Improving Difficult Mother-in-Law Relationships

Remember, "We Are Family" and harmony can prevail.

Cultivating a positive relationship with even the most challenging mother-in-law is possible without sacrificing your priorities and personal boundaries. Many times it is not understanding a person's temperament that places one in a tense frame of mind. The good news? You can decide in advance how this important relationship will grow.

How can a spouse improve a difficult mother-in-law relationship?

  • Act the way you want to feel. If you believe it will be a relationship full of strife, then you will act accordingly and see the results of that mindset. As with any other new friendship, allowing the other person to feel loved and accepted creates a positive atmosphere for getting to know each other.

  • Treat her with honor and respect. Without her, you would not have your husband and children. Keep that unquestionable thought in the forefront of your mind. Extending kindness to the woman who raised your husband and made untold sacrifices for his well being is worthy of your respect. Do it for the love you have for your spouse, after all, he possesses many of the same qualities and characteristics.

  • Respect her priorities. Perhaps she has dreams of sharing Easter Sunday with her son and his family. Some traditions that are close to her heart may not be as vital to you. Because of her significance in your spouse's life, I encourage you to not demand your way in every situation.

  • Set clear boundaries and live your values. People respect a person who exudes confidence and is unapologetic with their personal values. You may not be agreeable on every point, but she will respect your life choices when you live your strong convictions.

  • Remember the grandmother privilege. Having the opportunity to indulge her grandchildren is a pinnacle life stage. She has the honor of developing an extra special connection to your children that you cannot have because of the role you serve in their lives. So she gives them tons of sweets that you'd never allow in your pantry. Perhaps it results in some wired kiddos, but in the long run, they will remember the warmth and love experiences when they visited her. She can be a strong adult figure in their lives, another person to turn to who praises them.

  • Use humor to deflate any barbs. You can decide not to take everything she says so seriously and personally. Empathy says to place yourself in her position and not look for a possible attack.

  • Praise her for what she does well. Many people get very frustrated with mother-in-law help they do not want or need. Most likely, she just wants to feel included, involved and useful. She wants to be part of your lives. Instead of stomping off in frustration, channel her energy towards what you want done and remember to be very gracious and generous with your praise.

  • What should you do when your feelings are hurt by your mother-in-law?

  • Clarify misunderstandings. Do not allow anger to build to a point where you blow a verbal exchange out of proportion. Address hurt feelings quickly without bad mouthing her to your spouse and children. Direct confrontation in love is the best approach, not placing your spouse in the middle of the situation, forcing him to choose between his mother and you.

  • Don't make character assessments, focus on behavior. Make sure you make statements such as, "When you said this, my feelings were hurt." To get perspective, you can also discuss your feelings with your husband, not expecting him to resolve the matter, but to gain his understanding and insight toward her temperament and personality. He probably can give you valuable information regarding the best approach toward a resolution.

  • Do show empathy. ou are not excusing bad behavior, but looking at the larger picture of what was happening at the time. Were the kids running around the house and creating chaos? She may have been unnerved by the noise and unfortunately took it out on you.

  • Be inclusive, regardless of your feelings. No matter what level of closeness you do or do not achieve with your mother-in-law, always keep her in the lives of your husband and children. She wants to maintain that bond with her child. The best blessing you can give her is the gift of inclusion, letting her know she matters and is an extra special, valuable person in your lives.

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