Relationships > Family and Friends > How to Respond to a Mother-in-Law Who Doesn’t Like You

How to Respond to a Mother-in-Law Who Doesn’t Like You

These tips for getting along with a mother-in-law who hates you will help you deal with the most difficult family problems. You can’t make your mother-in-law love you – or even stop hating you – but you can change how you respond to her. And that can change everything.

“I have been married for over 25 years and have had many ups and downs with my mother-in-law,” says Ginger on How to Cope With a Difficult Mother-in-Law. “It has not been easy. Finally – a few years ago – I figured out why my mother-in-law hates me and why she is always so critical. Just knowing what caused the problem has made a huge difference in our relationship. I finally learned how to talk to her and my other in-laws without everything exploding in my (and my husband’s) face.”

Why do you think your mother-in-law hates you? Learning the reasons behind her feelings – which are so strong and violent! – can help you deal with her. Another question for you: has your mother-in-law actually said “I hate you”, or are you picking up on a spirit of criticism, judgment, or even jealousy?

Sometimes a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication can change the trajectory of a relationship, even causing hatred or distance. On the bright side, though…a simple conversation or even kind gesture can also change a relationship! Don’t give up hope. You won’t always have a mother-in-law who hates you. Life will bring about the changes you’re hoping and praying for.

Below, Ginger shares why her mother-in-law hates her so much. In her story we find valuable tips on how to deal with a difficult mother-in-law.

10 Tips for Dealing With a Hateful Mother-in-Law

Ginger explains what she recently discovered about her mother-in-law:

“For years, my MIL displayed pictures of her family, my husband’s other siblings, and their spouses’ wedding portraits. The wedding photo of my husband and me was also displayed, but my face and body was always hidden by the placement of the photos. When I asked why, she said it was “just to make space for all the family photos.’ Later I learned that my mother-in-law hid me on purpose because she was mad about something I supposedly did at an event that she didn’t even attend. My mother-in-law hates me because of something she thought I did years ago.”

Ginger’s mother-in-law believed rumors, jumped to conclusions, and assumed the worst about her daughter-in-law. Ginger can’t control what her mother-in-law thinks or how she acts, but she can control how she responds. And that’s what these tips are all about…

1. Tell your mother-in-law what you observe about her behavior towards you

dealing with a mother in law who hates you
How to Deal With a Mother-in-Law Who Hates You

Describe what you see, hear, notice, and even sense. “Mother-in-law Mary, at dinner you said you don’t think my kids are eating enough sugar. You also ignored me when I asked you to pass the broccoli. Have I done anything to offend or upset you? You don’t have to answer me right now. Please take some time to think about it. I’d love to talk to you more. If there is anything I can do to help us get along better, let me know.”

Consider the direct but non-confrontational approach – and remember that your mother-in-law won’t be prepared to respond thoughtfully or carefully. That’s why it’s good to give her time to think. It’s possible your mother-in-law will say nothing is wrong and brush you away. If so, repeat that your door is open. You’d be happy to talk with her in the future, if she wants. Give her a chance to think about how to talk to you.

Often women want to understand why we aren’t liked or loved. Men, on the other hand, tend not to need to understand why relationship problems exist. Men shrug away conflict with their in-laws instead of worrying about why it’s happening. Consider how this approach might affect your mood, self-image, and relationships.

2. Be open to hearing your mother-in-law’s reasons

It’s scary to put yourself in the position of being criticized or rejected! What if your mother-in-law hates you for a good reason? If you ask her what you did to offend or upset her, you leave yourself vulnerable. She may attack you, or she might surprise you by sharing something she’s struggling with…and it may have nothing to do with you!

If you decide to ask your mother-in-law if you did something to offend or upset her, prepare yourself to hear anything. Even if you think you know why you’re having problems with her (eg, your mother-in-law hates you because you have kids from a previous marriage, or she thinks you prioritize your job over your family) — be open to hearing what she has to say. You don’t have to change who you are or what you do. Just listen to her perspective.

Has your mother-in-law told you she hates you? Read How to Respond When Someone Says “I Hate You”.

3. Ask your husband for help (but this should be the last tip on how to deal with a mother-in-law who hates you!)

It’s a mistake to put a man between his mom and his wife, or make him choose between his mother and the woman he married. I’m including this tip dealing with mother-in-law problems because it worked for Ginger. She says:

“At the beginning of my marriage, my husband sat down with his mom and told her to not be so critical of me. As a result my mother-in-law was nice to me for a few years. Recently, though, my husband doesn’t want to confront his mom again because of her age and health issues. So my mother-in-law hates me again, and it has made me miserable. The best way for me to cope is to ignore her and say nothing. It’s hard for my husband to see me and his mom fight, so I don’t involve him anymore.”

