5 Expert Tips for a Better Relationship with Your Mother-in-Law

5 Expert Tips for a Better Relationship with Your Mother-in-Law

Experts advise how to live happily ever after … with your mother-in-law.

Pop culture would like us to believe that no one gets along with his or her mother-in-law.

While we know that not to be true, it is a relationship that may be more complicated than others. In fact, 60 percent of women feel that issues with their husband's mother cause them long-term stress, according to research done by Cambridge University psychologist Terri Apter, author of What Do You Want From Me?: Learning to Get Along With In-Laws. The good news is, you can work on this relationship like you would any other. Try these expert tips for bolstering the bond with your mother-in-law.

1. Establish clear boundaries. Even if you think you’ve discussed any potential in-law issues with your spouse before saying “I Do,” there could be unforeseen bumps that arise as time goes on and, say, grandkids arrive. That’s when it’s even more important to communicate with your spouse and set clear boundaries with your in-laws.

Let’s face it, like you, they have a vested interest in seeing their grandchildren grow and succeed, but your conflicting opinions on how to achieve that can cause friction. That’s when it’s important to set your limits, advises psychologist and relationship expert Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D., author of Now You Want Me, Now You Don’t! . Her most important piece of advice is that both spouses present a united front with both sets of in-laws. One red flag you want to curb? “In-law advice or interference in how you conduct your marriage or your social lives or raise your kids,” she says.

2. Err on the side of kindness. One of the most common ways a mother-in-law may interfere in a relationship is by telling a daughter-in-law how to please her husband, explains Dr. Raymond. This particular tension, she says, is eons old: “It’s a type of territorial battle,” Dr. Raymond explains. “The mother-in-law can't let go of her primary right to the son and wants to maintain her authority, so she makes the daughter-in-law feel small in an effort to destabilize the equality within the new marriage.”

Of course, that’s not all mother-in-laws, and we’ve also heard cases of daughter-in-laws freezing their in-laws out, too. A better approach? Try communicating in front of, or to, your mother-in-law how much you appreciate the way she raised her son, and that you’re looking forward to making each other happy -- needs, quirks, moods and all. After all, that’s part of the journey of marriage, right?


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3. Make your spouse your ally. There’s this incredible bond between mothers and sons, the only problem is, sometimes a mom has a hard time letting go a little. “If the mother had made her son the center of her life, then she is going to fight to keep it that way,” explains Dr. Raymond. You can’t change her, per se, but you can talk to your husband about the role he’s playing: “A son may play into it,” she says, by enjoying watching two women he loves fight over him. If you suspect this is the case, you may want to talk to your partner about what he can do -- and what he shouldn’t be doing -- that will facilitate happier relationships all around. (For example, if your mother-in-law often shows up unannounced, your husband should step up to the plate and ask her to call first.)

4. Extend the olive branch. As long as your mother-in-law knows your marital union is “water-tight,” she should be all for it. After all, she wants her son to be happy. Do your part by demonstrating that you really are each other’s better half. Once this truth starts to sinks in a little, even a usually overbearing mother-in-law will tend to relax, says Dr. Raymond. “Then, the daughter-in-law can invite and include the mother-in-law at her pleasure and make the relationship amicable.”

5. Keep her in the loop. Remember, part of your mother-in-law’s behavior may be fueled by fear. Research from the University of Wisconsin-Steven’s Point found that mothers worried about their sons’ wellbeing and feared their sons wouldn’t visit as often after marriage. They were also concerned that their daughters-in-law would change their sons. These worries can obviously manifest in less-than-stellar MIL habits, but keeping conflict at bay could be as easy as sending family photos via text or inviting your mother-in-law to dinner or to visit more regularly. In other words, assuaging her fears by keeping her involved and informed.

What are some ways you’ve improved your relationship with your mother-in-law?

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