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10 Signs You Have a Toxic Mother-In-Law

Updated on December 01, 2016

They don't call them monsters-in-law for nothing.

Mothers-in-law are notorious for being controlling, judgmental, critical and overbearing. And like any toxic person, a toxic mother-in-law is a soul-sucking parasite that feeds on your misery. To protect yourself and your loved ones you need to know your enemy, so here are 10 signs you might be dealing with a toxic mother-in-law.


1. She is always right, without exception. Which means that she's never wrong. She'll never admit being wrong, and she will never apologize for anything. That would surely cause the collapse of the Western civilization, and contradict the premise that she's always right. In her eyes, you (and possibly your spouse) are the only person to blame.

2. She is dismissive. She will ignore you for the most part, conveying that you don't matter to her. She will not listen to a word you say. She'll ask you if you're hungry, hear "no," and still put food on your plate. She'll also disregard any of your accomplishments as insignificant and unworthy of her attention. Only things that have value to her are important.

3. She will communicate to you, in delightfully subtle ways, that you are not good enough for her son, and for her family. She will not say it to your face, no, but you will hear the message loud and clear. Depending on your self-esteem, you will either feel devastated or slightly amused.

4. To establish her dominance and to prove that she was right about you, she will expect you to do things that please her. That would include you wanting to spend time with her, appearing at every family event, learning her way of cooking, cleaning and just about everything else under the sun (because her way is clearly better), adopting her religion and culture, and last but not least, giving her grandchildren when she's ready to be a grandma. If you fail to do any of that, you are indeed a rotten daughter-in-law, and she has a right to complain about you to anyone who'll listen.

Slander is a useful tool in her tool belt.
Slander is a useful tool in her tool belt. | Source

5. If you are still not bending to her will, she will move on to heavier artillery. She will start a smear campaign in her community, trying to turn everyone against you. If she succeeds, those people will start putting pressure on your husband to leave you, saying that they're just "worried about him" and they "want him to be happy."

6. She will not respect your words, choices or personal space. She will come to your house uninvited and unannounced, expecting you to welcome her with open arms and be grateful for the honor of her visit. She will look with disgust at how filthy your place is, and how unmannered your kids are.

7. Her parochial mentality dictates that she must rule by withholding her affection and approval, so she will use silent treatments, guilt, blame and direct intimidation to manipulate you and your husband. If he's not siding with her, she will be punishing and destructive towards him, too. At the same time, she will be demonstratively granting her love to his siblings and your sister-in-law.

8. She loves audience, and she's very concerned with appearances. In public she will enact a charming cultured woman who is a selfless caretaker of her family. She may even be known as a philanthropist in her community. Most people will fall for that. They will not understand what beef you can possibly have with such a great lady. Don't try to dissuade them. Let them stay in the matrix. Let them enjoy their steak.

9. Like any narcissist, she sees her children not as individuals, but as extensions of herself. Everything they do reflects on her, so she will go to great lengths to correct any "deviation" from the path she's chosen for them. That includes the people they marry; you. She will never give up on trying to destroy your marriage, or to control her children's lives.

10. There will be "good days" when she will be on her best behavior and everything will appear normal. You may even be tempted to think that things are getting better. You'll lose your vigilance.Then, out of nowhere, she will turn on you again, and you will be reminded - if you don't know it yet - that she will never accept you, and you can never have a relationship with her. That last one, by the way, may not be a bad thing.

Toxic mothers-in-law require constant vigilance.
Toxic mothers-in-law require constant vigilance. | Source

What Can You Do?

I wish I could tell you that there is an easy remedy for a toxic mother-in-law. Alas, there isn't.

You could stay the hell away from her. That's a simple and effective strategy, but it has its drawbacks. Something to do with the law of attraction - what and who you avoid in your life persists. The more you resist something, the more it follows you. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your mother-in-law is in your life for a reason. Look within and find out what it is.

