How to deal with your mother-in-law

Surviving And Thriving

You want her to like you, accept you, and respect you. You have your own mind, and it's been a pretty good mind at that. You are smart, have opinions, and ideas all your own. But… forget it! She is always right! She has to win! It's her way or no way! Who is she?!

You know the one. She can launch a look of disapproval, disgust and disinterest like no other. You are dismissed with an eyebrow, a sigh or a chuckle. She is the ultimate button-pusher. You guessed it. She is your narcissistic mother-in-law. And you are engaged in an interpersonal battle like no other. For you are one of her greatest rivals and narcissists love to compete and to win. Okay - off your knees, deep breath, straighten your posture, chin up, and ready your stride. You are up for the challenge. Hang on…Quick definition of a narcissist: someone who has an exaggerated sense of self-worth, is highly self-absorbed, entitled, condescending, superior, show-off-ish, competitive, and approval-craving. They do not appreciate the impact of their often obnoxious behaviors on others. They have a lot of trouble with empathy and with the notion of give and take.

Who Stole My Voice?

You stammer and struggle for words, but somehow they have vanished. It's as if someone has pressed the mute button on your vocal chords. Why does this woman have this effect on you? Perhaps you have simply resigned yourself to the "keep quiet and keep the peace" mantra. Rest assured, you are not unique. For most of us, dealing with a narcissist can be a daunting task, but dealing with a narcissistic mother-in-law, who has to be right about everything, surely ups the ante. She is family, after all. She will be a part of your life for a potentially long time. She already is, or will be, a grandmother to your children. She is not just a difficult encounter. She is your partner's mother.

What do you do?

First, you gather as much information as you can about her history, in order to understand how she became the person she is. 1.Was she simply spoiled and indulged as a little girl and this is all she knows? 2.Was she loved conditionally, based on her performance and achievements? 3.Was she harshly criticized when she was not being perfect in the eyes of her parent? 4.Why should I care, you ask? The explanation behind her narcissistic style equips you in confronting her about her unacceptable ways. The explanations are not to excuse her ways but to better hold her accountable. Here's how…

Empathic Confrontation & Setting Limits

Empathy is not agreement. It is not sympathy, nor is it compassion. It is simply the art of walking in another's shoes. With empathy you can give her some benefit of the doubt, but she must be confronted in order to help her appreciate the affect she has on you and others. Limits must be set and boundaries declared as a means of protecting your rights, territory and sanity.Here are just a few examples of how you can use empathic confrontation and limit setting with the self-righteous mother-in-law in your life: 1. "Jane (your mother-in-law), I know how hard you work to maintain a very enjoyable reputation as a great hostess with many artistic talents. I know this was a priority in your own family growing up. We have benefited from these talents as well. [Okay, here comes the Confrontation part] But this is my first home and I know you can understand how exciting it is for me to make my own decorating decisions - right or wrong. I am sure I have a lot to learn and I appreciate your ideas, but I need you to respect my opinions as I do yours, even if we disagree. Your tone and persistence makes it sometimes feel like a contest. I don't want it to be a contest. I don't want it to hurt our relationship."2. (Phone Rings — Oh no…it's HER again!) "Hi Jane. I only have five minutes as I am running to an appointment, but I didn't want to miss your call again." (Okay — small white lie — but a good limit setting approach) You can increase the number of stress-free days and moments by limiting your exposure. Keep the calls short and infrequent, same with visits when possible. Remember: you cannot change a narcissist by yourself, but you may have some influence over the way they behave with you. You can also control the impact it has on you by limiting your contact and clarifying the boundaries when you are with them. 3. For example, "Jane, I appreciate your concern for little Timmy and what you see as his over-attachment to his teddy bear. I know you watch Oprah and read articles about child development, and feel you have some expertise in this area. It is okay for you to offer your input to us privately, but it is not acceptable for you to discuss this in front of our friends or in front of the children. This must not happen again. I am counting on you to respect our wishes, and I'd appreciate your commitment to this effort while in our home." There - you said it, graciously but firmly. So, let's say she sighs, waves her hand in the air, as if to dismiss you like an annoying flying insect, or puffs up and gets defensive. Simply and nicely let her know that you had no intention of offending her nor are you inviting her into a debate on the matter. Again, "Jane let's not let this hurt our relationship." And leave it at that. These skills take time and practice. You may want to solicit a friend or even an audio taping device so that as you practice your new skills you can collect feedback on your word selection, tonal quality and measure the sturdiness in your voice. You want your message to be communicated with authenticity and to achieve the impact you intend. You may also want to consult an expert who deals with narcissism to see if there is any personal baggage that you need to discard in order to enhance your capacity to be a better advocate for yourself. Some experts can even provide interpersonal coaching for dealing most effectively with situations like this one.

