Yes, Even When She Criticizes Your Home Decor

Getting along with your mother-in-law can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re newly married and are just getting to know your mother-in-law or are trying to improve a not-so-perfect relationship you’ve had for years, this information can be valuable to you.

This article will explore getting along, understanding the psychology behind this relationship, resolving conflicts, creating a healthy connection, and using good strategies to cultivate a positive relationship with your mother-in-law.

While the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is typically considered the most complex and occasionally difficult in-law relationship (you might be picturing the Jane Fonda/J-Lo movie “Monster-in-Law”), a lot of the strategies we’d recommend can hold true for any in-law relationship regardless of gender.

At a Glance

Those of us with in-laws have all been there. A snide comment here, boundary-breaking behavior there. Navigating your in-laws can be complicated (I see you nodding).

You can choose your partner, but you can’t choose their parents any more than they can. Always try to remember that your in-laws want the best for their child, and they have known their child for much longer than you. If you start from a place of respect—mutual, we hope!—then you already have the baseline for a healthy in-law relationship.

Should conflict arise, make sure to check-in with your partner and don’t do anything that might jeopardize your relationship, even at those times when you can’t even be in the same room as your mother-in-law.

Getting Along

Be sure to be polite and respectful. Get to really know your mother-in-law and then see if you can find any commonalities. For example, if you both love gardening and landscaping, share that activity and do work together in the yard. Or if you both love dancing, go out and dance to a live rock-and-roll band.

If you live far apart and only see each other over holidays, the relationship might be a little strained because you don’t spend much time together. Seeing each other more can help the relationship.

In a study on closeness between mothers-in-law (MILs) and their daughters-in-laws (DILs), researchers found that a few factors determined closeness. A close relationship could be predicted if MIL considered her DIL helpful and they both had similar interests. Closeness also increased when the MIL reported that she spent more time with her DIL. If the MIL was close to her son and her son was happy about the bond she had with his wife, that also made for a close relationship between the women.

If your mother-in-law is initially cold or critical, assume the best and try to understand her point of view. She may have always been the leading lady in her son’s life. And now you have taken her place. No one likes to feel replaced, excluded or abandoned.

Compliment her on “the great job she has done raising her son because otherwise you probably wouldn’t have married him!” Compassion goes a long way. She will quickly turn from a tiger to a cute purring kitten with a few sincere compliments.

The Psychology Behind This Relationship

When it comes to the psychology behind this kind of relationship, remember that your attachment style might have been shaped by your early relationships. If you have an avoidant attachment style, for example, you may struggle with intimacy. This might color your behavior and emotional response to your mother-in-law.

Common complaints from daughters-in law focus on their mother-in-law’s criticism and unsolicited advice. Keep in mind that her suggestions might come from a place of good intentions. Remember that she knows her son well. “If she critiques your cooking, be humble. Even ask for guidance or her son’s favorite recipes.” Show gratitude as it’ll make you both happier. Bite your tongue if she makes passive-aggressive jabs. The correct answer is always, ‘We both want him to be happy, successful and feel loved.’

That doesn’t mean having no boundaries. Compromise with your mother-in-law whenever possible and respect her priorities, but establishing clear boundaries is still important. Draw the line when necessary and reduce your own stress level.

How to Resolve Conflict

Once a child is born, it’s common for a mother-in-law to help with childcare for the new baby. One study looked at mother-in-law childcare and perinatal depression in rural Pakistan. Researchers found that at three months postpartum, when a mother-in-law provided a low or high level of childcare, the daughter-in-law had a lower incidence of depression regardless of family conflict. But at 12 months postpartum, if there was family conflict, even if the mother-in-law provided a high level of childcare, the daughter-in-law exhibited increased perinatal depression.

Rather than fight, use constructive and respectful communication. Effective communication can create a strong foundation so you’ll both feel relaxed and comfortable. And be sure to communicate with your spouse privately if you’re upset about something regarding your mother-in-law.

Disagreements naturally will arise in any relationship, but your mother-in-law might have a different conflict resolution style than you do. Maybe she avoids conflict at all costs. Maybe you prefer to confront a problem head-on and talk about it until it’s resolved.

Once you see that it’s a style difference, you can move forward. Brush up on conflict resolution mistakes like becoming defensive, blaming the other, or issuing character attacks. Work on negotiating a middle ground with her.

Cognitive reframing involves changing negative thought patterns. Applying this technique can help you view conflicts with your mother-in-law in a much more positive light.

Creating a Healthy Connection

Empathy is a powerful tool that can enhance your relationship with your mother-in-law. Truly try to understand her perspective. This can lead to better communication and a more fulfilling relationship.

Listen attentively and focus on bonding with your mother-in-law. Share personal stories, too; this can bridge a gap and help you both create common ground.

Maybe you’ll never see her as a second mother to you, and maybe she’ll never see you in the same light as her own flesh and blood, but that’s OK.

Strategies for Building a Positive Relationship

Here are a few tried-and-true strategies that actually work.

  • Validation – Validate your mother-in-law’s feelings, even if you disagree. That can greatly defuse tensions between you both.
  • Positive reinforcement – Acknowledging and appreciating her efforts can lead to more positive interactions. Reinforcing positives can snowball and ultimately improve her behavior towards you.
  • Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness can assist you in managing your reactions and emotions during challenging situations. Mindfulness allows you to reflect, breathe and respond thoughtfully rather than react impulsively.

You can develop a fulfilling and harmonious relationship with your mother-in-law. The rewards of a positive relationship are well worth it. A happy relationship will also benefit your marriage and contribute to a more peaceful family life.