When your mother-in-law is encroaching on the privacy of your family, constantly criticizing your childcare choices or competing with you for your husband’s attention, you probably want your husband to step in. However, if he has trouble saying no to his mom, you will need to brainstorm some boundaries together, because, according to Dr. Phil, his primary loyalty and your primary loyalty should be to your immediate family.
Negotiate Boundaries Together
Both you and your husband need to make a separate list of the boundary problems you have with his mother, recommends Mary Quinn, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, on her blog Dr. Mom Mondays. Remember that your primary loyalty should be to your family, so try to phrase things in an objective way that will not insult your husband. For example, say to your husband, “Your mother calls us early in the morning” instead of “Your mother is insensitive.” Compare lists without judgment and discuss which boundaries are the most important to set.
Problem-Solve as a Team
If historically you have not been able to get your husband to confront his mother, even when he agrees with you, you may need to see a marriage counselor to help you problem solve. However, try it together first. Figure out the one boundary that is most important to set right away and discuss what you need his mother to do instead. If she expects to spend every weekend with you all weekend, compromise on how often you can spend with her so that you can have time with other family members and friends. Nail down your solution together before your husband talks to his mom.
Stick to One Line
Your husband should choose one phrase or line and repeat it instead of fighting with his mother if she resists the boundary. If his mother drops in on you all the time, and you want her to call and schedule beforehand, then write down your new boundary beforehand. For example, Jack says, "Mom, Jane and I have decided that we would prefer our visitors to call and schedule visits with us instead of dropping in, so that we can be prepared to host. We'd like you to call us first when you want to come over, too." Couples should remain cheerful and patient while delivering the line, but to stay firm on the boundary, advises Quinn.
Confront His Mother Together
Your husband needs to be the one to do the talking, Dr. Phil says, because criticism should always come from the immediate family member instead of the in-law. However, if he tends to back down in confrontations with his mother, tell him that you will be there with him. After all, you made this decision together. Let him do the talking, and do not argue with his mother. If his mother blames you for being "controlling" or restricting her time with the family, your husband should explain that you were both involved in making the decision.
Emma Wells has been writing professionally since 2004. She is also a writing instructor, editor and former elementary school teacher. She has a Master's degree in writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology. Her creative work has been published in several small literary magazines.