Ginger adds that she doesn’t regret marrying her husband. “I just didn’t understand the dynamics of my in-laws’ relationships with each other. If I could go back in time, I’d set healthy boundaries at the beginning. I’d ask my mother-in-law why she seems to hate me. I’d encourage my husband to find a job in a different city or state. I would have stayed closer to my own family.

Are you a new daughter-in-law struggling to deal with a critical or hateful mother-in-law? “The most important thing is to love yourself,” says Ginger. “Marry a man who can give you security, protect you, validate you, and be able to stand up for you and your children. Remember that you’re marrying his family, too.”

4. Understand you may never know why your mother-in-law dislikes you

Ways to Solve the Most Difficult Mother-in-Law Problems

Why do women seem to have more “mother-in-law problems” than men? “Women spend more time than men analyzing and worrying about relationships,” says Deanna Brann, author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets To Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law. “An off-the-cuff comment or a forgotten thank-you note can quickly snowball.”

In Reluctantly Related, Deanna describes how to identify difficult in-law patterns in families, and explains how to solve relationship problems. She offers practical, hands-on tools for mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law to improve communication.

Brann also says that when women have problems with a critical mother-in-law, tension builds and walls quickly go up. Confrontation occurs – but not always about what’s really going on. In contrast, men don’t often ruminate about relationship problems. When conflict does arise they tend to shrug it off rather than deal with it. This may not be the healthiest way to deal with in-law problems, but it works for many men.

5. Be kind to your mother-in-law, but don’t let her walk all over you

“I was young and naive when I married into my husband’s family,” says Ginger. “For years I tried hard to make my mother-in-law like me. Our relationship would be good for awhile, but then she’d suddenly be critical or make comments that were meant to be hurtful. Her annoyance and lack of respect for me has rubbed off on my husbands’ siblings and their children. I never thought my relationship with my in-laws it would end up like this.”

If you try to make your mother-in-law like you, you will lose respect for yourself – and she will lose respect for you. Of course you want her to like (and even love!) you. This is normal and healthy. You love your husband, you know she loves her son, and you want to be part of the family. But trying to make yourself likable and even lovable is not the best way to deal with a mother-in-law who hates you.

If you struggle with low self-esteem and insecurity, read When You Don’t Feel Good Enough to Be Loved.

6. Try this tip for letting go of criticism and hatred

Picture yourself standing sideways when your mother-in-law criticizes you or offers unsolicited advice. Let her critical comments and snubs whoosh by without reacting or responding. In other words, try “acting like a man” when you’re searching for the best way to deal with a mother-in-law who hates you. It may be a stereotypical view of men, but it works for me. My husband almost never notices the slights, offenses, and criticisms that I’m hurt by. He literally doesn’t notice details like that; it often helps me to adopt his perspective.

“Men understand that they just need to get along with their in-laws, not love them,” says sociology professor Terri Orbuch in “Mother-in-Law and Order” in an old issue of Real Simple magazine. “And if liking them is impossible, men don’t get hung up on that, either. For the most part, men don’t need to understand why their mothers-in-law don’t like them. Women do.”

7. Accept your mother-in-law for who she is

If you read How to Stop Your Boyfriend’s Mother From Ruining Your Relationship, you’ll learn why you shouldn’t waste your time and energy wishing or wanting your in-laws to change.

You don’t have the power to change your mother-in-law. People do change, but it’s not something we can force on others. We especially can’t change a mother-in-law who hates us! She’s already resistant, critical, angry and judgmental towards you.

Instead of wishing your mother-in-law was different or that you didn’t have a mother-in-law who hates you or that mother-in-law wasn’t so critical overbearing toxic and rude…accept her for who she is. You don’t have to love her or listen to her. Just take a deep breath and accept that your mother-in-law is your husband’s mom. She is who she is, you are who you are. The easiest way to solve the most difficult mother-in-law problems is to simply accept her with peace and grace.

8. Spend more time with your mother-in-law (!)

Here’s an interesting way to solve problems with your mother-in-law – especially if you feel like she hates you – from Gretchen Rubin’s 10 Tips for Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law on the Psychology Today website.

“Remember the mere exposure effect,” says Rubin, author of Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits – to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life. “It turns out that familiarity breeds affection. The ‘mere exposure effect’ means that repeated exposure makes people like music, faces – even nonsense syllables – better.”

Her theory is that the more often you see your mother-in-law, the more intelligent and attractive you tend to find her. So instead of avoiding her, take the time to see her and talk to your mother-in-law. This may help her see how likable and wonderful you are.

