Dealing with a difficult mother-in-law can literally suck the life right out of you and your marriage!
If you're lucky to have hit the jackpot of all MILs, congrats! But if not, perhaps Tina B. Tessina, PhD (AKA "Dr. Romance"), a psychotherapist and author of How to be Happy Partners: Working it out Together, can help. Below, she shares her top tips for coping and keeping the peace when you'd really rather rip your hair out. Oh mother-in-laws... can't live with 'em and can't live without 'em, right?
1. The Jealous Mother-In-Law
We all know the type! She's cold or critical because she feels replaced in her son's life, feels competitive with you or because that's just what she does in relationships with other females. Either way, the best and most effective way of handling her judgmental remarks is to react with silence instead of egging her on and trying to defend yourself. Just treat it as if she said something unspeakably rude (which is true) and you're going to do her a favor by ignoring it. Look directly at her, smile and say absolutely nothing. Chances are, after a very uncomfortable 30 seconds or so, she'll probably try to take back what she said. And it'll keep the peace between you and your husband.
2. The Needy MIL
If blowing family occasions, particularly the holidays, out of proportion sounds familiar, you've got a needy MIL on your hands. You and your partner need to work out together what you want to do and how you'll split spending time with each other's extended family. After you decide, gently and considerately inform her and remain firm in your decision. She has to learn that you have a new family now, and you'll be connected, but not joined at the hip.
3. The Know It All
She has an opinion about everything you're doing, including money spending, parenting, health issues, your friends and your home. If you just ignore her, say um-hmm, and let it go, it won't be a big deal. Trying to please her can be an endless, frustrating and irritating path, trust us.
4. The Meddler
This well-intentioned mother-in-law unfortunately hasn't learned to let go and can try to maintain control by doing too much for you. While this may seem great at first, especially if she helps you with that down payment on a new home, buys you a car, takes care of the kids or bails you out of financial problems, there's likely to be strings attached and she may want something in return from you that's disruptive for your family. Best to be very aware of the cost of parental help prior to accepting.
5. The Moocher
The MIL that is always broke and wants to borrow money or have you sign for loans, etc. can be very difficult to handle, particularly when you're not blood related. Of course her child feels obligated to help, however, it's important for the two of you to set limits together. Talk about her money problems in general, and make a deal. You may need to accept that she needs assistance, but limits are key or she'll become a bottomless pit.
6. The Nagger
She nags, scolds or whines when things don't meet her expectations. However, you have to remember to take care of yourselves and find a way to protect your marriage from her guilt-inducing behavior. If you or your partner are constantly intimidated and continually give in to her demands, it can ruin your relationship. You're supposed to be primary to each other now, not to your parents. Work together to only respond to parents when they ask directly and simply, and motivate them and each other with affection, humor and fun.
7. The Judge Judy
If your MIL doesn't approve of how you handle your money, raise your kids, divide your chores, dress or behave in some way, and your spouse is influenced by that opinion, you'll wind up fighting endlessly about it and the arguments will suck the joy and love right out of the relationship. Womp, womp! Keep in mind that your parents can no longer tell either of you what to do, and it's important to not side with them against your partner or carry their criticisms home. You make the rules now!
8. The Overly-Involved Mother-In-Law
This MIL type comes out hardcore when kids are involved. So if she babysits or cares for your children and doesn't do what you want, don't fight with your spouse about it. If there are behaviors, diet rules, schedules and homework that you want your kids to adhere to and their grandparents won't do it, then you may have to limit time. It's a tricky situation, but work as a team to tackle it.
9. The Pot Stirrer
Even if none of the above things are happening, but you somehow have marital friction about your MIL, it's time to make sorting this out a top priority. If the friction your in-laws cause is subtle and you don't understand why you're fighting, a marriage counselor can help you sort it out. Go quickly, before too much damage is done though.