So maybe instead of completely avoiding her you could...dare I say it - be more upfront with her? I found that being more honest with my mother-in-law empowers me. If I've managed to let her know how I feel, that something she does bothers me (without being rude or emotional), that's a victory to me, because in my family (and in many families) the status quo is sweeping things under the rug and moving on.

And to that end, I have to accept part of the responsibility for our relationship because I'm not always vocal. I don't make more effort to communicate. I react emotionally, and I shut down. In other words, I act like a child.

But one step at a time...I don't expect us to be friends any time soon, or ever. I think we're too different for that, and at the same time, too similar in that we're both strong women with strong minds, and we don't back down. I understand her frustrations with me, but I also understand that those frustrations have nothing to do with me. It's just self-aggrandizing rejection of "the lesser" fueled by the genuine love and concern for her son.

Lastly, I find great comfort in the fact that my own mother is a kind, caring, generous woman who's very fond of my husband. She is my angel, someone I hope to resemble as a mother. So that makes my monster-in-law... somewhat bearable, and at times even amusing.

© 2015 Lana Zakinov


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    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 15 months ago from San Diego California

      I really feel for you. I am fortunate that my mother in law is sweet as a kitten and has always been fond of me. In fact, everyone in my wife's family adores me, except my wife of course who lives with me and knows my weaknesses. My mother and my wife get along splendidly, but then again they don't live in the same state and since they are both strong willed women you never know. I really loved your splendidly crafted rant here. Great hub!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 15 months ago from California

      Thank you Mel :) You are indeed fortunate. My in-laws live 20 min away, and my MIL often expects us to drop by on a moment's notice, because she cooked something "amazing," which happens a lot, as you can imagine. Well, it least back when we were still speaking.

      Lol the line about your wife made me laugh. Of course she adores you! The weaknesses only make you more endearing to the ones who love you sincerely :)

    • MommaStu profile image

      Mindy Studer 15 months ago from Sunny South Florida

      This was fun to read... I have a monster-in-law. Creates drama, believes herself to be the center of the universe, doesn't understand why my husband can't be at her house kissing her ass all day everyday. Ugh.

      As I always say, it's so nice to know I'm not alone. =)

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 15 months ago from California

      The feeling is mutual - it's nice to know I'm not alone :) Sometimes it's a very lonely experience because you don't want to talk to your husband about it - it is his mother after all, and you don't want to talk to other people because they don't understand. But this was cathartic! Thanks for stopping by Mindy, stay strong :)

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 15 months ago

      I am so sorry that you have this kind of mother-in-law. I'm sure one can make life a living hell if the spouse is very close to her. I've been married twice, and I'm very fortunate to have had two wonderful mothers-in-law. The first one was like a second mother to me and helped me raise my children even after the divorce. The second one lived in another state, but she and I got along beautifully. They are both deceased and I miss them.

      On the other hand, I've experienced two wonderful daughters-in-law and one toxic one. My older son is married to his second wife, a very nice daughter-in-law, and I still have a relationship with his first wife and her mother. My younger son wasn't so fortunate, and although I wish that marriage had lasted because he really loved her, the whole family feels a relief that she is gone. This is a very good analysis of the situation some people find themselves in.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 15 months ago from USA

      Very well written hub. Sounds exactly like my MIL. Fortunately, my husband recognizes her for what she is and refuses to tolerate her abuse. It appears that just recently she has decided to cut both of us from her life, as neither of us are subservient.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 15 months ago from Oklahoma

      I've been around the sort of person you so aptly described in this article. Luckily it isn't my mother in law. Actually, I love my in laws.

      Wonderful read!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 15 months ago from California

      Thank you, MizBejabbers. I agree, good MILs do exist (my mother for example), but I guess I wasn't lucky with mine. And I'm sure she doesn't think great things of me either.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 15 months ago from California

      Thank you, Karli! It's the best validation to know that there are other women like me who are going through the same toxic bs with their in-laws. It's funny, we are in the same situation right now. Neither me nor my husband are dancing to her tune, so she's freezing us out. It's actually quite nice, although I would still like a geographical distance in addition to that.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 15 months ago from California

      Thank you Larry! I like my father-in-law, and I think he likes me too. Although not as much anymore after years of propaganda at home. Plus, he never hears my side of the story, so I think eventually, just to avoid conflicts, he started agreeing with his wife...

