Mother in Law Problems? 7 Red Flags & What You Can Do

Mother in Law Problems? 7 Red Flags & What You Can Do
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Introduction to Mother-in-Law Problems

A mother-in-law can be a source of support, advice, and love for you and your husband’s relationship. However, not all relationships with mother-in-laws are smooth sailing. Sometimes, underlying issues or conflicts may arise. These can lead to mother-in-law problems that can impact your relationship with her.

The impact of Mother-in-Law Problems

Mother-in-law problems are a common tension and conflict in many marriages.

Some people may be lucky enough to have a great relationship with their mother-in-law. Others must deal with a difficult mother-in-law.

A mother-in-law’s behavior can significantly impact the daughter-in-law’s happiness. It can also influence her relationships with her spouse and other family members.

In some cases, mother-in-law problems can be so severe it leads to divorce.

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Identifying Red Flags of Mother-in-Law Problems

It is critical to recognize red flags that may suggest potential mother-in-law problems. It’s best to understand these situations before they escalate into significant conflicts.

These red flags or signs can help you understand what you’re dealing with and how to approach the situation.

The Importance of Identifying Red Flags

It’s important to identify red flags in your relationship with your mother-in-law. These can hint at potential issues and help you address them before they become too serious.

In this blog post, I will discuss 7 common red flags that may arise and provide tips on handling each one.

Preview the Seven Red Flags

The seven red flags of mother-in-law problems that I will discuss are lack of boundaries, constant criticism, interference in decision-making, manipulation, undermining your parental role, and lack of support or inclusion.

I will provide practical solutions and strategies for each red flag. These can help improve your mother-daughter-in-law relationship and maintain a healthy family dynamic.

Red Flag 1: Overbearing Behavior

Overbearing behavior from a mother-in-law can manifest as intrusive questions, unsolicited advice, or excessive involvement in personal matters. 

Describe Signs of Overbearing Behavior

Overbearing behavior can manifest through constant checking up on you and your spouse, giving unsolicited advice or opinions, or attempting to control decisions within your household. These behaviors can create tension and affect the harmony of your relationship.

The Impact on the Spouse

Overbearing behavior from a mother-in-law can hurt your relationship with your spouse. This can result in tension and conflicts arising between you. It can also result in feelings of resentment towards your mother-in-law.

I struggled greatly with this because my own husband really didn’t want to accept or acknowledge his mother’s and his father’s behavior. Eventually, he came around, but it strained our relationship then.

Tips and Strategies for Handling Overbearing Behavior

Dealing with an overbearing mother-in-law requires a delicately balanced approach. It emphasizes communication and boundary-setting to maintain a healthy relationship and family dynamic.

First, having an open, honest conversation with your husband is essential to ensure you’re both on the same page with the issue. Then, together, you can set healthy boundaries that protect your family’s privacy and autonomy. 

Red Flag 2: Constant Criticism

Constant criticism from a mother-in-law can severely strain relationships. It often targets everything from parenting styles to lifestyle choices. This can lead to diminished self-esteem and increased stress within the home.

My mother-in-law didn’t criticize me in front of others but did it behind my back. My children would tell me what was said. She intended to undermine my parental authority by degrading me in front of my children.

Impact of Constant Criticism

Constant criticism from a mother-in-law can create a toxic environment and strain relationships. It may result in feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, and resentment towards your mother-in-law.

My mother-in-law would continually have comments about how I dressed, how I dressed my kids, what we ate, what age I potty trained my children, etc.

Tips on Addressing Continual Criticism

The best way to address constant criticism is by setting boundaries and communicating with your mother-in-law. This can include calmly expressing how her criticism makes you feel and setting clear expectations for respectful communication.

It may also be helpful to actively listen to her perspective and try to find common ground while also standing up for yourself if needed.

an older woman is talking to a younger woman who is rolling her eyes - mother in law problems

Red Flag 3: Lack of Respect for Boundaries

A mother-in-law’s lack of respect for boundaries can manifest in various ways. This includes unannounced visits, disrespecting parenting decisions, creating tension, and eroding personal space within the family unit.

The Importance of Establishing and Maintaining Boundaries

Establishing boundaries is crucial for nurturing healthy relationships, both with your spouse and with your in-laws. They help define acceptable and unacceptable behavior and protect your own emotional well-being.

Ways to Communicate Boundaries Effectively

Communicating boundaries effectively can involve clear and direct communication. Use “I” statements to express your needs and set consequences for violating those boundaries.

Some “I” statements include: “I feel overwhelmed and stressed when you visit without notice.” And, ” I need us to agree on scheduled visits to ensure our family can prepare and enjoy our time together.”

The Importance of Assertiveness and Communication

Assertiveness is key to setting and maintaining boundaries. It involves confidently expressing your needs, wants, and limits without being aggressive or passive.

Open and honest dialogue, facilitated through assertive communication, can help clarify any misunderstandings. This approach also has the potential to strengthen the relationship between all involved.

a younger woman is talking to an older woman - mother-in-law problems

Red Flag 4: Interference in Decision Making

Sometimes, a mother-in-law may try to interfere in the decision-making process of her adult child and their spouse. This can occur in various areas, such as career choices, financial decisions, or even household matters.

