How do I deal with a horrible mum-in-law?

Hi Chris!

Please help me with my mother in law! My husband’s a really nice guy, but his mother is awful. Endlessly criticising and ‘commenting,’ always negatively, in ways that really get to me. Is there any way I can get her to change, before she drives me mad?

Mother in Law Driving me Mad

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Hi Mother in Law Driving me Mad,

It’s tempting to wonder ‘how you could get your mother in law to change,’ but that’s the wrong approach. Because no-one can change someone else. A better way is to think about how she might be seeing your behaviour, and how altering it might improve hers.

Probably your mother-in-law is always correcting you or comparing you unfavourably with others. Constantly criticising your cooking, clothes, child-rearing, whatever. So you wonder if she’ll ever say anything nice. You know you’re doing a good job, so why does her disapproval make you feel like a child again? 

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If you ask her she’ll say she’s only trying to be helpful. But whatever her motives are, getting her to have a more adult relationship with you is all about the way you react to her criticism. Because if you get upset, you’ll reinforce her behaviour. Instead, you need her to see you as a confident, assertive and independent adult, even if you’re actually churning inside. A good way to achieve this is to be calm, respectful and polite, and to avoid rising to the bait.

So instead of fretting about her criticism, find ways to respond to her unwanted advice so that you don’t get drawn into the put-down. Try saying nothing at all for a few moments. Because there’s a good chance your lack of reaction will stop her comments. But if it doesn’t, just stay relaxed and say something like ‘Thanks for your suggestion, I’ll think about it.’ And then move the conversation on to something else. The whole idea is to avoid her feeling that she’s got to you. Then her comments will almost certainly get less and less frequent.

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But what if some of her criticisms ring true? If you’re resisting good advice, you should ask yourself why. Perhaps you feel threatened? Maybe she’s behaving the way she is because she’s also feeling insecure? Understanding her behaviour and your reaction to it will help you get things into perspective. So you can take her advice when it’s useful, and reject the rest. And begin to have a warm and adult relationship with her.

All the best,

Chris  

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Chris HartLove DoctorDr LoveMother in law