How to Improve Your Relationship With Your Mother-in-Law

Updated on June 8, 2018
AudreyLancho profile image

Audrey is a mom who tries to do things as naturally as possible, whether it be cooking or home remedies.

Mother-in-laws certainly have a way with words. Remain calm and be patient—for the long term!
Mother-in-laws certainly have a way with words. Remain calm and be patient—for the long term! | Source

Why This Relationship Can Be Tricky

Relationships with your mother-in-law can be particularly trying, because women tend to stick their claws out when hurt or threatened, and this is exacerbated when two women love the same man, albeit in different ways. If you can handle this straight-shooting article that does not mince words and contains hard-to-swallow truths that will help so much, then you may be on the way to mending your relationship with your MIL.

I will start by saying that I have the most wonderful MIL on the planet. To prove that I am not just saying that in case she reads it, I will point out that she lives in Spain and speaks no English and does not surf the internet. She will never read this. Still, I sing her praises: she is caring, intelligent, talented, family-oriented, supportive, fun, adventurous, and helpful. However, this does not mean that we have never had a problem or that I have not had to learn the hard way how to navigate conversations and things that come up in our lives in order to have a peaceful relationship with her.

You may have started reading this article to join a nag-fest about how awful your MIL is, or find tips that reinforce your bitter idea that she is the one who must change and do all the work to make it right--because you are correct and she is wrong, after all! You will be surprised to see that most of the information I give in this article focuses on what you can do. If you are mature enough to accept it and honest enough in your desire for a good relationship with your MIL, you will be able to carry these things into your life and see at least a little bit of change.

By the way, if you are not married, your boyfriend’s mother is not your mother-in-law. Everything changes when those vows are said and the commitment is in place. Until then, his mother may see you as expendable, something that may be temporary, and is more likely to be able to show you patience and temperance. Once she sees you as a forever piece of the family, it may be harder to swallow for many reasons. Below I list tips to overcome common problems with your MIL, and how to reach within yourself to contribute to positive progress in your relationship.

Keep things light and fun with your Mother-in-law and remember to not be so easily offended.
Keep things light and fun with your Mother-in-law and remember to not be so easily offended. | Source

Six Ways to Get Along with Your Mother-In-Law

1. Work on Proving Yourself Loyal

If you are newly married into a family, you must make the time and effort over a long period of time to prove that you are in this for the long haul, that you are willing to be reasonable and flexible, and that you will do your part in the family to contribute to happiness and well-being. Every family is different, but you will have to know your place as you prove yourself. You are now your husbands #1 woman, but it is not your place to teach your MIL life lessons by snarkily informing her of this hurtful fact. Many MILs don’t even consciously know this, but it is hard for them to give up that place. The love a woman feels for her son is overwhelmingly strong, and throughout life they remember kissing little boo-boos, cuddling, breastfeeding, discipline, and every other cute moment that occurred. Suddenly, a woman that does things differently comes into the picture and MILs feel threatened. This can lead to hurtful actions on her part, like critical comments, becoming enraged when you react how she doesn’t want you to, or even confronting you about things she doesn’t like, or worse, talking to your husband behind your back about those things she doesn’t approve of. The best thing you can do during these times is contrary to logic: keep your mouth shut and continue to be consistent, steady, and calm. In time, she will recognize your reasonableness and you will prove to her that you are on the _________ family team—for life! She will grow in respect as she sees that you are a stable, consistent, and unfazed person in the face of her emotional outpourings. She will feel silly and learn valuable lessons. Telling her, “I’m first now, so back off!” will only make things worse, and plus, it’s not your place to tell her that. Which brings me to my second point…

2. Let Your Husband Do the Defending

Defending yourself will come off as childish and immature. You do not want to give her more reasons to stew over what she doesn’t like about you. The love both of you feel for your husband is the reason all of this conflict comes about in the first place, and he is the perfect person to smooth those ruffled feathers. Hopefully, your husband knows that you are now first. If not, that is the first conversation you need to have. He needs to be able to kindly and lovingly defend you to his mother. When she calls to talk to him about how you shrunk her favorite pillow shams that she lent to you for your visiting company, he needs to be the one to say, “She is not perfect, but she is my wife. We will replace your shams, but when you call please be nice about her, because when you talk about her, you’re talking about half of me. I love you mom, I hope you’ll understand she’s here to stay and we need to make this work.” Some men are not so good at expressing themselves. I have heard a story of a MIL who called her son in a frenzy and said “People have been going on and on about what your wife did at her job!” This man, unable to express his frustration, simply said, “Well, people suck!” and hung up. It may not have been eloquent, but it was a very clear message to Mom: talk about my wife, and risk straining my relationship with you. You, the wife, cannot amply defend yourself. It will come off wrong and lead to more problems. Just smile and nod and explain when needed, and be patient. Once you prove yourself (point 1) things will start going smoother.

