Relationships with in-laws, and especially with mother-in-laws, can be some of the most challenging relationships we experience. Mothers may not approve of their children's partners because they compare their children's partners to an imaginary "ideal partner." When partners do not match their image of the ideal partner for their child, mothers may react by behaving in ways that make the relationship difficult to maintain. Luckily, research has found that parents' opinions of their children's relationships often improve with time and that parents become more supportive of relationships that appear to be deeply committed.
Focus on Your Relationship
If you're having a hard time with your mother-in-law, make your relationship with your partner the priority. Even though your mother-in-law may disapprove of your relationship, the most important relationship for you to focus on is the one you have with your partner. Let your partner know how you feel about him and that you are committed to the relationship. Giving your partner a sense of security will reduce the anxiety he experiences when dealing with disapproval from his mother.
Try not to take the disapproval of the relationship personally. Although there may be specific things about you that your mother-in-law dislikes or disapproves of, chances are, much of her disapproval is unrelated to you specifically and is related more to her own feelings about her child being in a relationship. It is possible that she has an ideal partner in mind that no individual could ever live up to.
Seek support for your relationship from other sources. Social support and approval of relationships from parents are important predictors of relationship well-being and the health of the individuals within the relationship, but research has shown that support from friends can be equally, if not more, important. If your mother-in-law is withholding support for your relationship, it may be beneficial to focus on relationships with friends and other family members who do approve of the relationship. Experiencing the approval and support of others will help bolster your relationship with your partner and mitigate the effects of not having the support of your mother-in-law.
Build a Relationship with Your Mother-In-Law
Encourage your mother-in-law to get to know you. Your mother-in-law may disapprove of your relationship and meddle with your marriage simply because she doesn't truly know you. Although it can be difficult to reach out to someone who is making your life difficult, do your best to build a positive relationship with her. Make yourself available to spend time with her and try not to turn down any invitations or efforts that she makes.
Emphasize the things you have in common when spending time with your mother-in-law. Ask your partner about her mother and figure out what the two of you have in common. Finding common ground can help give you a basis for building a relationship and may make your mother-in-law feel more comfortable around you, leading to increased approval of your marriage to her daughter.
Continue to demonstrate your commitment to and love for your partner. Although you do not need to prove your worthiness as a spouse or partner to your mother-in-law, the more she sees that her child is happy in the relationship with you, the more likely she will be to approve of the marriage and become supportive. Research has found that parents become more approving of relationships the longer the relationships last and the more committed the relationships appear. Continuing to demonstrate that you are committed to your partner and to your marriage can help make your mother-in-law feel more confident that her child is in a happy and healthy relationship.
- Be patient. Gaining the approval of your in-laws may be a matter of time.
- Ultimately, no individual can control the thoughts or feelings of another. The best thing you can do is to make an effort, but in the end you need to focus on your own feelings and your marriage.
Karen L. Blair has been professionally writing since 2001. Her work has been published in academic journals such as the "Journal of Sex Research," "Journal of Social and Personal Relationships" and "Psychology & Sexuality." Blair received her M.Sc. in psychology at Acadia University and her Ph.D. in social psychology at Queen's University. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow and research consultant.
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