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 15 months ago from USA

      Geographical distance is wonderful; my husband and I were lucky enough to live several states apart from my in-laws for the first several years we were together. Re: what you said about your FIL, mine has always agreed with his wife. If he didn't, he would have her nagging at him constantly. Sometimes, when she isn't around, he forgets to be a jerk, but usually he dehumanizes me. He absolutely refuses to use my name when speaking to me, and when he's talking to my husband (about me), I'm always "she", "her" or "your wife", never Karli.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 15 months ago from California

      I can relate. Although my FIL had never been a jerk to me, he keeps his distance and pretty much acts as if I'm not there. And if his wife is around, forget about it... It pisses me off that our relationship is totally my responsibility. He'll never reach out, talk to me like a human being, or just call...It's all on me. So by default, I'm a bad DIL because I'm not around.

      But how am I supposed to be around when she's around? Maybe some people can pretend, or kiss ass - I can't. And I never want to learn. I feel like: if you don't like me before you even tried to get to know me, screw you. I don't want to be around people like that.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 15 months ago from USA

      I feel the same way. I'd rather surround myself with people who are supportive and inspire me to be my best self. Those who create conflict don't deserve my time.

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 15 months ago

      but it only seems quite natural

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 15 months ago from California

      What does? Animosity between in-laws could be construed as natural, but being a toxic person...that borders on pathology. And although I try to make light of it, it's a serious problem.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 15 months ago from California

      Hear, hear Karli!

    • Iamthatwife profile image

      Maizie 14 months ago from North Western Canada

      I think these women, who consider themselves mother's, are very sad human beings. My mother-in-law has for nearly 25 years worked very hard to paint a picture of me to her relatives and friends where she is the victim and I am the asshole. For most of my young adult life I scratched my head and tried to figure out what I was doing wrong, why could she not see that I was a good person, that I loved her son and that we were happy. A little over a year ago I found out that my husband had been having an affair with a woman who was a very long time family friend. I'm pretty sure that my mother-in-law knew, helped her 'favourite daughter" try and weasel her way into my shoes and hoped that our marriage would end because of it. Much to both of their disappointment, I'm sure, I chose to try and salvage our marriage because I loved him. This so called "friend" was poisoned by my mother-in-law, she on every level tried to convince my husband that our marriage was not worth it, his parents hated me and on and on, why would he want to stay married to a woman like me.

      Some days I feel like after all of this time I should just throw in the towel and call it quits. Problem being...I can't make myself stop loving my husband and I want what is best for my family. I'm stronger than they are, their jealousy and pettiness is just sad, really. I've walked away from both of my in-laws, I can't have them in my life anymore. My husband's father also knew about the affair and figured it was all okay as long as no one found out. He's a cheater too. It's never okay to cheat, or lie, or just in general be shitty to another person you say that you love.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 14 months ago from California

      Maizie, I feel for you. Sounds like you've had many painful experiences with your mother-in-law, and you're still hurting. Some people tell me: "Why do you care? She's not your mother. Just smile and ignore her." I wish it was as easy as putting on a fake smile.

      The sad thing is, they will never understand the pain they cause because, like you said, they consider themselves the victims, and we are the villains who ruined their sons' lives. These women are twisted; this is not normal psyche, in my opinion.

      They feel hurt, too, in their way, or more accurately, they feel threatened. That enables them to see you as an enemy, which is a very aggressive predisposition: everything you do is bad or worthless, your husband isn't really happy, you're a bad wife/mother etc.

      I do hope that your marriage survives and even becomes stronger following this turmoil. It's never ok to cheat, I agree, but if your love is real, it's worth fighting for.

