Do you feel like your mother-in-law (MIL) hates you? Or maybe it’s the other way around! Here’s what you need to know about dealing with a critical mother-in-law, plus the best ways to solve difficult problems with your in-laws.
“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.”
Depending on your relationship with your in-laws, one of the best and easiest ways to solve difficult problems with your mother-in-law is to figure out what caused the problem in the first place. Was it a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication, or is something else going on? It’s possible that finding out can help you fix a broken relationship with your mother-in-law.
Below, Ginger shares why her mother-in-law hates her so much – and she offers valuable advice for dealing with MIL problems in marriage.
How to Solve Problems With Your Critical 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 MIL 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 experience is the perfect introduction to my first tip for dealing with a critical or difficult mother-in-law…
1. Ask your MIL why she hates you (in a nice way!)
What if you said something like this to your mother-in-law? “Moreen, I sensed some tension at dinner last night. 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.
This, by the way, is how women tend to address relationship conflict – we 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 with their mothers-in-law. Men shrug away conflict with their in-laws instead of worrying about why it’s happening. More about that later.
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! If you ask your mother-in-law if you did something to offend or upset her, you are vulnerable. She may attack you…or she may surprise you with something unexpected. Your problems with your mother-in-law may get worse…or they may get better.
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 might be surprised at her response; you may even learn something new about yourself and how you are perceived by others.
3. Consider asking your husband to talk to his mom
This tip for dealing with mother-in-law problems may not work for you, but 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 MIL hates me again, and it has made me miserable. The best way for me to deal with my mother-in-law is to ignore it and say nothing. I do long for that young man to emerge again and take care of business, but he’s tired. I’m also worried about his health because it’s hard for him to see me and his mom fight.”
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 was newly married and dealing with a critical or hateful mother-in-law now, I would have laid down healthy boundaries at the beginning. I would also have encouraged my husband to find a job in a different city or even state than my mother-in-law. I would have stayed closer to my family.”
If you’re a new daughter-in-law struggling to deal with a mother-in-law who criticizes or hates you, Ginger says : “The most important thing is to love yourself. Make sure you marry a man who can give you security, protect you, validate you, and be able to stand up for you and your children.”
4. Understand you may never find a reason for your MIL’s 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, Brann shares a witty collection of mother-in-law, daughter-in-law and husband/son personality types – from Off-the Wall Wanda to Doubting Donna to Struggling Steven. She shows you how to identify the types in your own family, and explains how to solve relationship problems with practical, hands-on tools for mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law to improve their relationship.
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. That’s why men don’t have problems dealing with critical mothers-in-law the way women do.
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. It’s natural to want her to like (and even love!) you. You love your husband, you know she loves her son, and you want to be part of the family. But trying to make yourself agreeable and likable is not the best way to solve difficult problems with your mother-in-law.
6. Learn how to let things go – like husband do with their mothers-in-law
Picture yourself standing sideways when your mother-in-law criticizes you or offers unsolicited advice. Let the critical comment whoosh on by without reacting or responding. Let’s get stereotypical: act like a man when you’re looking for ways to solve the most difficult mother-in-law problems.
“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 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. Let go of your hope that your critical mother-in-law will change
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.
No matter how deeply you wish or how hard you try, your mother-in-law won’t change just because you want her to. (Yes, people do change but only when they are super duper motivated! And you won’t motivate your mother-in-law unless you have an ace in the hole).
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 your her, take the time to see her and talk to her. That may ease your relationship problems and perhaps even 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 about dealing with critical in-laws:
“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 has decided which problems to fight her mother-in-law about and which ones to let go. Most of them, she just lets go.
“I do not like the things my mother-in-law has said to me over the years,” says Ginger, “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 your worth outside of your relationships with your in-laws
Sometimes we allow relationship problems to consume us because we want to be loved. We need love, we need to feel included, and we’re hardwired to fear rejection.
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.
Me, I used to put my worth in my weight and body shape. Now I hold on to the fact that I am a child of God, dearly and unconditionally loved. I am worthy and valuable not because of my relationship with my mother-in-law or my job – or my weight! I am worthy and valuable because God created me for a purpose.
You were created for a purpose. And, He created you just the way you are for a reason. Don’t let your problems with a critical mother-in-law affect how you see yourself. Don’t judge yourself through her eyes. Look at yourself through God’s eyes, and see the valuable, beautiful woman He created you to be.
If all else fails, buy your mother-in-law a gift 😉 Read 17 Gift Ideas That Will Make Your Boyfriend’s Parents Adore You.
Help Getting Along With a Difficult or Critical Mother-in-Law
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 found in their exhaustive research into the status of the women-in-law relationship. Their research, which incorporated online surveys, interviews, and discussions, included asking about the faith factor 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.
Read 5 Tips for a Healthy Relationship With Your In-Laws. In that article, you’ll learn how to build healthy relationships with difficult family members – including a mother-in-law who acts like she hates you.
What do you think – will you try any of these tips for dealing with a critical mother-in-law? Feel free to write your story and thoughts below. While I can’t offer advice on dealing with MILs in marriage, I do read every comment. Remember that writing about your feelings and experiences often brings clarity and insight, and can help you figure out how to solve even the most difficult mother-in-law problems.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.