No one enjoys dealing with in-laws if they are insensitive, intrusive, and rude. Your mother-in-law gripes about the way you wear your hair or your father-in-law just gripes.
Dealing with your rude in-laws is something you must adjust to. Because you did not just marry your spouse, you married (or got stuck with) their entire family.
This is your albatross to bear unless you walk away and cut them out of your life. (Disengagement is no great fix either.)
You have other options…
Coping with your toxic in-laws
When grappling with dear ole mother-in-law, you need a thick skin. Put on your faux Cheshire Cat smile (even though it pains you) and get ready to deploy your battle plan.
You may salivate at the prospect of telling her off. Putting her in her place. But going berserk without a strategy is a risky trek through alligator-infested swampland.
Remember the old saying:
Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.Adage of unknown origin.
But you should not absorb verbal and psychological abuse in perpetual silence either, like a weathered punching bag.
And the problem is not just relegated to your mother-in-law; any "in-law" can cause trouble, including your father-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and their spouses.
For the sake of this article, we will use mother-in-law as the chief antagonist. But you can swap out this in-law with any hostile, manipulative, patronizing bully.
Do not take the bait
Shall we give a minor example: going home for the holidays? The first thing darling mother-in-law does when you walk through the door is brush past you and kiss her "baby."
The disrespect begins early…
You have become The Peripheral. The Invisible.
Her passive aggressive remarks—"You're so thin" or "Isn't your wife feeding you?"—strike a nerve. This is manipulation. This is baiting. She is trying to get you to react.
You have entered the time-honored game of "Who Will Embarrass Themselves the Least?" A winner-take-all battle of wit, snark, and spite, where bets get placed on your dignity.
Nothing would please her more than to have you return a snide remark. Or just get combative. She is betting that only you will look awful in that exchange.
But this is not a fair fight.
She has her immediate and extended family there for moral support. You just have your spouse (of conflicted loyalty) and maybe your kids (who cannot help much).
The smart play, for now, is to kill her with kindness.
Compliment her on something and try to mean it. If you turn everything into a massive battle, both your life and your partner's will become nothing short of miserable.
Disparaging you over your married name
Since we focus this website on name change after marriage, we would be remiss to not cover a source of daughter-in-law to mother-in-law tension: not carrying on their family name.
Tensions may erupt among in-laws for men who opt to take their wives' names after marriage, as though the wives were plotting to erase their husbands' family history.
Changing your name is a personal choice with lifelong ramifications. Your in-laws—and even your spouse—may disapprove of your decision. But hold the line.
Now, back to the family get-together…
Be patient and keep your cool
You have been at their house for a couple of hours now. The comments and offhanded remarks just keep coming. Your nerves are wearing thin and your patience thinner.
Take deep breaths. Tap into your inner zen. Picking a fight right now is a dangerous move. Especially with relatives arriving soon, if not there already.
Adhere to a self-imposed peace agreement, while remaining respectful of her home. But prepare to make it known that you will not tolerate being walked over.
Try your hardest to pacify her until you have time to talk to her one-on-one. Go help her in the kitchen. This may be a disaster, but here is your chance to speak your mind.
Keep the conflict between you and her
You should have raised this issue with your spouse by now. Remember, this is their parent. Respect that. Would you want anyone belittling or badmouthing your mother or father?
Instead of trying to decipher your partner's mother, why not consult the expert? Ask your spouse for their opinion on how best to manage and mollify their mother.
When asking your spouse to opine on their mother's toxic behavior, avoid putting them in a position where they feel forced to choose a side.
This is an unfair ask that places undue pressures and angst on both of you.
As one of the two most important people in your spouse's life, asking them to choose between you and their mother is a harsh ultimatum which could rupture your relationship.
Consider the possibility your spouse's own family has bullied them into submission. Too browbeaten to suggest a response that does not involve appeasement.
Open yourself up to a range of opinions. Ask your friends, family members, and therapist for advice. They may have constructive in-law horror stories to tell: disputes and solutions.
Now is the time to speak your mind
So dinner is over. Everyone is gone. Now is the time to approach her.
Pull her to the side. Just the two of you. With no one else nearby. Perhaps go into the kitchen for a glass of wine or iced tea. Or offer to help clean up the mess.
Do not get defensive in your tone or body language. Defensiveness heading into the discussion will start and end in an ugly place.
Start the conversation light, simple, and direct: "I'd like to talk to you about something that's been bothering me." (Gird yourself. There is no turning back now.)
Approach the matter without attacking. Keep a calm and respectful demeanor. Focus on the goal: ending the conflict.
Do not sugarcoat. But stay mindful of her feelings. Explain how you felt disrespected, diminished, insulted, or ignored.
Articulate your expectations:
- Hostilities must end.
- And everyone must end it together.
Stopping this rampant aggression is a must:
- For the sake of the family.
- For the sake of your wellbeing.
- To stop someone from going too far.
She may appreciate your candor if you are upfront and honest from the beginning. But if you try to deceive, obfuscate, or embellish, she will see through insincerity and call you out.
Time to go on offense (get your armor)
Trying to keep the peace is admirable. But you cannot let gross behavior run amok unchecked. The longer you wait, the more emboldened and obnoxious vicious in-laws become.
Here is a forceful yet restrained way to respond to a bullying in-law:
I'm sorry, but I cannot allow you to keep disrespecting me with your hurtful words and actions. I treat you and everyone with respect, and I expect the same in return.
I want us to have a good relationship. But there needs to be a change. If you cannot do this, we need to limit how much we're around each other moving forward.Example of a measured response to a bullying in-law.
Speak your truth without hesitation or apology, and then leave the door open for the antagonist to return from the brink and accept a truce, peace, or ceasefire.
Taming your in-laws key takeaways
Your in-laws deserve your respect (when merited). But always remember that you deserve respect as well. Finding common ground and mutual respect is in everyone's best interest.
Mending a broken relationship takes hard work and grace.
You can start with a private discussion, separate from family gatherings. Take a gentle but firm approach. (Go assertive, not aggressive.)
There might always be periodic conflicts between you and your in-laws. But aiming for understanding instead of upstaging can lower the heat and hurt long-term.
Good luck traversing the tricky ties between you and your in-laws. Remember to show your appreciation despite their foolish conduct. Until calm prevails, stay poised and unruffled.
Do you agree, disagree, have your own in-law story to report, or advice to share among those struggling with this problem? Express them in the comments section.