More tips on keeping the peace

How to deal with your mother-in-law
Mother-in-law Manager
Dealing with difficult people: 17 Tips to keep you sane


Comments on "How to deal with your mother-in-law"

sandhya March 17, 2014 | 3:14 AM

My MIL is very envious she bothers me by all means even for wearing new inners while the old ones worn out to till eating a cup of rice she prefers feeding her dog by my piece of bread always talking harsh words about me and my mother's family if her daughter has problem with her family she will start new problems here i dont know how to manage this kind of lady anybody in this forum please3 guide me

Andrea February 09, 2014 | 3:24 AM

Thank you for sharing this article. I have a love/hate relationship with my MIL. She was actually ok and I got along with her until after we were married and bought our first house. She became worse once we had children. I try to be respectful and set boundaries; however she is constantly crossing them. On more than one occasion, she has blatantly disregarded my wishes...everything is about her and what she wants. It's worse too because my husband is very reluctant to set any boundaries with her and when i do say something to her, i'm always the bad guy. It's not that he doesn't agree that she is out of line, he just thinks i shouldn't say anything at all.

IHPY September 05, 2013 | 4:22 AM

My hubby leaves his daughter and myself to travel outside our country of residence to visit his mum and sister that lives together.My sister in laws two kids without husband. My MIL never married my FIL so all she had is her two children, my husband and his younger sister. The younger sister was married but her marriage ended when my MIL visted her daughter for the first time, only to come back with her daughter and grand son back to my husbands house. My MIL is now trying to do what she did to her daughter to her son. Putting in all efforts to separate her son from me so that the trio will be together forever. Little wonder my hubby tells me time without number that his immediate family is his mum and sister.How can a sensible husband travels to another country to visit his mum and sister without telling his wife. Stays there for weeks being incommunicado. My real inlaws are my hubby's half siblings who connects with me very well but for my MIL and my SIL, God help them to re-focus their lives while I pray that my hubby will soon find out what harm he is doing to himself, this is not marriage to be proud of my peeps

J August 27, 2013 | 11:53 AM

My MIL is very selfish. The latest - I will not give her an idea for my daughter's birthday gift, so she went off in an email, basically ordering me to think (that was one of the sentences - "Think!") and that I was no help. "Now I will have to go to a child's store." Instead of being thankful that we have a reason to go shopping, she complains about it. I want to tell her that since it is such a hassle, to just not bother. I showed a coworker the email, and I could see the anger just festering in her. Of course, the MIL expects all of the kids to pay for their trips, but nothing has ever panned out, and she has been disappointed. Did I mention that FIL retired at 42? Don't feel sorry for them. I have never met a bunch of whiny, selfish, insensitive, lazy POS' in my entire life. When we go to visit, they put my husband to work all of the time doing chores. The last thing - they had a birthday party for the old man, and I mentioned that I would be busy taking care of the baby and would not be able to set up. She went behind my back and told my husband that she never heard me say that. I told my husband that I kept the email, then she came back to him and said that I "should have told her directly." See, my husband called and told her that I was unable to help. She said that I should have called. Fortunately, my husband took up for me and disagreed with her. I responded through him. Good enough. I have so many things that I want to say, and so many names to use for her, but I do not want to offend people. And MIL, if you are reading this and figure out that I am talking about you, you really do know how to use the internet. ANd if anyone else from their family has figured this out, the same goes for all of you, too.

