February 25, 2011, 1:49 pm
The following article is exclusive to Hitched Magazine:
Letter from Reader: I have an overbearing/martyr type mother-in-law. Both my husband and I realize this and know that we need to set boundaries, but are very unsure how to go about it. My husband is a recovering alcoholic and feels his mother is a trigger for his drinking. He wants to stop all communication with her, but I think it’s best to talk with her and set boundaries. Neither of us wants the confrontation, but know it is vital to our relationship/sanity. Please help!
Dealing With an Overbearing Mother-in-Law
By Jenna D. Barry
Dealing with difficult in-laws can be an overwhelming challenge—whether you are dealing with an overbearing mother-in-law who believes her opinions are superior to yours—or a martyr who tries to make you feel guilty whenever your needs conflict with hers. It may be tempting to gossip, hold silent grudges, or cut off all communication with troublesome in-laws, but it is usually best to confront the problem in an assertive manner.
Here are some tips for dealing with difficult in-laws:
1. Change your perspective. You and your mother-in-law are adults on an equal level, so don’t behave as though you are an inferior child. The extent to which she can push your buttons is the extent to which she has power over you. Learn what your buttons are, and brainstorm new responses.
2. Communicate assertively. It’s usually not necessary to have a big serious confrontation to communicate your needs, but it is important to speak in an assertive manner when the opportunity presents itself. Learn some key phrases such as “You’re entitled to your opinion, but this isn’t up for discussion” or “I’m sorry you’re upset, but we’re sticking with our decision.”
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 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. For example, you can’t force her to stop dropping by unexpectedly, but if you stop answering the door, she probably won’t keep showing up. At first she will probably be upset by your behavior, but eventually she will learn to expect it, and then you will have re-defined “normal.”
4. Learn to let your mother-in-law be upset with you. Just because she feels hurt or angry doesn’t mean you did something wrong. In-laws with healthy behavior will respond appropriately when you communicate your needs and draw reasonable boundaries. However, in-laws with destructive behavior will choose to be offended and try to make you feel guilty for having needs that conflict with theirs. It’s important to stand your ground with controlling, manipulative in-laws.
When you decide to get out of the victim role and start behaving in a new way, then you will start to have healthier relationships with the people around you.
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.” For more information, please visit www.WifeGuide.org.
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