed, paid for, and in the courts before I even knew what was going on, he and his mother decided he needed a new truck, I didnt know about it until he came home with a new truck, her name on the title as well as his and a 6 year car loan! Mind you we are 42 yrs old with kids, My car, we both picked out, him and I, the title is in both of our names. We I tell my parents no to something it stands, I make decisons with my husband but he does not offer me that same respect. She decided our 10 yr anniversary location, which was in the middle of no where, only place to eat was at a gas station or drive 32 miles to closest anything, we already had plans, but my husband didnt want to upset his mother so he changed out pans to hers which was the same day 2 hours before we was to leave, She will not listen to me and reminds me he is her son and she knows whats best, he wil not tell her no to anything, I have a daughter that was infant when we married, my husband adopted her- My mother in law for years has made reference to not knowing who my daughters father is-in front of my daughter! needless to say by daughter found out on christmas eve, thanks to my MIL that my husband wasnt her birth father, My husband would never ask his mother to stop making comments like that, he would just let in go and then when our daughter started catching on to what was being said- his repsonse was he just wanted our daughter to be quite and not ask another question..I am fed up, her is a momma's boy, when any thing goes wrong he turns to her instead of me. So all this wife's need to understand is a load of crap, husbands need to find a balance between wife's an mothers. I have known very few men who do, they expect there wife to take it, deal with it or just ignore it. There will be family difference's and issues that need to be worked out when you bring two families together, but A wife must draw boundaries with her parents and a husband must draw boundaries with his so that "Our family can begin its journey"

sick and tired May 26, 2013 at 11:42 AM  

I have been with my husband 21 years and tired of him choosing not to acknowledge his mother disrespect towards me. She still favors the ex daughter in law over me (oddly she didnt like her when they was married either) so i feel shes friends with her intentionally. I have gotten past that part because it was too much hurt to allow their friendship to take over me emotionally. I have tried everything to be close to her in the beginning from going to church, playing bingo, taking her to doctors appt, asking for recipes i can go on and on how i bend over backwards. Until my sister in law secretly starting telling me about 5 years ago how she have been defending me against her own mother. Because she talks about me as soon as we part ways. She is on the phone calling somebody about something I did or said to make other people in the family to dislike me too. So i finally said enough is enough and haven't step foot in her house in about 3 years because she told me I was not welcome there anymore becasue she feels I'm now turning my sister in law against. Because my sister in law have enough sense to know that her mother is wrong and is defending right. My husband by the way only will say "you know how mama is" as if I should allow someone to treat me any kind of way because I'm married to their son.I feel if my husband would just sit down with his mother and I (in no disrespectful way)and try to figure where the problem is this would go away but at the age of 44 he haven't found the balls. Just a note some people will not like you and don't know even know why.

Anonymous June 12, 2013 at 5:03 AM  

My mother in- law is sample too . I have been ignoring her comments from last 8 yrs. now she is getting on to my nervous . And when I tell my husband about her bad mouth he says she is getting old so just ignore. But question is am I door mat for his family or am I slave . Or I am some holy person that words don't matter . Though I have learned some for sure mothers are not replaceable while wives are .... So to all the daughter in-laws do the best what you feel is best in your situation

Anonymous June 13, 2013 at 12:22 AM  

The bottom line is the mother in law and father in law need to respect that their son or daughter now have a spouse. It is unfair of them to insert themselves into their kids marriage. I am sure they would have not appreciated it happening to them.

I am all for my husband having a loving and caring relationship with his mother but there are boundaries and the mother son relationship should not interfere with the marriage. For husbands that allow their mothers treat their wives like dirt, you need to set boundaries. You put your wife in a bad position when you do that. If they respected you as a son they would not put you in the situation of not accepting all of you which includes your wife.