3. It Is Not a Competition

There is nothing to win, nothing to fight about. Two women do things differently, one is upset about the way the other acts, the other is frustrated that she is not wholeheartedly accepted. Both of you must bend and yield and give a little in order for things to work. You cannot control what she does, but you can control what you do. Compliment her when she does well, looks nice, or has a good idea. Thank her when she does something. Don’t hold back on hugs and kisses and spending time with her. Just relax and be fun, and don’t let your irritations and hurt feelings with her make you seem like you are out to get her and cannot have a kind word with her, because you just want to win whatever fight you are having. Lay down everything inside your flesh that tempts you to retaliate or fight, and realize it is not a competition. Two women love one man, and both women have already won. One of them is his permanent mother, the other is his forever spouse. The prize has already been handed out. It may take her longer to realize this, but you have got to stick it out. If she is mentally stable, she will come around, and it will not happen overnight. Year after year you will see things getting better and better if you remain kind, patient, and calm.

4. Stop Being so Sensitive

If you are offended by everything and get your feelings hurt all the time, newsflash: you are probably the cause of the majority of your personal problems. If you want to succeed in this world in these times, you have got to have a thicker skin. It actually is possible to let things roll off and not obsess over them. It also is possible to keep your mouth shut when you are hurt and confront the person directly who hurt you rather than going around and making things worse by talking bad about people. If your mother in law comes over and sees your new plants and says, “Gosh, Lindsay, you really need to move those petunias into the sun. They’re going to shrivel up just like your dead marigolds!” and then has a hearty laugh, you have two options. Do you take offense and get your feelings hurt, pout, walk to the other room, and start texting all your friends about how awful she is? Or do you decide to chuckle and say or think, “Well, you have been gardening for 20 years, so go ahead and move them! Just don’t ask me for a tip when you’re done!” Keep things light and fun. Don’t get so offended over such little things. Be willing to accept criticism when it is due, and even if it is not in the nicest language. If you pout and text after every little thing she does, you will seem whiny to your friends, and she will be aware of you talking bad about her when she comes in contact either in person or via social media with the people you have texted. That coldness is very readable. Those people you texted will not easily forget the bad stuff about your MIL like you will in the future. It is immature and cruel to take out your hurt like that. If you feel like your MIL really did hurt your feelings and you are not just making it up (I.e. telling you that you look fat), you should bring it up respectfully. “I felt hurt when you said. . .” and get your husband to go with you as support. Otherwise, accept her little comments and annoyances. She has been doing homemaking, life, and caring for others way longer than you have. You could learn a thing or two from her! I know I have.

5. Judge Her by Her Intentions

People are prone to judge others by what they do and judge themselves by what their intentions were. This leads to hurt feelings. Your MIL calls early Saturday morning to say she will keep the baby so you two can go out, but then is at the store when you pull up to her house and doesn’t arrive until 30 minutes later, really messing up your date-day ideas. She is apologetic, so why are you still upset? Learn to judge her by her intentions. Correct thoughts: She may have gotten held up in traffic or there was a long line. She probably had to go to the store because keeping little guy kind of threw her day off and she didn’t have anything to feed him, plus the store gets crowded later”. Translation: MIL is doing the best she can and is trying hard in her own way to help us because she loves us. Incorrect thoughts: what a flake! She promises to keep him, then she is not even here? Our whole day is going to be ruined. How could she be so selfish and unprepared as to tell us yes, then not even be home when we need her? Translation: she is evil and did this on purpose just to spite me. Now, how about an honest assessment: which one sounds more like your responses?

6. Accept Her—Flaws and All!

Flaws: everyone has them. She does, and you do, too. You must learn to accept them. She is caring, but she is a lazy procrastinator and her home is not as clean as you would like to keep yours. She is super fun, but has a hard time saying “I love you”. She seems rough and callous, but she was raised in a home without much display of affection, but she shows her faithfulness because she is always there when you need her. Make a list of your MIL’s good qualities today and keep adding to it as you find a new one. Include these things in a mother’s day card when the holiday rolls around. Kind words can go a long way in calming wrath and healing hurt hearts. Know that you, too, have flaws that annoy and hurt others that you may be unaware of. You accept these about yourself and expect others to accept them about you too. So, you must be flexible and understanding with the things your mother in law does not do right or things about her that are not easy for her to control or change.

If your MIL is a sane, reasonable, and generally caring person, doing the mind and behavior changes I listed above will go very far in improving your relationships with her. Let me know in the comments below what your problems with your MIL are, how you have fixed them, or anything you would add to this article.

