Relationships > Families > How to Cope With a Difficult Mother-in-Law

How to Cope With a Difficult Mother-in-Law

These strategies for dealing with difficult mother-in-law problems are inspired by a reader’s question. Her mother-in-law is causing all sorts of problems in her marriage, and she doesn’t know how to cope.

One way to cope when your mother-in-law doesn’t like you is to read Reluctantly Related: Secrets To Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law by Deanna Brann PhD. The more support you get, the better off you’ll be. You’ll never find all the answers to dealing with any family problem in a blog post, but you will get the support you need in a book!

Here’s what my reader said, on my article about how to handle problems with your mother: “What do I do about my boyfriend’s parents, who don’t like or accept me? They are very clear about their feelings for me, and it makes me uncomfortable.”

How to Cope With a Difficult Mother-in-Law

If your mother-in-law problems seem insurmountable, remember that this is a relationship conflict that you and your partner need to work through together. This may be the worst problem you face – and it may help you build a better relationship and marriage.

Talk to your mother-in-law directly

Dial up your courage, take your boyfriend’s hand, and sit down with him and his parents. Describe how you feel excluded, rejected, and disliked by them. Ask if you’ve offended them. Basically, you’re asking what their problem is – in a gentle, nonjudgmental, open minded way. Ask for three reasons they’re not comfortable with you or your relationship with their son. The first reason or two they give are excuses; the third reason is the closest to the truth.

Don’t expect your in-laws to change

Your mother-in-law won’t change, and your mother-in-law problems won’t be solved overnight. People can and do change, but it’s not realistic to stay in your relationship and expect your mother-in-law problems to suddenly disappear! Generally, toxic in-laws won’t do an about face and start welcoming you to their family gatherings. Be realistic, and expect a future similar to your present situation. If you’re not currently welcome at your in-laws’ family gatherings now, you can expect not be welcomed later.

For more tips on coping with mother-in-law problems, read How to Stop Your Boyfriend’s Mother From Ruining Your Relationship.

Be kind and friendly, but not a sycophant

“Sychophant” is a fancy way of saying “suck up” or “toady.” My reader mentioned buying her boyfriend’s mother a Mother’s Day gift – this is a very sweet, kind thing to do. But her boyfriend later discouraged her from buying his mom a birthday gift because she didn’t appreciate or want the first gift. If your mother-in-law refuses to accept gifts or have you over for family events or holidays — or if you’ve done everything you can to cope with toxic in-laws — then don’t buy them gifts! Be polite, but don’t try to win them over. Sometimes the best way to cope with toxic in-laws is to leave them alone.

Avoid ultimatums

Don’t ask your partner to choose between you and his family – unless you’re married. This marriage tip applies to all relationships! Generally, it’s not a good idea to ask your boyfriend to choose between you and his parents. If you’re married, then your expectations of your husband and your mother-in-law is different. But, girlfriends who ask their boyfriends to make that choice may be causing more conflict than it’s worth. Coping with difficult parents or parents-in-law requires patience and wisdom.

Decide what you can live with in your marriage

coping with mother in law

“Coping With Mother-in-Law Problems” image by Laurie

Are you happy in this relationship? Can you live with your partner’s parents or your mother-in-law not liking or accepting you? You need to decide if this is a small price to pay for your relationship and whether you can tolerate being excluded from or snubbed at family gatherings. After all, all love relationships have their own unique challenges! But if you are seriously upset or bothered by partner’s parents, and if it’s causing conflict in your relationship, then you need to decide what you can do about it. And, what you can do does not include changing your boyfriend or mother-in-law.

If your mother-in-law problems are wrecking your relationship with your husband, read 20 Simple Tips for Communicating Better in a Relationship.

Remember that you can’t change anyone but yourself

Don’t ask – or expect – your boyfriend or his parents to act or think differently. After you express your feelings about how you’re being treated (or mistreated) and after you ask what you did to cause his parents to treat you this way, then you need to let go. You have to let them be who they are.

Your mother-in-law or toxic in-laws may not be able to accept you for who you are, but for your own peace of mind and soul, you have to accept them for who they are.

To learn more about coping with toxic in-laws, read 4 Peace-Loving Ways to Embrace Miserable In-Laws.

