My Mother-In-Law Is Very Difficult


by Sally R. Connolly, LMFT and John E. Turner, LMFT



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A question for the therapists about mother-in-law difficulties:

 Ever since I first met Cindy’s mother, the going has been rough. She has never approved of me because I do not have a college degree and did not grow up in the “right neighborhood”. She makes no effort to be nice to me, except in front of Cindy. I have been able to hold my temper with her, mainly by avoiding contact with her. This has caused problems between Cindy and I, and especially at the holidays. Cindy and I are in a bad space right now because she wants me to go with her and the children to her mom’s this year and I really don’t want to go. I have been holding my ground thinking that her mother would be nicer, however, she is not willing to budge and just uses the time to talk bad about me to Cindy and now to our boys. Ideas for how to handle this? 
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The therapists respond:
This is really a tough question. Many times in-law problems are about both people … neither party open to giving in and making overtures to develop a relationship. That is not always the case; however, and then things get “sticky”. You may not want to hear our advice … but you asked. Unless your mother-in-law is being verbally abusive, we encourage you to be the “bigger” person. Go for Cindy and for the children. Your relationship with them is really the most important thing here.

Be courteous to your mother-in-law and look for any sign that she might be trying to take a step in the right direction for her daughter and grandchildren. If you see any sign … even the slightest one, find a way to acknowledge it with a smile or a positive comment back.

Look for opportunities to talk with others in the family so that you do not need to be around her so much of the time. Talk with Cindy about how much time you want her by your side and ask for a commitment from her. When she is away, visit with the children or others in the family.

Together, it would be good if you and Cindy set a specific time to go home and ask her to agree that you will leave earlier if her mother becomes too disrespectful to you. When you get home, congratulate yourself for your maturity and willingness to do your part in having a healthy marriage. Hopefully, Cindy will understand that this clearly an important sign of your love and commitment.