Article: Intrusive Mother-in-law

October 21, 2010, 8:27 pm

The following article is exclusive to

Questions from reader: What do you do about a mother-in-law that calls her son everyday, and won’t let up on wanting constant info. about our personal life? We moved out of state to have more privacy, yet she finds “reasons” to call everyday. My husband keeps the calls short, and does not give her any details about our life. I think that it fuels her even more. What can we do to limit the amount of time, and avoid her constant nosiness?

Dealing With An Intrusive Mother-In-Law
By Jenna D. Barry

Many wives feel frustrated when their mother-in-law makes frequent phone calls and asks intrusive questions. It’s easy to get caught up in the victim mode, but it’s important to realize what you can do to improve your situation.

1. Change your perspective. Imagine that it was your eight-year-old neighbor girl– instead of your mother-in-law– who called everyday and asked nosey questions about your personal life. Would you likely be more confident and assertive with her than with your mother-in-law? The extent to which your mother-in-law can push your buttons is the extent to which she has power over you. Learn what your buttons are, and brainstorm new responses. In the future, if she tries to push your buttons but doesn’t get the same response out of you, then she no longer has power over you. (I think it’s important to point out that your mother-in-law may not be trying intentionally to push your buttons; she may simply have a different opinion than you about what is appropriate regarding phone calls and questions about your personal life. Try to find a way to make her feel included without ignoring your own needs.)

2. Unite as husband and wife. A couple is more likely to overcome a marriage obstacle when they work together as a team. When dealing with difficult in-laws, it’s important for you and your spouse to communicate your needs to each other, and work toward loving compromises. For example, your husband may want to talk to his mom once a week, but you only want to talk to her once a month. Find a solution that takes both of your needs into consideration– rather than revolving your lives around pleasing the parents. When appropriate, your husband should set boundaries with his own parents– and you with yours. However, in cases where you and Hubby are not united, it’s better to protect your marriage by drawing boundaries with his folks, than to stand silently and do nothing.

3. Set reasonable boundaries. You can’t control your mother-in-law’s behavior, but you can set limits on how her behavior affects you. The purpose of a boundary– or limit– is to protect yourself and/or your marriage. It is a way to show someone how you will or will not allow yourself to be treated. Boundaries are an important ingredient in healthy relationships. Keep in mind that you can only draw boundaries effectively on issues that affect you. For example, you can control how often you talk to your in-laws on the phone, but you can’t control when your spouse talks to them.

Here are some options for drawing boundaries on phone calls:
* Get Caller ID and screen your mother-in-law’s calls.
* Don’t return her calls immediately; wait a day or two. Continue this approach until you’ve established a new communication pattern based on your needs instead of hers.
* Rather than calling her back, send her a text or e-mail. You could also send her a letter via snail mail or talk to her the next time you see her in person.
* Ask her to keep her calls between certain times of the day/night.
*Turn your ringer off when you don’t want to answer the phone.

To enforce your boundaries, you must change YOUR behavior, so that your needs are met, regardless of whether or not your mother-in-law changes her behavior. For example, if she continues to call after 10pm after you‘ve tactfully asked her to stop doing so, then you can enforce your boundary by not answering her calls. Eventually she will likely change her behavior because you changed yours.

Here are some things you can say to draw boundaries with in-laws who ask intrusive questions:
* “I’d rather not answer that.”
* “I’m not willing to discuss my [finances/ sex life] with you. Let‘s talk about something else.”
* “That’s classified. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

Stand your ground in a tactful manner, and focus on being a great spouse instead of a parent-pleaser. Learn to let your parents/in-laws be upset with you. Just because they feel hurt or angry doesn’t mean you did something wrong. Remember, you can have a great marriage even if your in-laws aren’t so great!

Jenna D. Barry is the author of “A Wife’s Guide to In-laws:  How to Gain Your Husband’s Loyalty Without Killing His Parents.”  Find more at

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You can have a GREAT marriage, even if your in-laws aren't so great!

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You may be quick to blame your in-laws for your marriage problems, but in reality the biggest part of the problem isn't your in-laws, it's your husband's loyalty to them.  When a man marries, he is supposed to transfer his loyalty from his parents to his wife. His behavior plays a key role in how well you get along with his parents.  The goal of this book is to help you gain your husband's loyalty.

If you are in need of hope and encouragement, this book is for you!  Jenna Barry offers hilarious, heartfelt advice about how to have a terrific marriage in spite of difficult in-laws.  As a wife who has personally experienced the despair that comes from having an unsupportive partner, she suggests specific things to say and do to gain your husband's loyalty.  This book won't teach you how to become best friends with your in-laws, but it will teach you how to think and behave in a new way so they no longer have any power over you.  A Wife's Guide to In-laws has over 40 cartoons, two fun chapters written just for your hubby, and worksheets to help the two of you reach loving compromises about common problem issues.

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About Jenna

As a wife of 22 years, Jenna D. Barry (a pen name) has learned how to gain her husband's loyalty through communication, persistence, and a whole lot of love.  She has familiarized herself with the needs and frustrations of other wives by participating in on-line in-law support groups and by talking to marriage therapists, friends, family, and co-workers.


Jenna is the author of the book, A Wife's Guide to In-laws:  How to Gain Your Husband's Loyalty Without Killing His Parents. She has been a radio guest on The Mike Bullard Show and her articles have been published in newspapers, websites, and magazines worldwide.  She writes monthly articles for Hitched Magazine and has been quoted in The Washington Times,, The London Free Press,, etc. She leads a support group for daughters-in-law right here.



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