9. Decide which mother-in-law battles are worth fighting

Here’s another tip from Ginger: “Learn how to be strong and forge a life with the man you love, standing by your husband no matter what, being nice to your mother-in-law even in the most difficult of situations. If you let your problems with your mother-in-law affect you and your marriage, it can destroy you. Learn how to deal with your mother-in-law criticizing you, ignoring you, or showing favoritism.”

Ginger adds that she wants her mother-in-law to stay in their lives because she is important to her husband and children. So, she decided which problems to fight and which ones to let go. She lets go of most problems.

“I do not like the things my mother-in-law has said to me over the years,” she says, “but I’ve learned how to let it go. Sure it hurts and I wish I didn’t have these mother-in-law problems, but I have to live with it because I love my husband and children. This is his family. If you can’t see yourself living like this, then you have to find someone else to build a marriage with.”

10. Know who you are as a child of God

“My mother-in-law hates me” is one of the hardest sentences to think, much less say or ask for help with. We want to be loved. Mothers are moms; we’re hurt when a mom doesn’t like us. We’re wounded when anyone dislikes us; and when it’s a mother-in-law who hates us, we’re destroyed. We need a mother’s love, we need to feel included in a family, and we fear abandonment and rejection.

how to deal with Difficult Mother-in-Law Problems
10 Ways to Solve the Most Difficult Mother-in-Law Problems

If you’re obsessing about your critical mother-in-law’s comments or actions, you may be trying to find affirmation and validation from her. This is natural. You are normal. It’s hard to accept the idea that somebody – especially the mother of the man we love – doesn’t like us.

If your insecurities are controlling you, think about where you get your self-esteem and self-worth from. Some women put their worth in their appearance: the fitter, more beautiful, and more trendy they are the more lovable and valuable they feel. Other women put their self-worth in their men, their children, their youth, their education.

You were created for a purpose. God created you just the way you are for a reason. Don’t let your problems with a critical or hateful mother-in-law affect how you see yourself. Don’t judge yourself through her eyes. Look at yourself through God’s eyes. Learn who you really are, and what your purpose is.

Help Getting Along With a Difficult or Critical Mother-in-Law

MIL hates me mother in law problems

In Related by Chance, Family by Choice: Transforming Mother-in-Law and Daughter-in-Law Relationships, Deb DeArmond and her three daughters-in-law share what they learned about daughters- and mothers-in-law relationships. Their research, which incorporated online surveys, interviews, and discussions, included faith and religion in the relationships they studied.

Related by Chance is a practical and scriptural book that covers issues of personal perceptions, strained communication, the roles of sons and fathers in the relationship’s success, how to begin these in-law relationships on the right foot, and the necessity of trust and love. This book will give you a different perspective of your problems with your mother-in-law – especially if you feel like she hates you.

For more ideas, read 5 Tips for a Healthy Relationship With Your In-Laws. Learn how to build healthy relationships with difficult family members – including a mother-in-law who acts like she hates you.

You questions and comments – big and little! – are welcome below. Why do you think your mother-in-law hates you? How are you dealing with it?

If all else fails, buy your mother-in-law a gift 😉  Read 17 Gift Ideas That Will Make Your Boyfriend’s Parents Adore You.


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7 thoughts on “How to Respond to a Mother-in-Law Who Doesn’t Like You”

  1. Great advice! I agree wholeheartedly. I am almost done with my own journey in finishing my doctorate … in psychology. Based on my own experience and everything I have learned in my psychology journey, your advice is solid. Unfortunately, though, life doesn’t necessarily always serve up what one wants to receive, as you also pointed out in your article (nicely done).

    When I first met and married my husband, he gave me some exceptional advice. He said that no matter what the disagreement or conflict (referring to all people, in general, and not just MIL situations), there is a certain percentage of responsibility with both parties. The advice was helpful because it meant that somewhere, there should be something that I could take responsibility for and could have done differently, even if I had it “to do over again.” So, even if it is 1% of the blame, there is something worth examining.

    What I discovered is that yes, I could have done various things differently over the past 24 years. However, the answer wasn’t quite that easy. What I figured out, in between tears, pondering, journaling, and you name it (including attempts to have nice conversations over tea or coffee with my MIL), was that some people actually WANT the conflict. In the case of my MIL, she thrives on drama and seeks out conflict because it helps her to feel alive (and powerful, btw). For my MIL, she had specifically chosen me as her special source of conflict. She also extended that to my husband and to our children. Even though our children were (are) highly successful in their fields (including getting along with others) and even though my husband is the nicest member of his family, we were still the chosen ones for her conflict. There is more to it than that but it would not be appropriate for me to share that, for privacy reasons out of respect for my MIL.

