September 24, 2011, 3:59 pm
Do You Have A Controlling Mother-in-Law?
By Jenna D. Barry
Does your mother-in-law call constantly or show up at your house unexpectedly? Does she criticize the way you eat, dress, cook, or clean? Does she complain to your husband that you are a rude, selfish, disrespectful daughter-in-law? Does she try to manipulate you with guilt whenever you don’t revolve your life around her needs? Does she feel entitled to control your parenting decisions because she is “Grandma”? Does she think healthy boundaries don’t apply to her because she is “family”? Does she put your husband in a position to choose between being a great husband and an obedient son?
If you have a controlling mother-in-law, then you may be tempted to gossip, hold silent grudges, or cut off all communication, but that probably won’t help you or your marriage.
Here are five ways to get out of the victim mode and do what is in your power to improve your situation:
1. Equip yourself to deal with in-law problems by reading helpful books and articles. See a marriage-friendly therapist and/or join a positive support group in order to surround yourself with encouraging people who can validate your feelings and help you maintain a healthy self-esteem. The more knowledgeable you become about difficult in-laws, the more equipped you will be to prevent them from becoming an obstacle in your marriage. When your insecurity is replaced with confidence, you’ll realize that your mother-in-law’s opinions don’t outrank yours and you don’t need her approval.
2. 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.
3. Communicate assertively. Being a daughter-in-law doesn’t mean you must be a timid, obedient child with no needs, feelings, or opinions. It’s usually not necessary to have a big 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 I’m sticking with my decision.”
4. Set reasonable boundaries. In many situations it’s better to gain respect by standing up for yourself rather than expecting your husband to rescue you. 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.
5. Enforce your boundaries. 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. Stand your ground in a tactful manner, and learn to let her be upset with you. Just because she feels hurt or angry doesn’t mean you did something wrong. Eventually she will likely change her behavior because you changed yours.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” That’s an important rule to remember when interacting with your in-laws. Communicating your needs and setting reasonable boundaries is not in itself disrespectful, but you must do it in a respectful manner. Treat your husband’s mother the way you’d want your husband to treat yours. If you treat his mom with disrespect, then your husband will lose respect for you and your marriage will suffer. You can show your husband you love him by being respectfully confident with his mother.
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 www.WifeGuide.org.
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