    • BiteyMouse 11 months ago

      My ex came from a wealthy family. My MIL was in the same boat as me. She was not accepted by her mil because she wasnt rich enough. this always bothered her and I guess she thought she could make up for it by marrying her son to a rich girl. But, no, I was just a career girl that loved him with or without money or career. My Mil would routinely call to check the status quo. Anytime I got another job or project she would snap at my ex "So, what are YOU doing to further your career?" (He was in grad school.) I could feel him growing resentful of her and me. A few days before we split up he refered to my last project as my 'Little writing job." He'd never talked about my work like that before. He started sleeping with not one but two fellow students. Everyone who knew us knew, faculty included. I started to unravel. I was being betrayed by him, my mother had recently died, we were in a city that did not respect IR marriage, finding work for me was challenging, I was feeling depressed. Then my mil came across the country for a visit. By the time she left 4 days later we were separating.

      My mil told me she suffered from depression and that it was dibilitating and horrible. So I was surprised when the first thing she said to her son when she entered our house was "well, THIS is cheerful!" she was disgruntled and annoyed that I had painted to house in bright colors. She looked at her son as if he'd allowed me to ruin their plans. We were officially separated 3 weeks later then divorced almost 4 yrs later after he stalled and plowed through 3 different lawyers, that last one a female which I'm pretty sure his mother arranged. I did in fact go through a bad depression at the house she visited and I feel pretty sure she wanted this to happen. My ex and her talked often while he and I searched for our last house/ apt to live in and he repeatedly chose some very dark and dreary places which I rejected. I really think my MiL set me up for the whole crash.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 11 months ago from California

      Hi Bitey,

      thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like you've gone through some very challenging times, and tried your best to save your relationship. But it requires the efforts of both partners. A toxic mother-in-law can certainly ruin a marriage but I think in this case your husband is equally to blame.

      I hope you're feeling better now, putting this behind you and looking to the future with optimism. Blessings :)

    • BiteyMouse 11 months ago

      Thanks Kali,

      Im remarried now 5 yrs happy. You're right, he certainly played a big part. But when we first met and dated he was in his 6th year of no contact with his mother. I should have run! But I thought he was handling her the best way he knew. Once we got married though she slowly infected our relationship and turned him into the Manchurian Candidate.

    • Missy 5 months ago

      This week has been so challenging for me. I am a newly wed. I love my husband so much. He has three children from a previous marriage. We are in the military and right now the oldest is living with us. It hasn't been easy but we are seeing great progress in his behavior and grades. I do not have a biological child and right now we are trying.

      My mother in law is a tyrant. Since I met her the first time, I could tell she doesn't care for me. It's ok; I am in a relationship with her son. So since Eldon has come to life with us she doesn't approve of how we are perenting. She disapproves of us letting out son go to summer camps, alter sever practice and so on. She is afraid that someone will molest him. I am no stranger to child sexual abuse. It happened to me as a child and I would never let it happen to mine.

      So while my husband is away in school, my son and I are going about our lives and his mother send me messages asking why I block her on Facebook which I never did. Some one my post do not come up for so so quickly she feels I and holding info about her grandchild when I am not. Anyhow, after this I thought I would have a heart to heart with her about my childhood so she would know I have lived through child abuse. That was a mistake. I told her this in confidence and that evil woman took it upon herself to share my abuse and make me a victim all over again with my son mother.

      My son's biological mother demanded we send him back home with out a justification. At that point I knew that my Mother in Law had shared my story with this woman. My son's mother is not educated and makes conclusions from her own thought process and said that I too and a child molester because it was genetic.

      My am so hurt and I feel my so violated. My husband quickly called his Mom and she said that she felt the children's Mom had a right to know. I tried to call her but the coward will not talk to me. It's ok, I cachave a great relationship with my step son and my husband with out my husband's or child biological mother.

      My husband is my rock and I have been truthful with him since the day we became friends and fell in love. I feel grateful that he feel the sense of duty and loyalty to me.

      We will keep on trucking, I will continue to be the best role model to this little boy I am entrusted to raise and make a reproductive member of society.

      I am ok with closing the door, those two do not need to be in my life.

      Thank for reading and letting me share.