    Understanding that this was something that my MIL wanted (conflict) and had chosen and was attempting to replicate within her family (especially with others who also liked to thrive on conflict) helped me to understand the source of the problem, even if I could not “fix it” in the way that I would have liked to have fixed it. It is sad because it does not have to be this way and because it involves innocent parties (like my children or other members of the extended family) and it is really not a polite way to build relationships, by choosing something dysfunctional and doing so without the permission of the other parties… but, we can’t always have what we want.

    I’ll take the blissfully married to her son part and enjoy that happily ever after part. My husband and my children and wonderful and are worth every tear shed 🙂

    -Deborah (

  2. Thank you. I really appreciate the advice offered. It made me think and gave me a different perception. I normally don’t post on comments but I saw a few comments below that I thought were not fair and I wanted to post because I felt this article really helped in my situation. My MIL is also toxic and I have chosen to try and find a way to interact with her in as healthy a way as possible for my husband’s sake. I get the desire to completely bail on her and truthfully I have the same desire, but I know that would hurt my husband deeply. She is aging and I don’t want that wound I cause by making it difficult to be around her. This isn’t because he is a man and I am trying to fulfill my domestic role. It’s because he is my best friend and I don’t want to hurt him. Can I just say that whole misogyny rant is I feel off base. Yes women have duties in the home but so do men. I know no women who are stay at home Mother’s once their children reach a certain age. I am an engineer and I promise my MIL doesn’t have an opportunity to wound me because I am a domestic slave. She had no issues using my job as an opportunity to critique and criticize me. I work in a male dominated field and I actually see time and time again that men deal with conflict differently than women. I have no idea if this is biological or social roles but I suspect it is bit of both. It isn’t that the author is being misogynistic for them to be dismissive of conflict it is authentic to how they react. Misogyny would be if they demanded we act exactly as they did and derided us for reacting differently. You see this in the emotional overwrought woman stereotype that some men use to explain why male decisions are inherently better. That would be an example of misogyny. It isn’t victim blaming to offer advice based on what is likely a source of distress to some women. Thinking your husband doesn’t care while you are emotionally abused is far more difficult than realizing , that he doesn’t recognize how frustrated you are because he doesn’t have the same reaction. What you call victim blaming I call realization that soothes an old hurt. I just felt the need to address those comments this is my first time here . I discovered this site from a duck duck go search after a particulars difficult conversation with my MIL and it helped a lot. Thank you for the insights and advice. It may not work for all situations but it helped me feel more in control of mine.

  3. Hi There.
    I have a nightmare Mother in Law just like a lot of people do.
    I understand and can sympathise with what you are saying in this article.
    my question to you is.. why is it ok for everyone to tell you that your Mother in Law will never change it’s your outlook or how you handle it that changes! My question is why to I have to do that when she wouldn’t ever do that for me? Why should I change myself for someone that is incredibly rude to me as doesn’t respect me?
    I have always respected my partners mother but as time passes and she doesn’t respect me, my respect for her gets less! And I will most certainly not give her ggifts it would never ever be right for my Mother in Law !!!

    1. I understand how you feel. Even after her death, I still feel like she had power over me. She will not change and you don’t have to change. You simply have to NOT let what she says and does affect you.

      Here’s the best advice I live by which puts all the “power” in my hands: Your spouse CHOSE YOU. He had NO choice about who his mother is/was.

      Let your anger go and let it be like water on a duck’s back. Take back your power that you and her THINK she has over you.

  4. This is a misogynistic article. Men are not perfect; they just have the privilege of not being dependent on family support in their lives, as they are culturally allowed outside the domestic sphere when they are married and have children. On the other hand, women are expected to have duties inside the home. While a mother-in-law is unlikely to go to her son’s place of work and trll himwhat to do, she will more likely invade her daughter-in-law’s space at home and tell her how to cook, clean, raise children, etc. There is little escape. You are not comparing apples to apples, amd telling women to just “be like men” is victim-blaming.

  5. See my mother in law more? Buy a gift? Thirteen years of toxic treatment and this is the advice….. If I was to act like a man I would ignore phone calls and messages and show up to things when I felt like it.

  6. Hi Florence,

    I wrote this article about what to do with a critical mother-in-law (or how to cope when your mother-in-law hates you). If you have a question, please feel free to post it here, and I’ll do the best I can to answer it.

    However, I don’t give advice about specific situations…but, let me know what question you have and I’ll be happy to help if I can.

    All good things,