Mother and daughter-in-law conflicts can range from general disagreements to passive-aggressiveness and manipulation. Perhaps you have unmet expectations of one another. You may have brought up your kids differently from how she was raised. If you feel your daughter-in-law's manipulative behavior is causing problems for you, it can be hard to settle the problem with your son and grandkids in the middle. When dealing with a manipulative daughter-in-law, tread carefully but stand your ground in order to protect yourself as well as your family relationships.
Recognize manipulative behavior. A manipulative in-law may use subtle tactics, which can make you question why you feel threatened, according to “Manipulative Family Members or Partners” by clinical social worker Tom Fletcher and mental health counselor Anita Fletcher of Fletcher Counseling PPLC. Make a mental note of times when your daughter-in-law plays the victim by becoming defensive and accusing you of being the one at fault. Be aware of when she exploits your weaknesses and takes advantage of them. Recognize when she is trying to turn family members against each other -- such as you and your son or you and your grandchildren -- to get her way.
Assert your boundaries and don’t feel guilty for saying “no.” Speak up in a calm but assertive -- not aggressive -- manner when you recognize your daughter-in-law's attempt to manipulate you. Stand firm to show her know that she cannot use underhanded tactics to control situations where you are concerned. "I don't appreciate being emotionally blackmailed. If you would like me to do something, ask me directly and we can discuss it without using the children as a pawn.” Lay out a consequence for an overstepped boundary. For example, "The next time I am unable to babysit and you threaten to leave your children unattended, I will have to ask you to hire a real babysitter." This will show her that you are not going to fall into her trap of believing that you are at fault.
Hold her accountable for her own feelings and actions. Be prepared for her to shift the blame to make you feel guilty, warns family therapist Kim Jones in the blog post "emotional manipulation" on her website. It is important to hold her accountable -- otherwise, she may never change, says psychologist George Simon in “Playing the Blame Game as a Manipulation Tactic” on the Counselling Resource website. Refuse to apologize when she tries to make you feel bad for something that is not your fault.
Shine a light on her behavior. Ask her questions that reveal her manipulative behavior, suggests professor of communications Preston Ni in “How to Spot and Deal With Manipulative People” for Psychology Today. “Do you think it is fair to ask me to loan you that much money? I care about you and my son, but I have my own debts to pay off.” Try to sound more logical than angry. This may open her eyes to how unreasonable her requests sound.
Gain control by using time. When your daughter-in-law makes selfish or unreasonable demands, pushing for an immediate answer may be her way to pressure you into an agreement that you don't want to make. Tell her you will take some time to think about her request. This will give you some time to think about whether she is asking too much of you.
Consider therapy. Find a therapist who specializes in in-law relationships. You may have to shop around for a therapist that is right for you. The therapist may be able to help you through specific situations regarding your daughter-in-law, son and grandchildren. If you think her manipulative behavior is affecting other family members, consider asking the rest of the family to join you in therapy.
- Avoid complaining through your son, says clinical psychotherapist Deanna Brann in the Q&A section of her website. Deal with your daughter-in-law directly. If the situation does not involve your son, putting him in the middle may make him feel obligated to fix things and can cause stress on his marriage and his relationship with you.
- Give up on trying to change your daughter-in-law, because she may never change. Instead, focus on controlling your own behavior and how you handle the situations where your daughter-in-law is concerned, suggests Ni.
Sarah Casimong is a Vancouver-based writer with a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She writes articles on relationships, entertainment and health. Her work can be found in the "Vancouver Observer", "Her Campus" and "Cave Magazine".