Meddling Mother-in-Law

August 14, 2011, 10:37 am

This article is exclusive to Hitched Magazine:

Letter from Reader:  “What can I do about a mother-in-law who calls my husband everyday (we live in another state) and is always trying to meddle in our business? My husband is very vague about our life, and has told her repeatedly to let us live our own lives. She is eighty yrs old, and we are in our mid forties. My husband moved out of the state she lives in because of this problem three years ago, but she continues to call everyday. When she cannot get any info from my husband, she tries to get info from other relatives about us. HELP!! She is out of control, and we are tired of it.”

Dealing With a Meddling Mother-in-Law
By Jenna D. Barry

Many couples struggle with in-laws who think they are entitled to know every detail of their children’s lives. These parents feel that healthy boundaries don’t apply to them because they are “family.” It can be very aggravating to deal with a mother-in-law who meddles into your private life, or a father-in-law who offers unwanted advice in a condescending manner.

Here are some tips for dealing with meddling in-laws.

1. Unite as a couple. Rather than focusing on how awful your in-laws are, concentrate on making sure you don’t allow their behavior to drive you and your partner apart. You can have a great marriage even if your in-laws aren’t so great. Work together as a team to find solutions instead of making the problem worse by fighting with each other. (In the scenario above, the couple is actually handling the problem very well. They both agree that it’s best to live in a different state than the mother-in-law. They realize that she is not entitled to know every detail of their lives, and the husband has the courage to tell her that.)
2. Do what is in your power to limit how your in-laws’ behavior affects you. You can’t prevent your mother-in-law from calling every day, nor can you forbid your husband from answering her calls. However you can screen her calls, and you can gently encourage your husband to do the same. Neither of you are obligated to return her calls immediately. Visualize a future that you want with regard to the frequency and type of communication (ie: phone, letter, e-mail, text), and then work as a couple to reach that goal. For example, if you want to talk to her once a week on the phone, then screen her calls (via answering machine or Caller ID) and wait a week to return her call no matter how many times she calls before then. At first she will be very upset, but eventually she will likely accept your new behavior as normal.
3. Learn to let your in-laws be upset. When you change your behavior and draw boundaries, they may react negatively. They may test your boundaries– similar to the way a toddler throws a tantrum– to see if you will cave in or not. It’s very important not to back down when parents challenge your (reasonable) boundaries– even if they cry, make threats, gossip about you, or say you are a horrible son or daughter-in-law. Don’t sink to their level; be confident, respectful, dignified, and tactful.
4. Make an effort to put an end to gossip. You can’t force your mother-in-law to stop gossiping about you, but you can confront her about it in a tactful manner. If she realizes that you know she is gossiping about you, that in itself may be enough motivation for her to stop. You can also confront those who are listening to her gossip about you. Without badmouthing your mother-in-law, encourage your relatives to change the subject when she starts pressuring them for information about your lives.

We can minimize the way our in-laws’ behavior affects us by uniting as a couple and respectfully enforcing our boundaries.

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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