Lyn July 12, 2013 | 4:02 PM

Great read and comforting to see so many of us in the same boat. I too have the mil from hell and she goes out of her way to comment and make snide remarks behind my husbands back and when I had our first child she became very jealous of how we enjoyed every moment and was very hurt as we didn't need her help every step of the way so became critical of me to lower my confidence. She speaks about me when I walk out of the room in my own home and doesn't have the respect to lower her voice and if I confront her, she denies even saying it even when I have heard her! Unfortunately I cannot sort out the problem because she lies a lot and cries easily and makes a big scene. I just hope our marriage can survive her. I have told my husband I do not want to be around her anymore and it has been 5 months since I have seen her and although I love it, I hate how it makes my husband feel and the predicament it puts him in but as I was nearly on antidepressants because of her, I had to think of myself. Good luck ladies, what did we do to deserve the mother in laws from hell? Hopefully our relationships can survive when we have such a force against it.

Ali June 15, 2013 | 11:38 PM

My MIL is a total narcissist! It's always a competition with her. My husband is hot and cold with her all of the time. I can only take her in very small doses. She has two other sons but is so needy when it comes to my husband. She's stolen money from him and of course he forgave her because she's his mother but she's never tried to pay him back or apologize. She has an entitled, spoiled princess complex. My husband makes good money and she expects lavish gifts from him. He's take her on vacations and bought her nice gifts but now we have a house and a family and she pouts and complains when he doesn't spoil her. She stressed me out at the hospital while I was in labor to my baby, making everything a out her, she threw a fit when my husband didn't plan anything for her on my first Mother's Day (she didn't give her other sons any grief) she never bought us a wedding gift or baby shower gift but was upset when my husband didn't buy her a birthday present this year, although we did show up to her bday dinner at the expensive restaurant she picked out. After I had my son she told me she'd help out, anything I needed she said, she'd be there. I thought that was so sweet of her. Wow, maybe she'll be good grandma, maybe this is a side of her I haven't seen, but she's flaked on babysitting, leaving us high and dry, and when I told her I needed some help, for one day, with dishes and Laundry, she said "oh, I don't do that." She is my Regina Gerorge. Feels good to vent

Ms. J June 11, 2013 | 12:00 PM

I can't stand my MIL! She never worked, she racked up credit cards, and then filed bankruptcy. So therefor she cries the blues to my husband. She just manipulates my husband in order to get what she wants. Meanwhile it is ruining our marriage. My husband loaned her $8000 without my consent and of course she hasn't paid it all back either.Yet she has given my husband all kinds of excuses as to why she can't give us a payment. Meanwhile she spends money on other frivilous things and continues to not get a job or take responsibility for her own life. My husband also listed her as an authorized user on our credit card without my consent. I have told her that she cannot use the credit card because I will not authorize it and that I will take legal action against her if she does. I don't know why she thinks that it's a good idea to meddle in a married couple's credit/finances. My husband and I are not her bank. My husband needs to stop enabling her before we end up in divorce court and my MIL in small claims court for the remaining balance of the loan. I just cannot stand this woman!! All she thinks about is herself!

linda June 08, 2013 | 8:41 PM

i take great comfert in reding about this topic. My mother in law has gotten together with all the other in laws and now they are all carefull about talking about family matters around me. she has gotten together with my husband and advised him on how to deal with me i started haveing the shakes invaluntary shakes about five months after we where married now she all i have noticed is her disapoving looks.

