My relationship with my mother-in-law was more like the movie Monster-In-Law than I cared to admit. It used to upset me a lot, but after having two boys of my own, I can say I now better understand her protective nature—to a degree. However, there came a point when I had to set strong boundaries with her not only to protect myself but to keep my relationship healthy with my husband.
I come from a very close-knit family, and my mother always had a good relationship with my dad’s mother. My mom arranged her medical appointments, planned family dinners almost every week, and despite their differences, my mom and grandmother found ways to be close.
So when my own mother-in-law refused to come to our wedding and called me ugly names, I had no idea how to handle it. My parents suggested my husband reach out to her and I would plan family outings when she was in town. Yet every time, it seemed the experience would spiral into negativity and blame.
I finally accepted (with help of my therapist) that it was no longer feasible or healthy for me to have a relationship without boundaries.
I finally accepted (with help of my therapist) that it was no longer feasible or healthy for me to have a relationship without boundaries. My husband and I were fighting more as I tried to get him to still be nice to his mother despite her behavior, and my kids were missing out on a relationship with their grandmother.
So if you too have a difficult mother-in-law, here are a few ways you can create healthy boundaries to improve your own wellbeing and your relationship with your partner.
1. Letting your partner handle the communication
Moms can often feel like planning family gatherings and sending baby updates to relatives are their sole responsibility. But they are not. If you do not have a healthy relationship with your mother-in-law, it is perfectly acceptable to ask your partner to handle. Taking a step back from this responsibility can create a healthy boundary and prevent you from being seen as the “bad” guy.
Moms can often feel like planning family gatherings and sending baby updates to relatives are their sole responsibility. But they are not.
When my husband and I started implementing this strategy, it took some getting used to. I had to remind my husband that he had to call his family a few times and send photos, but after a while, he caught on and realized how much I had been dealing with. This understanding strengthened our relationship and gave me a much-needed break.
2. Using the word “no” without guilt
Whenever my mother-in-law would ask to come over or for me to set up a video call with the kids, I would literally drop what I was doing to do as she asked. I had been in such a precarious relationship with her for years that I yearned for some peace. I thought the only way to obtain any would be by saying yes and meeting her demands as often and as fast as possible.
I yearned for some peace and thought the only way to obtain any would be by saying yes and meeting her demands as often and as fast as possible.
I quickly learned that wasn’t the case. Some people will never be happy with you no matter how hard you try. And it wasn’t until I had exhausted myself that I learned it was OK to say no.
Saying no not only helped me gain confidence in myself, but it helped me gain power back over the situation. There was more for me to gain by respecting my own needs, and the needs of my family, instead of dropping everything for the slim chance of pleasing someone who did not appreciate my efforts.
3. Showing them affections will not be earned by competition
A big part of the conflict with my mother-in-law is that she feels like I “stole” her baby boy. The only way I’ve been able to quell this issue is by reminding her (and the rest of his side of the family) that my husband is a grown man who makes his own decisions.
It is important to present as a strong unit, but is also important not to let your partner unintentionally use you as a scapegoat. So many times my husband’s mother and other members of his family would assume I was the one preventing them from seeing or speaking with him. It wasn’t until his father moved in with us for a short time that they learned my husband was just really bad at remembering to text/call anyone back.
It is important to present as a strong unit but is also important not to let your partner unintentionally use you as a scapegoat.
Now, I am definitely not suggesting you move in with your in-laws, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them you are not in a competition. (Feel free to share the frequent reminder texts you send your partner as extra proof for stubborn in-laws.)
4. Planning a regular visit or call schedule
As mentioned earlier, part of the reason some mothers-in-law act out is that they feel like they lost their relationship with a beloved child. One way to combat this is by making a consistent schedule to visit or call. The best part about this step is that you do not have to go along for the visit. Pack the diaper bag, send your partner with the baby, and take a much-needed break.