As husband and wife, you've decided to host a big dinner at your house. All of the family will be there, and you're excited to show off the kids and spend time with those you love. That is until your mother-in-law enters the room. From the moment her foot crosses the threshold, she's all criticism. "I wouldn't have picked this carpet," she may say. Or, "The chicken is a little dry, dear." Meanwhile, a smile is on her face, and you have to grin and bear it.
This sort of thing happens to people regardless of how long they've been married. A mother-in-law can be so intrusive and bossy that you just don't know what to do with yourself. You don't want to be disrespectful, yet you can't tolerate being walked on, either. It's a nasty predicament, but it may help to learn that there are reasons for your mother-in-law's stereotypical behavior and ways to gracefully maneuver through difficult in-law situations.
Why Your Mother-In-Law Does What She Does
Older relatives frequently take on an authoritative role in the family. "The friction and tensions with know-it-all mothers-in-law come from a parent's belief that no one is quite good enough for her son or daughter," says Dr. Susan Newman, social psychologist and author of The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever.
This tension, most typically felt between women and their mothers-in-law rather than between men and theirs, occurs because these are "two women in love with the same man," according to Debbie Mandel, author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul and Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout.
Most of the time, your mother-in-law means no harm. She may just feel out of control and anxious about the fact that you are now in charge of her grandchildren and that you have the say in your household, says Dr. Newman. In her mind, you are a threat to her relationship with her son, making your relationship with her unsteady.
Some mothers-in-law will be able to work through their feelings and overcome them, says April Masini, author of Think & Date Like A Man and Date Out of Your League. Others will stay stuck in this spot forever and "always have a rocky relationship," with their daughters-in-law, she adds.
Now that you understand why your mother-in-law may behave in an unsavory fashion, what should you do about it? That depends on several factors. First and foremost, keep an open mind around your mother-in-law and try your best to keep situations upbeat and positive. When something uncomfortable does happen, try these tips to calm the rough seas.