cathy June 06, 2013 | 9:07 PM

I despise my mil. I thought at first that she was a sweet little old lady, boy she has that act down pact. She has tried everything to break me and her son up. She turned his daughters against me and they called me mom for ten years now they treat me like she does. First she had some woman call the house and claim I was sleeping with her husband. Thank God my man didn't believe it. Then she called the cops and had me kicked out of her house. Now her son is in jail because she claims he stole her wheelbarrow. She would rather have him in jail then here with me. When she dies I'm going up to her casket, lean over and say "I hope you suffered you old -----"

Gina May 19, 2013 | 3:07 PM

Thought this was a great article - very helpful. I do tend to confuse being polite with giving the message that I am no longer in control of the situation. And that is what I need to work on - I like the suggestions in article to record and practice tone of voice, words, etc. to hear how you actually sound. My MIL definitely has narcissistic tendencies, as does my own mother. But I am learning that much of how they treat me is a result of not respecting myself and making boundary-setting a habit. Even in the worst toxic situation like I have been in the past, it is up to me to take a hard look at my own responsibility in how I respond, what actions or words I say that put me at risk of being treated like a shrinking violet or victim, deciding ahead of time what I will and will not tolerate, having several short encounters with MIL which really does help - several is the key!, and trying to view MIL and mom as very damaged, hurting human beings. Anyway, prayers to those who have virtually unlivable situations with their MILs and husbands.

sarah May 11, 2013 | 8:37 AM

my MIL is terrible. she wants my kids all to herself! they are mine!

sean March 24, 2013 | 9:41 AM

In-laws are an arrogant bunch of spongers who, unlike normal guests, feel they have a "right" to walk in to your house any time they feel like it, expect to be waited on, demand to stay over, hog the remote control etc. They never take a hint. No doubt there are nice ones out there, but imho they should all be locked up

Helena March 06, 2013 | 10:35 AM

I am at wits end. As soon as something goes wrong in this family the mother in-law will automatically start attacking me. The oldest son & daughter in-law actually have a restraining order against this narcissist. Over the past 7 years I have been verbally abused by this woman. Thousands of abusive messages on my answering machine about how her son should get rid of me because i am a piece of garbage. This past few weeks she has been leaving threatening messages on my machine.

Mary January 26, 2013 | 12:28 PM

I don't feel alone reading all these post. Thank you all for sharing. My MIL and SIL very narcissistic and rude. 18 years I've been accused of being all sorts of things; jealous, mean, rude, and loud, and being a financial burden on my husband. My MIL even threaten to stab with a knife when I was with her preparing food for my first New Year's with her son, when we first started dating. I worked very hard to have a good relationship with her and her daughter, for the sake of my husband. Well, this last time, forget, I have chosen to distance myself from them. Like my mother told me, "You're a blessing to that family...and they don't know it." So remember that ladies, you are a blessing, a gift....You're all terrific!

Jamie December 18, 2012 | 2:05 PM

Reading these stories are horrible and I wonder how can these women be so terrible. I too can relate with my MIL. Luckily for most of you, you don't have to live with her. I do.My MIL has despised me since the day I moved in. My husband takes care of her, which I thought was sweet until I got to know her. She has been hateful and mean to me for absolutely no reason. I honestly believe she has no social graces by the way she acts. My husband and I have a 17 month old son, and I thought for sure when the baby came that she would learn to like me, but NO! She makes no sense to me at all. I go to school full time so I can have an education and a good job. I raise my son and take care of her son. I cook and clean. I am not lazy. I don't drink or take drugs. I try so hard to befriend her, but she would rather be friends with her son's ex. His ex is by no means the perfect women either. She is an alcoholic/drug addict, has four children by three different men, doesn't clean or cook and was a stripper until she got to old to make money doing that. This women is my MIL's best friend. She has even invited her to our house for coffee. My MIL is rude, obnoxious and I cannot stand her any longer. If anyone can relate and tell me how you dealt with it please let me know. I am to the point of leaving and breaking our family up over this women(MIL).