Do you have a mother-in-law problems, or can you offer tips for coping with them? Comments welcome below…


Need encouragement? Get my free weekly "Echoes of Joy"!

* indicates required

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

80 thoughts on “How to Cope With a Difficult Mother-in-Law”

  1. I have been married for over 25 years. I have had my ups and downs with my mil. It has not been easy for me and realized a few years ago that she would never like me over a picture. For years, she had pictures out of her family, with my husband’s other siblings and their spouses wedding pictures included. My husband and I’s wedding picture was very hurtful how she placed it. She intentionally covered up my face and body in the picture by how she arranged the other photos around it. I remember when I found it, I asked her why my face was covered and she told me that it was the only way to make it work and that is how she wanted it to be, she liked it that way. At the time, I was so naive and thought it had to do with the arrangement of the pictures and the fact that there were so many on the table. When I finally was able to comprehend what really occurred after another significant event with her calling me telling me I am an incredibly rude woman for something she said I did not do for an event that she never attended , I decided to see if possibly if I moved the picture she had hiding my face away from my face if she would notice. I did it ever so slightly and was able to see my face nicely. The next time we visited, my face was covered up once again. I knew in that moment that it was intentional, moved on and never said anything .

    I was young and naive when I married into the family and for years I really tried hard to make her like me but often when she would gain my trust, she would say something very critical or make comments that were meant to be hurtful. I never thought it would end up like this. I saw that look of annoyance the last time I saw her and her lack of disrespect towards me rubs off on my husbands siblings with them gas lighting over certain situations towards me . The only time we never see that is when we have been generous in the past towards them with gifts or money. I wanted us to be a happy family, sharing, caring and loving each other and I fully believed that would be the case, with ups and downs of course, nothing perfect but a good, loving family none the less. It did not go that way and yes it was due to some things that I have learned and regret not understanding. What I have come to understand, you can not change others. While the relationship in the beginning was fine and there were a few moments, you can not change people who are difficult.

    My advice to those of you who are engaged or have boyfriends, if your in law is difficult , it will affect your life if you marry one way or the other. You will either be strong and forge a life with the one you love, standing by your husband no matter what, being nice even in the most difficult of situations. If you are not strong, it will affect you and can destroy you especially if you have a husband who has issues and doesn’t want to deal with her directly. Are you wiling to go the whole journey without ever divorcing and have her there hurting you, doing things such as favoritism and slighting you? The thing with me is, I want my mother in law to be around for my husband and children, this is my husbands mother. I do not like the things that she has said to me over the years and with age now, understand that more than likely she is mentally ill. It all started to make sense to me a few years ago with trying to understand how she could be marvelous but I feared going to her home because I did not know if the person who was negative, critical and difficult would be there, she was like 2 people dark and light. I do see things that slight me such as covering up my wedding picture with another photo and I am not ok with it but I sit and just take it. Sure it hurts but I take it because I still remember a very bad argument that happened years prior over her being difficult when we visited them ( out of state) and she threw a huge fit about keeping our kids for a few hours who she had not seen in a long time. The worst is the favoritism that I see she does with other grandchildren but as long as my children do not figure it out then it will not be addressed. I have to live with this because I love my husband. This is his family and though I find them very much exclusive and there is relational aggression ( which I hope my children will never repeat by seeing) I live with it because this is my husbands family. If you can not live like this, then find someone else to lay roots down with.

    Please do not take my advice lightly, remember too, the most important thing is to love yourself and think about being with someone who can give you security, feel protected, validate you and be able to take up for you and your children. If he can not take up for you or your future children, then there will be discourse if you don’t understand that is how he is built. At the beginning of my marriage, my husband sat down with his mom and told her to not be so critical of me and it stopped for years. Due to that, we were able to get along but in later years, he doesn’t, it has changed and it has made me miserable because there is darkness over this, seeing the toxicity go on. Though this is my issue and the only way to handle it now is to say nothing because is I do, then I am looked at as a bad person. I do long for that young man to emerge to take care of business but the wonderful man I have today is just tired and I worry about his health over it all. My relationship is not healthy, not the one I have hoped for with my in laws, and my husband reminded me they never were due to being very broken people to begin with. Do I regret marrying my husband, no. I just did not understand the dynamic and even if I did, I still would have married him. I just would have laid down some boundaries and encouraged my husband to find employment closer to my mother.