Anonymous June 24, 2013 at 11:50 PM  

Listen dears, I don't mean to sound harsh, but then again maybe I do. My suggestion to all the daughters in law, is not to listen to the doctor when he defends your mother in law. Heis a man, and he as a man of course will defend the husbands side of it or their points of view. Typical men :).
You women should get it by now. In our society, we women have always been told to sit back, be quiet, do not have an opinion, accept it when others dump on you, etc. You all had better get some self esteeem, put on your big girl underwear and stand up for yourselves.
First, recognize the mothers in laws are many times rude to daughters in law. Then, you should not hang around her and any other family members who are nasty to you too. Then, tell your husband if he cannot respect you, that you cannot respect him as a man. Next, stay away from in laws and gatherings for as long as it takes for him to get it. Sleep on the couch a few nights. Tell him that you do not feel like being intimate with someone who does not hear you or understand your feelings or respect you. Yes, do this!!
Keep on with your life and raise your children and keep quiet and do not discuss your husbands' family anymore with him or sister laws. Do not talk with her except good morning or good evening, or excuse me, or general courtesies. Do not run any errands for her, do not exchange recipes, do not drive her anywhere. If your low down unspportive husbnad makes a comment about your coldness, just reply, the same way he replies when you try to get him to see what his mom is doing. It's not revenge, it's saving your sanity and surviving with cool nerves.One day he will get it and you can say "I told you so."
In the meantime, hang out with your sister and other friends and try to not talk so much to your husband about his folk. He will eventually ask you what is wrong and you can just be cool and say , Oh nothing. 6-24-13

Anonymous July 14, 2013 at 8:43 AM  

Thank you! These men need to grow some balls!

Anonymous July 14, 2013 at 9:29 AM  

I was having these EXACT SAME issues with my ex fiance! He felt like I was forcing him to choose between his sister/mother and myself when all I really wanted was for him to stop making his family the centerpiece of OUR relationship. They were both rude and disrespectful to me on most occaisions and he'd ALWAYS make excuses for them. It's hurtful and after reading these comments I'm GLAD he called off the wedding! These mother in laws are hell on wheels and do NOT know their place!

Anonymous October 9, 2013 at 1:11 AM  

The issues is not who should be put first in a marriage, because, quite frankly, your parents should not be IN your marriage to begin with. I have a great relationship with my parents, they are wonderful and I had a mostly happy childhood. They are still an integral part of my family's life. But there is no question for them or anyone else who comes first for me. That is MY nuclear family, my husband and sons. I love my mother-in-law, she is lovely, but she can be intrusive and over-bearing. However, she is still very aware of her place in our lives. She's the grandparent, the mother (for my husband) and the mother-in-law (for me.) She has no place, opinion or say-so about anything that happens within my nuclear family. That is solely up to me and my husband. It sounds as if quite a few husbands and mothers-in-law out there are under the mistaken assumption that you can only either be a good husband or a good son. Mothers-in-law, when your sons marry, your place in their lives in now peripheral. Stay out of your child's marriage, you'll only do it and yourself harm. Sons, when you become married, you're a husband (and eventually, father) FIRST! Your relationship with your mother should not take precedence in your marriage. It can work, if all players involved know where they stand and treat each other kindly. And really, I'm APPALLED at the idea that the author and some of these sons and mothers even hint at the fact that the mother/son relationship comes before the spouse's. I'm raising two boys and I pray that I'm showing them daily how a loving marriage should work and what the expectation is for my place in their lives when they're grown (which I hope would be an involved part of their families' lives, but as a spectator, cheerleader and one day, grandparent.)

Dawn L October 9, 2013 at 6:47 AM  

I totally agree with Anonymous. ( I did not say that the mother/son relationship comes before the spouse. Nor do I think that. ) I think you are absolutely right.

I have waited a long time to allow this discussion to continue, but will soon be posting Part 2 -- both to clarify what I think are some misconceptions about what I wrote or meant and to add more to address some specific situations that appeared in the comments.

Anonymous October 11, 2013 at 4:40 PM  

I have an unusual situation. My husband's mother and his ex-wife are extremely close. I understand that for the good of children involved a mutually good relationship is great, but they take it to an extreme. Going on vacations, day trips, talks on the phone everyday. I really do my best to be nice to my husbands mom because I don't want him to feel like he has to choose or that I'm "bashing" his mom, I also try and be nice to his ex wife because there are children involved. So, my question is this..How do I not feel rejected because of all this? It's not ever going to change with them. How do I do the changing to where it doesn't effect me as badly?