She is a pill head! November 08, 2012 | 11:55 AM

My mother in-law is the DEVIL himself! She is a fake, a liar, she hates females. Want to be queen bee. Would rather her other son get a dog than a wife. she is jealous. Make things up as she goes along. does not believe in herself. Played a big part in one sons destruction of marriage. Will fight you through her husband. Poor guy! Is a true narcissist. There is no helping her. SHE IS ALWAYS A VICTIM!!!

Sofia October 24, 2012 | 6:07 PM

I dated a man for 8-years. I loved my ex's mother, she was kind, gentle-mannered, considerate, simple, honest, intelligent, etc. Her son, however, wasn't any of those things. I've been dating my new boyfriend for a solid 1.5 years. He's kind, gentle-mannered, etc etc. His mother is NOT! She's awful! She's ridiculous! She uses guilt to manipulate him into doing what she wants of him. She acts like an injured puppy who is dying of thirst and hunger for his time and attention. She might call him 3 or more times in two hours for random, unimportant things. I suspect that she's very lonely and that saddens me. I encourage him to spend time with her and to give her special attention. I feel that this might placate her. But then, when he does this, she just wants more. I feel that there's a bit of a reversed Oedipus Complex, I think she's in love with him. ew! I've never said that out loud but I feel like she's obsessively in love with her son. After a relationship like my last, I feel as if I am certain about my new relationship. I feel that he is the one I'm going to spend my life with. But the one thing I wont ever accept is his mother. And, I feel badly admitting this...but she's not good for him. She's allowed him to live a bad life, never encouraged conventional methods of success, but always covered up for him and put bandaids over his mistakes. I feel like she's a horrible mother and a terrible person. There's so much more to her than I've described, I don't have too much time, but I just wish she wasn't in my way to being happily ever after with her son.

jodie August 15, 2012 | 4:50 AM

I've been married just about one year, but husband and I have been together almost 12 yrs. From day one my MIL has made me unwelcome. No one is good enough for her baby. Although she treats him like hired help.she acts as if my son from my 1st marriage was not his "burden" to take on(my son sees his father, not looking for a new daddy for him thank you!) She won't introduce me as his wife, or her daughter in law at any function, that's a title reserved for his brothers GF. She tried to ruin our wedding by booking a cruise during it, so we had to change the date(idve been fine w/out her there)she tried to get the DJ. To cut off our first dance so she could have her wedding song played instead, stood right next to me as I was cutting the cake saying I was doing it wrong, blasts me in front of everyone at holiday family parties because I didn't put coniments in little crystal serving bowls. Tells people I wasn't raised properly...really? I'm middle class and so is she! Sorry I don't find it necessary to have china out for a thanksgiving buffet! Oh and best part? At a recent funeral she called me a heathen at a catholic mass for not kneeling: I have a y knee brace contraption for a torn knee...I CAN'T kneel. So yes then people at mass turn around to look at me like I'm satan. And life continues on...

Lisa CA July 17, 2012 | 10:50 PM

Annie J is right. I see where the author is coming from but the narcissist will only view your attempts at social graces as another successfully won power play. Social graces are considerations given to those who might deserve them or who you are sure deserve them. When manipulative behavior has already been demonstrated, this benefit of the doubt no longer applies. If politeness (a reward) persists, this individual will think that you have accepted your position beneath her because you are continuing with politeness. Be a wall. Answer demands & even suggestions with "this is not up for discussion" "this is not for your concern" & "this is non-negotiable". Say a firm no to everything she tries to drag you into. This individual will eventually get the hint, that is, that you're not playing her fixed game! I have already started with setting these boundaries with my future mil & I just met her 2 months ago. I refuse to be emotionally abused for 10+ years by a mentally damaged adult that has declined professional & self help for her problem, like some of the DILs & SILs here have. Stonewall these cluster Bs. This is the only thing that will incentivize positive change. By continuing to be Mr. nice guy, you are only encouraging this crazy, unhealthy behavior & you will be poisoned by the toxicity. You can't prevent that without setting strict boundaries.

help_with_my_mother_in_law July 17, 2012 | 2:52 PM

My mother in law is a pain! I feel the pain ladies!

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