    • Chrissann 5 months ago

      Oh my goodness that's my life now. I've tried to be the bigger person and apologize for my role in the whole twisting of my words and her comment back was " Its just like you to make this all about yourself !" That wasn't something I'd ever expect and a reply to a sincere apology. She hadn't talked to me in a year and when I found out why I honestly felt bad. However now learning about some disorders I see now where I went wrong. I trusted her and WANTED her to except me and Love me. I'm without parents and my foster parents gave me one hug in three years so needless to say I was just a paycheck. Family is so very important to me and I've always gotten along with all my ex's moms and dads. Even my ex husbands mother called me the "Final piece to their puzzle".

      This man I'm with, we're not married but have been together for six years. We have a four year old boy together and he has an eleven year old Daugher. She and I are very very close and our relationship is super awesome.

      My boyfriend went to see his mom about two years ago to ask a bunch of questions. Including why she never responds to ,y texts, why did she get up from our sons birthday party at a park and leave without saying a word. When he returned home five hours later he was a different man. Cold, hateful unloving and cruel. To this day he's still not the same. I've asked numerous times what they talked about. Noe I get the ol'nothing special. But back the. He told me that they talked about every tin I do to piss him off and everything I did to piss her off. Omg Really?! I'm just so sad we can't have th relationship I so long for in a "mother in law" and my relationship with her son has never been the same. (There are other issues but that's a whole different topic) this woman said to me "What more do you want you already have my son!? And "Stay the Hell away from me," She said those very hurtful and confusing things in 2014-ish she like in your blog has gone from one side to another. Good days where I'm actually visible to her and very bad where I'm ignored even when I speak directly to her. I don't know how to do this passive aggressive crap. I like to talk things out and then have a great day. So very awkward and frustrating. My question is how do I get my guy to come around? He knows she's not right or Knew. He's even gone months not talking to her. Guess who she gets mad at???? Lol Yep Me!! What do I do??

    • Candy 7 days ago

      This is a great article! My mil has done these things since the moment I met her. After about a year of her not getting a reaction, she baptized my middle school daughter without my permission. At this point, avoiding her is my only option. My daughter isn't even her son's daughter either.

    • GARH608 profile image

      Pathways thru life 6 days ago from Mid West

      Great hub. I had a monster in law. My now ex husband appeared to side with her, which resulted in the ending of our 18 year marriage, and we have 3 children together. It's been disappointing.

    • Riyanka 25 hours ago

      My mother in law is very abusive, she always insulted me in front of relatives and even in front of the house maids, she use slungs against me and my parents. She called me and my parents by different names which are very insulting. We are living in the same house where my husband spent a lot of money during the construction of the house and now she wants us to leave the house because she can't tolerate me. She is getting more abusive day by day and even tried to attack me physically. I don't understand what to do, we are not in a position to move out of our house right now cause we already have spent our entire savings in the construction of this house. Please suggest me something.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 10 hours ago from California

      Thank you Candy!

      That was certainly a bold move on the part of your mil - to baptize your child, let alone a child who has no biological relation to her. And I completely understand your urge to avoid her. Sometimes it's a way to go - if it's not a big deal because you don't see each other a lot, and if it doesn't create tension with your spouse. In all other cases I would encourage you to be upfront about your feelings...

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 10 hours ago from California

      Thank you, Pathways thru life!

      So sorry to hear about your marriage... I know how destructive a monster in law can be to a relationship. In my humble opinion, a husband should never side with his mother against his wife. I understand your disappointment. Better luck in the future, eh? :)

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 9 hours ago from California

      Dear Riyanka,

      I feel for you. I know how painful it can be to live with an abusive relative; in this case, a mother-in-law.

      It is a difficult situation; one that cannot be resolved until you and your husband move out and live on your own, or your MIL moves out. I believe living with the parents is very detrimental to the marriage, and to the psychological well being of a couple. In the meantime, talk to your husband. Let him know what's going on; it's his mother after all. Abuse should never be tolerated, especially one of the physical kind. Good luck to you! Stay strong

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