How to Deal With a Critical Mother in Law

If your mother-in-law repeatedly hurts your feelings, you’re probably not going to be able to change her behavior. You have to protect yourself, and change yours.

Detach. Stop hoping for this woman to give you something positive. If she does, it’s a happy surprise! But don’t invest emotionally in this relationship. Detach and think of her as an acquaintance.

  1. Does your husband support you? Don’t criticize the mother-in-law, just calmly state “It hurt my feelings when your mother implied that I made you move here/made you change jobs/made you buy a new car (mothers-in-law often assume that daughters-in-law are Terrible Manipulators who wickedly control their son’s lives!). Don’t make judgmental comments (like she does), but let your husband know that it hurts. Most men do not want their wives to be hurt, and you are entitled to share this with your husband (your best friend). Do not criticize her, but don’t protect her either.
  2. Distance yourself physically. You don’t need to move, but you also don’t need to show up at every event. Just be busy doing something else. Always make it easy for your husband to go without you (after all, this is his mother). In my experience, the husband still goes to some things, but drops some things as well, because he wants to be with his wife. Let me be clear: I do not advocate discouraging your husband from attending family functions! But it is important that you protect yourself and stay away when you choose, and you should be aware that sometimes he will choose to stay home, too. Do not feel guilty! You have to protect yourself.
  3. Remember that it’s highly unlikely that she’ll change. If your mother-in-law has criticized you, stabbed you in the back to other family members, and been dismissive of things you’ve said, she is making a very clear statement about this “relationship”. Believe her. She may be occasionally nice. Judgemental, negative people often do this; they do something nice to reel you in, and then grab the opportunity to make a jab at you. If she’s done this, remember to keep your distance even when she’s being nice. You are more important than your relationship to your mother-in-law! Take care of yourself. Let the hopes go. Look to other women for mentoring, advice, kindness, role modeling. You have to write this woman off. It’s not going to happen.
  4. You are entitled to a peaceful life. You do not owe this woman anything. She’s just a person, and if her behavior is ugly, she isn’t entitled to any sort of special respect. Mothers-in-law sometimes assume that they’re going to be a powerful matriarch. No. Respect and admiration are earned. If she doesn’t deserve it, you’re certainly entitled to protect yourself, and keep strong boundaries.

· f she really attacks you, your husband needs to protect you. He can simply phone her and said “I heard you say X to my wife. I don’t think that’s appropriate. Do not do it again.” (Note: it is Very Important that your husband not leave you alone with her! He needs to be a witness! Otherwise, she’ll say that your interpretation of events is incorrect, etc., etc.). But if she does something in front of him, he can say that it bothered HIM. This is key. And it is his responsibility to handle his own mother, just as you should deal with your family, and he shouldn’t have to. Mothers-in-law sometimes “lay in wait” until no one else is in the room (including their own husbands, who they want on their side). Do not be alone with her. If you find yourself alone with her, immediately get up and go to the bathroom, take a walk, do whatever you need to in order to not be alone with her.

· Don’t call her mother! She isn’t your parent. Call her by her first name; you are equals.

How to Get Along With Your Mother in Law

Some mother-in-laws are sweet. They bake cookies for you and support your every decision. Others are bitter. They constantly talk bad about you and undermine your choices. If your mother-in-law is more troll than fairy princess, then this guide is for you!

Tell your spouse. This is the


Is this your monster-in-law?

most important advice you can be given. If your spouse has no idea how you feel, they may put you in situations you’d rather not be in, like taking care of dear old Mom while she’s sick. Tell your spouse kindly (remember, this is their mother) how you feel. State the facts, not your opinions. For example, if your mother-in-law tried to run you over with her SUV, say so. Don’t say, “She’s horrible and she wants to kill me!” Explain very clearly, without being rude and hurtful.

· Discuss calmly. Ask your spouse how they feel about your mother. If the both of you are sharing opinions, it may allow you to be more honest. Don’t freak out if your spouse hates your mother with a passion! Remember, if you’re just finding out now, then obviously they’ve done a good job at hiding it. So expect them to continue hiding it around your family.

