The Mother-in-law and Daughter-in-law Dynamic

by Samantha De Bono

We’ve all heard the Mother-in-law jokes that male comedians have bandied about for years and years, but from what I see on a regular basis, it’s women who seem to be the ones that struggle in this area way more than men and from where I’m sitting, they aren’t finding it much of a joke!

In fact, research shows that it’s in the region of 60% of women who have a fractious relationship with their mother-in-law (housework and parenting being the main area of contention) compared to only 15% of men.

As a mother of two sons I can see that a mother-in-law might fear being pushed out, possibly feeling surplus to requirements and from my experience of being a daughter-in-law, feeling judged or disapproved of.

The dynamic between a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law can be a fractious one.  Jealousy on both sides can arise if one or the other feels threatened in their position of importance to the husband/son, this is usually driven by insecurity and vulnerability in their relationship, but as in any relationship, the more the individual is able to self validate, the less needy they are, so proof that their husband or their son loves/approves/respects/regards them is not required and therefore not put to the test. This in turn relaxes the dynamic between the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law.

The complexities of in-law relationships are deep and wide ranging, but here are some tips that will help.  However, remember, abuse is never acceptable, so these tips are for the normal difficulties between in-laws.

Getting Comfortable

You know when you hear a song on the radio for the first time and you can’t stand it, then at some point along the line you’re singing along to it and rather like it? well that’s called “The Exposure Effect”.  The same applies here, the more you see a person, the more appealing they can become, the more we see a face, the more attractive we find it, the more we hear phrases or experience idiosyncrasies, the more we accept or even like them, so don’t avoid seeing your mother-in-law, take the time to see her and get to know her, this will definitely ease your relationship.

The Power of Positive Thinking

Think about the times you have felt angry, you ruminate and cuss and stomp around, now think about what that behaviour and state of mind has done for your anger – yep, it increased it.  Well the same happens if we want to feel good about something, if we think positively and happily, we will encourage that feeling even more. So before a visit with your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, think positively and happily, don’t work yourself up into a tizz which will no doubt come out in some way during the visit and feed the negative dynamic between you.  Feed positivity.

Avoid Unnecessary Squabbles

Remember what I said about self validation? well this is really important because if you value yourself, others value you too.  If you are comfortable in who you are, what you do and how you do it, others accept it.  However, if you doubt yourself, you are likely to get caught up in defending yourself because you feel over sensitive and see anything that anyone says as a dig or a slight on you or your abilities and senseless bickering and squabbling starts that can even lead to arguments. So tell yourself it really doesn’t matter whether she thinks I’m good enough or not, I know I am. Then if you think you’re being criticised, let it go! She might be criticising you, she might not be, so what, you know you’re worthwhile, that’s all that matters!

Try to see the other perspective

It’s true that the way we see things is unlikely to be exactly the same way somebody else sees things, but that doesn’t make the other person wrong, it isn’t necessarily a case of right or wrong, it’s just a different way.  Try to accept that it’s okay for her to do or see something differently to you. As long as no harm is being done to anyone, go with it and remember, it’s a controlling trait to cause upset to others just because they want to do things differently to you.  Do you want to be seen as controlling?

If you are experiencing difficulties with an in-law and you haven’t been successful trying the suggestions here, mediation might be the next best step to take.  This would involve sitting together with a professional mediator who will listen non-judgementally to the problems you are going through and facilitate an objective resolution.