Tension between mothers-in-law and their daughters-in-law is unfortunately common. Jealousy is a likely possibility, as a result of uncertainty about what to expect, and what the motives and intentions of the other person are. Tensions can peak if a mother feels her son's wife is trying to interfere in her mother-son relationship. Dealing with this type of conflict will not be easy, but can get better with time.
Keep your mother-in-law involved with family happenings. Her jealousy can be even more profound when she feels a growing separation between herself and her son and the new life he is building with his wife and children. Making her feel more connected to your family can happen if you maintain a bridge between the two families, says Elizabeth Bernstein for the "Wall Street Journal" in the article "A Mother, a Son and a Wife." Invite your mother-in-law for dinner, write her letters or emails, send her pictures and postcards of your family vacation, keep her up to date with what's happening with the children, and take the children over for visits as often as possible.
Talk to your husband if you're uncomfortable about how his mother is responding to you. He has the power to set the tone in the relationship between his mother and his wife, according to sociologist Deborah Merrill in her book "Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law: Understanding the Relationship and What Makes Them Friends Or Foe." Your husband's mother is likely to listen to him more readily. On the other hand, your complaints may make her feel even more rejected and insecure. He can state kindly that when she does or says a particular thing it makes you uncomfortable, and that in turn makes him unhappy. Setting the tone from early on may keep the relationship from worsening.
Pick your battles carefully, suggests Merrill in the article "What’s a Mother/Daughter-In-Law To Do?" published on the MotherU website. Consider that a mother who has a good relationship with her son will always want to be a part of his life and make contributions to his new family. It may not be worthwhile to become agitated by every suggestion or correction that she makes. For example, if she likes to iron his clothes with extra starch whenever she visits for the holidays, then it won't hurt to allow her to do so. If there are other issues, however, in which you must be firm -- such as things concerning your values or beliefs -- you should clearly state your position.
- Practicing how to communicate your concerns effectively to your mother-in-law can make or break the outcome of an argument -- or even the relationship. When conflict arises, give yourself a few minutes to be completely calm before talking to her about it. Use "I" statements instead of "You." Try to find something positive to say, such as thanking your mother-in-law for always being so helpful or willing to give advice.
- Wall Street Journal: A Mother, a Son and a Wife
- MotherU.com: What’s a Mother/Daughter-In-Law To Do?
- Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law: Understanding the Relationship and what Makes Them Friends Or Foe; Deborah M. Merrill, Ph.D.
- Utah State University: Effective Communication Skills: Resolving Conflicts
- michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images