Anonymous October 16, 2013 at 7:05 PM  

Im on here. because I don't know if I should end my relationship with my bf, we are talking marriage. And I always saw a problem with his mom, auntie, dad and uncle on some most of the things I've heard on here.controling every move of thought in his life.we been together for 2years and want to marry but im scared to accept. because I know it won't change and will get worse. I understand the he lives his family but when its time to say I do (marriage) they should back off and allow him to live his life with his new family and make decisions with his wife.

Anonymous October 20, 2013 at 12:42 AM  

Your BF needs to put you first If you see the right changes first, and he supports you first, then give it at least a year to make sure it's real. After another year, then consider marriage.

But don't kid yourself that your love, or good sex, or begging and pleading will make him choose you first. He needs to choose you on his own FIRST.

Please, please, please don't get married if you have these concerns. Make sure you have no deep in-law concerns before marrying this guy.

Love yourself first and make sure you get what you need.

Jones December 12, 2013 at 2:09 PM  

I always find it interesting how many wives insist that their husband should put them first in these situations. But doesn't that obligation go both ways? Shouldn't the wife also put her husband first? Therefore, shouldn't she respect his need to have a loving relationship with his family and not to try to drive a wedge in between him and his family of origin? In the end, it comes down to compromise. If both the husband and wife put each other first, they should be able to resolve these situations. The husband must protect and defend his wife before his family, but the wife must also try to engage and put in the work to have a loving relationship with her in-laws. Both the husband and wife must also search themselves to understand how they could better approach the situation as a partner in their marriage. Selfishness on the part of either spouse saying "put me first" without also putting the other first will lead to an unhappy and one sided marriage which will ultimately spell the doom of the relationship.

FRANCES January 8, 2014 at 12:39 AM  

I have been married for 33 yrs. my mom n law was evil, is evil now. I love my husband. He loves his old mama. God bless him. I just ignore her. Shes just his mom ;+))

Anonymous January 16, 2014 at 4:00 PM  

My MIL is nice but really intrusive. Since we had our first baby, she keeps coming to visit and never leaving for months at a time. I had no way of knowing she would be so intense before the baby came, and it took me months to catch on that my husband was never going to draw appropriate boundaries and she doesn't seem to know about any of the rules of etiquette that mention not overstaying your welcome. I guess she feels that being related means you don't have to abide by good manners. She has been generous financially and will help out with the kids, and as many times as she makes snarky unthoughtful comments she will try to remember to offer praise and encouragement. but her love is an overabundance of riches. After the first five years of marriage, and her long endless visits, and her taking over our kitchen and closets and pantry shelves, and planning social events every three days, we found this house with an in-law apartment. This solved the problem of her reorganizing the closets and taking over my kitchen, but she still overplans our lives. Husband won't stand up to her. I said, 6 weeks this summer is enough! I don't want her money I want him to be a grown up and not allow her to offer money but he likes that feeling of having someone else provide for him I guess. He feels guilty that we live so far away so in his mind, we shouldn't limit her visits to 6 weeks. She spent 12 consecutive weeks with us last year and 6 additional holiday weeks with us over the course of the year. That is nearly half the year! I was seriously thinking about renting an apartment of my own for privacy and solitude but don't want to disrupt my children's lives. Love my husband but not when she's living with him, he has no backbone and whines like a child. So I don't respect him and we fight alot. I don't know what will happen this summer. I think I am doing what I can to create boundaries but it isn't clear whether she intends to abide by them or not. I really like her when there is a chance to get some distance for a little bit. But after a long visit, everything she does grates on me. She can do no right, because I am simply too annoyed with her presence still there. I just need significantly less time with my MIL in order to appreciate her better.

Anonymous February 17, 2014 at 2:18 PM  

This article is awfully unhelpful for someone with a truly manipulative MIL.

Perhaps the bullying motto at my kid's school is worth thinking about. If a pattern of behaviour happens repeatedly and the target of that behaviour is upset by it, then that is bullying and the bully's behaviour needs to be addressed, not the behaviour of the bully's target.