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© 2018 Audrey Lancho

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    • profile image

      Miranda 

      2 months ago

      Thank you for your response. Appreciate your perspective. Kindness is always the best option. I ignore a lot and smile and laugh. We have never kept our 3 sons from her, but she never really wanted too much time with them. We didn't ask for help, we let her or my FIL approach us first for time with their grandsons. Loved my FIL he is gone now and she is remarried. Now she wonders why the adult grandkids don't want to see her, she never bonded with them.

    • AudreyLancho profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Lancho 

      2 months ago from North Carolina and Spain

      Hi Miranda! Your experience has been dreadful and unfortunately, you are not alone. This advice will ONLY work if both MIL and DIL are good-willed and truly want to get along. There are also many times the DIL assumes the MIL has evil intent, but this is not the case. Your situation, however, reminds me of an abusive or power/control situation. Anything the abuser can do to keep you down is what they will use. I am sorry you had this experience, but remember, it is NEVER too late to sow seeds of kindness, even when the other (perhaps mentally unstable) person doesn’t deserve it. Cheers to you and thanks for sharing. Sharing our hearts helps our experiences as women helps us face life with a village mentality and not feel so alone.

    • profile image

      Miranda 

      2 months ago

      I wish this advice was available to me 33 years ago. I am a sensitive person, lots of wounds from childhood. My MIL and husband always had a difficult relationship and when I was brought into his family she transferred her meanness to me, as well. We were not kids out of HS when married. Both of us established with careers and education. We became pregnant 2 months after our beautiful wedding day. We had a beautiful 10 day honeymoon. We were 28 years of age and very ready to married and start a family. Two months after marriage we told the MIL we had some exciting news and she responded, "What you are pregnant, so whats the exciting news? Don't expect me to be a built in babysitter, and I am not excited to be a grandmother." I was living 2000 miles from my own family, lost my brother in a car accident as a teenager, took care of my older sisters kids when she was sick, and have a teaching degree kindergarten through 6th grade with an art endorsement. Just retired from 25 years of teaching art. I love kids. She would say such mean things to me during my pregnancy. "You are letting yourself go" This is after working an 8 hour day and doing chores. If I looked good, she would say you look good for once or where did you get something so nice? We have always lived in the same town, my sister in law has never had a nice thing to say about her mother or brother's wife, caused a lot of family division, but years later is now close to all of them and I am still on the outside. I have chosen to distance myself from the in-laws to protect myself. I think the MIL's behavior to me and my husband is abusive and confusing. Hot and cold. I am a successful teacher, avid outdoors woman, I hike alpine hikes to 12,000' elevation. I choose to be polite and joyful after 33 years of marriage and will not allow them to hurt me anymore.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You've shared some great ideas and suggestions, Audrey. I love your advice. I think this article will be helpful for many people.

    • AudreyLancho profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Lancho 

      4 months ago from North Carolina and Spain

      @RTalloni I love your perspective and I am so happy this inspires you with the next generation of daughters-in-law. It is not an easy relationship to navigate, and some women really do have difficult and unfair (or mentally unstable) mother-in-laws. From my POV, there is always something we can do to make the relationship better by focusing on our part, and hoping and praying her part changes with time. Thanks for your thoughtful response and time taken to read this article.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      4 months ago from the short journey

      Pretty good stuff, I must say! :) I enjoyed this post very much. You've written a thought-provoking piece that reflects what a quality person you must be and why your mother-in-law is able to be herself and enjoy you so much. You have encouraged me about this generation of daughters-in-law!

      It's been shocking to read so much awful stuff written by daughters-in-law bloggers about their mothers-in-law. I've only heard of the incredibly cruel and vicious things they've put on Facebook, but oh me, how foolishly sad it is. When I have the opportunity I remind them that it would be wise to remember that if they are so blessed they will be a mother-in-law one day.

      Also, if a wife wants her husband to truly believe she loves him then she must love his family members because they are a part of him. Though he may never say it, if she does not show them love he will know that part of her disdains him, and it will take its toll on the relationship.

      I have heard of mothers-in-law who were so fed up with their daughters-in-law's attitudes that they told them, "You may not always be his wife, but I will always be his mother." I do not condone such a statement for I don't believe it could ever be helpful, but I know that it has sadly proven true in too many cases.

      There's nothing new about it but stereotyping either mothers-in-law or daughters-in-law is unwise. Why not go for the gold in all our relationships? Everybody wins! Some of all kinds of people are not what they ought to be, and most of us aren't everything we should be, but why not treat each other with respect and, as you say, at least do our best to be what we should be no matter what others do or say?

      There are cases when the situation is impossible, but those are far fewer than most are willing to admit. Still, even then, finding ways to show love is not impossible. What that looks like in various difficult situations will be different, but what it does not look like is simple. There is no room for disrespect, ungratefulness, spitefulness, anger...

      Sorry to ramble on so. You've gone over on some really important points in writing this article. I hope it will have a huge impact on what we see online, and beyond. You've done a brave and wonderful thing here!

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