· Be kind. Give your mother-in-law a break! For all you know, she was an orphan, or abused, or cheated on. She’s human too, and has had problems in life just like you. Let’s say she always griped and complained about your beloved green couch. You hated her for this and made your spouse’s life miserable. Then she dies, and at her funeral you discover that she was raped on a green couch. Wouldn’t you feel bad?

· Get to know her. Ask her to lunch (if you’re brave). Or the next time you’re at her house, try to spend a few moments with her in the kitchen or sit near her and chat. If the conversation goes really bad, you can always get up to use the bathroom and sit back down in another chair!

· When in doubt, give gifts. Women are complex creatures, true, but one thing is almost universal: we love presents! Christmas and birthdays, as well as Mother’s Day, are obvious choices. Give your mother-in-law a gift from just you. If you have to, get your spouse to choose the present, then say it’s from you. Make sure it’s something she will enjoy. If she sees that you are thinking about her and know her tastes, it will help win her over.

· Be included. Okay, so you know she doesn’t like you and are pretty sure she knows that you don’t like her. This doesn’t mean you can just stop visiting. This is your spouse’s mother, remember, and a mother is very important in life. Don’t be rude when your wife or husband wants to visit his/her parents on a Saturday afternoon. You still need to let their child-parent relationship breathe. Visit with your spouse–don’t make yourself scarce. Your in-laws will think you’re a wuss. This will only make them dislike you more. Remember, the goal is to “get along” with your mother in law…


  • If you have children, don’t be hostile with your mother-in-law. If she treats the kids well, then she can’t be completely horrible. However, if she’s being mean to them because she doesn’t like you, keep them away from her. Children are impressionable and will not understand. Talk to your spouse and again, use clear examples.
  • If you’ve been married for over 15 years and your mother-in-law still hates your guts, ignore these tips. You’re screwed! Unless some major, life-changing event comes along–like she gets cancer and suddenly loves everyone–you’re out of luck. (And no, don’t pray for her to get cancer. Do you really want to watch your spouse disintegrate as their mother dies? Didn’t think so.)
  • If she calls you and you don’t answer the phone, RETURN THE CALL. Everyone knows everyone has caller I.D. She know’s eventually you’ll see her name or number on your phone. There’s nothing worse than playing the passive-aggressive. She can see right through that. Ignoring her won’t help your relationship with her. Return the call as soon as possible, and if need be, keep the conversation short but sweet.
  • Don’t be fake! If your mother-in-law is over the age of 25, then she’s had some life experience. If you’re syrupy sweet, she’ll see right through you. This is the DANGER ZONE. Sure, she doesn’t like you now, but once you start being too nice, she’ll get suspicious and never let you out of her sight!
  • Don’t keep griping about her. You and your spouse are in love and happy (right?) so why let someone ruin it? Don’t constantly complain about her. When your spouse tells you some little tidbit about what their mom’s up to, don’t get nasty and start in. Just nod and smile, then change the subject. Simple.
  • Don’t declare war. Subtle sniping is tolerable. But screaming and hollering is NOT fine. If you ever find yourself yelling at her, “I hate you! I wish you’d just die!” then you’ve gone too far. A good rule of thumb is: if you’re treating her how you treated your own mom while you were going through puberty, then you’re making your disdain too obvious. Back-pedal and buy lots of gifts!
  • Don’t let her control your life. If you’ve honestly tried your best to win her over, and she still hates you, then you have two choices. 1: Talk to her about it. Say, “I get the feeling you really don’t like me. What did I do?” Or, 2: Move on! Your mother-in-law is only a small part of your life. Go to work, raise your children, love your spouse, take care of your own parents. Don’t let one mean person ruin everything.
  • Don’t tell her kids you hate her. If your spouse has a few sisters or brothers, don’t look to them as allies. They are your mother-in-law’s children and would HATE YOU! Are you nuts?!

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