Anonymous March 7, 2014 at 6:52 PM  

Emmeshment between mother and son cannot be dealt with by standing by and watching your own place in the relationship sink. It's sink or swim when you battle an invasive mom who has their son wrapped up in an emotional relationship stronger than yours. Trust me I know. When your husband says things like you don't know what my mother and i talk about, it's imperative you let him know that obviously his mom and his partner in life. He'll think about it and hopefully decide to choose you as his partner.

Anonymous March 28, 2014 at 11:31 AM  

I agree with the article's advice above. Well written.
I am a future daughter in law, and I think generally the daughter in law is equally as responsible as the mother in law to make the relationship work- it takes two to tango, and it all depends on the goodness of people's hearts.
My maternal grandma loved her mother-in law like her own mother, and was loved back as a daughter. Never heard anything but good about their relationship. (Grannie did talk about a jealous sister in law, though, lol).

My poor mom was a good daughter-in-law to my paternal grandmother, who treated my mother quite negatively. I was witness to this growing up. But, my mom always gave respect to this older woman whom she called Mom no matter how much she disliked being verbally abused. In the end, my paternal grandmother respected my mother and gave some compliments, but still continued staying aloof. My mother also dealt with rude or non-involved sister in laws (my paternal aunts who never changed). My parents divorced after my mom put in 18 years of marriage and effort.

Now my mom is a mother in law to my brother's wife. This person is so rude to my mom behind my brother's back, but in front of him, she acts like she's nice. How creepy! My poor mom. She always dreamed of a great daughter in law, and tries to reach out heartfully. But this girl just wants my brother, she is jealous if my brother even stands next to my mom! Yikes! I think she has issues and my brother thinks she's not so bad. My mom thinks he deserves better, as his wife tries to be controlling with him too by acting out if she doesn't get her way. She just got lucky he's so tolerant, but I hope he sees her for what she is one day. Mom is heart broken. Funny thing is- my brother's wife has great sister in laws who are married to her brothers and treat her mom better than she treats my mom (who is her own mother in law). What's up with that? And this person promised to treat my mother well before she married my brother- she said "I'm not going to split this family apart...I'm not that type... since you guys are so rare, nice, and I like you, I feel like I'm just like you, bla, bla, bla." Ha. She knew my mom is nice, so now she walks all over my mom and the family? She segregates herself? She reaches out to friends, but not her in-laws?
The way I see it, the man has to be balanced in his love and attention to both mom and wife, and judge wisely if one side is not playing fair. He can't be a slave to his wife, and if he has to choose, he should choose his mother because she is his reason for being alive- not his wife. You can get another wife, but not another mother!!!!

I expect my future husband to love his mom and have a special relationship because that is good- his mom is number one, and I am number two, as long as I get my rights, I can't compete for that relationship. I have my own mom to care and love for, too, and I would expect him to honor that relationship.

Trupti April 14, 2014 at 7:12 AM  

Well I'm Indian and i think that if a daughter can leave her parents home and move in with the husband, the husband can do the same.Both should move out together and start their own family.EQUALITY! I'm not saying break all ties with your respective families. Just distance yourselves so that you can get together at special occasions and share some genuinely happy moments.

Anonymous April 22, 2014 at 8:56 AM  

I have a similar situation, i would not however ask my husband to cut ties with his family for my sake. I do however ask him to just comfort me when i express how his mother hurts me by disrespecting my authorty with my children. But. I feel he alwaystakes her side and tells me i should just deal with it because she is the gran and can do what she likes. It is very hard tking a united frontin raising a child when you feel you are being undermined by mil and ignored by husband. Mil does not agree with rules and decisions regarding my childs well being so simply wont abide by them (for instance my child has a milk allergy but is always being fed ice cream by the in laws) i have sweetly asked and gotten agry..nothing works and my husband refuses to aknowledge my concerns~ he thinks i am being too controlling andshould lighten up...well im sorry~ not when it has to do with my childs health..i will not back down!

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