The challenges of interference

Interference from in-laws in decision-making processes can lead to conflicts and tensions within the family.

It can also cause feelings of resentment, disrespect, and a lack of trust between spouses. Additionally, it can create confusion and uncertainty about whose decisions should be respected and followed.

a woman has her hands crossed against her chest and is looking away from a younger man and woman - mother-in-law problems

Solutions for Handling an Interfering Mother-in-Law

One practical approach to managing interference from a mother-in-law is establishing clear boundaries around decision-making areas.

Additionally, involving your mother-in-law in some decisions in a controlled manner can help her feel included without overstepping.

Communicating these decisions and boundaries respectfully is crucial. This ensures that she understands her involvement is valued.

Red Flag 5: Manipulative Behavior

Manipulative behavior is another red flag that can negatively impact relationships with in-laws. This can include using guilt and manipulation.

Identifying Signs 

Controlling behavior from a manipulative mother-in-law can manifest in various ways. Examples include constantly giving unsolicited advice or attempting to control decision-making processes within the family.

Other signs may include guilt-tripping, emotional blackmail, and creating drama within the family. The mother-in-law’s controlling behavior to get her own way is also a sign.

Strategies for Dealing with Manipulation 

Handling a controlling mother-in-law can be difficult, but it’s crucial to address the situation calmly and assertively. 

Setting clear boundaries and communicating your feelings honestly are crucial steps. Getting support from your partner can strengthen boundaries when you both stand together.

an older woman has her arms crossed and looking away from a happy man giving a woman a present - mother-in-law problems

Red Flag 6: Undermining Your Role

Another red flag for in-law relationships is when they try to undermine your role as a mother and wife.

Recognizing the Undermining of Your Parental Role

This red flag can include making negative or disrespectful comments about you, not acknowledging your contributions to the relationship, and trying to come between you and your husband.

An example of this is when your mother-in-law ignores or goes against your parental guidance or instructions. It’s especially problematic when she does this in front of your children.

Impact of Undermining Behavior

Undermining behavior from a mother-in-law can significantly impact your relationship with your spouse and your confidence as a parent.

Constant criticism, questioning of decisions, or disregarding your role as a spouse can make you feel insecure and unimportant in the family dynamic.

Addressing This Situation

Addressing the situation of being undermined requires open communication.

Setting clear rules on how you want to be treated can reduce undermining and make your relationship better.

An example of a conversation starter would be, “I value your input, but I’ve noticed some instances where boundaries are being crossed.” It’s crucial for us to work together as a unified front for the well-being of our children. Would you be open to discussing how we can mutually respect each other’s roles and decisions going forward?”

Red Flag 7: Lack of Support or Inclusion

One final red flag regarding in-law relationships is a lack of support or inclusion. This can manifest in various ways, such as not being invited to family gatherings or events, not being consulted on important decisions, or feeling left out of family conversations and activities.

The Importance of Emotional Support

Family support, especially from in-laws, can be crucial in maintaining a healthy and happy relationship. Receiving emotional support from your in-laws can enhance the connection between you and your spouse and foster a feeling of belonging within the family.

a younger woman has her arm around an older woman - mother-in-law problems

Ways to Seek Support from Other Sources

If you don’t get emotional support from your mother-in-law, consider getting it from friends, family, or a therapist instead. They can offer the support you need outside of your relationship with your mother-in-law.

It’s essential to have a strong support system outside of your immediate family to lean on during difficult times.

Issues that Can Cause Conflict with In-Laws

While red flags are warning signs to be aware of, it’s also crucial to recognize the potential issues that can cause conflicts with in-laws. Understanding these triggers can help you navigate and address any disagreements or tension that may arise.

Common Issues that Arise Between Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law

  1. A Mother-in-law might expect their daughter-in-law to act in a certain way, causing disagreements.
  2. Conflicts can arise when there are no boundaries between mothers and daughters-in-law.
  3. Mothers-in-law might criticize or compare their daughter-in-law’s actions, choices, or parenting style to others.
  4. Conflicts can arise between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law because of differences in their cultural backgrounds and beliefs.
  5. Arguments about money, like how it’s used or saved in the family, can also spark conflicts between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.
  6. Lack of communication or misunderstandings can result in conflicts between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.
  7. Conflicts can happen when mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law clash in personality, with different approaches to thinking or dealing with situations.
  8. Size of Family: My in-laws were very vocal about their dissatisfaction with our big family. Each new baby announcement furthered their hostility. This can be a major point of contention.
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Coping Mechanisms for Conflicts with Mothers-in-Law

While conflicts with mothers-in-law are common, it is important to find ways to cope and manage mother-in-law problems in a healthy manner.

Maintain Perspective

Remember, it’s normal for mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law to have conflicts and differences—it’s a part of life.

Instead of getting upset, try to see things from a wider perspective and know that these challenges help strengthen the relationship.

Communication Skills

To prevent misunderstandings, it’s vital to employ effective communication techniques like active listening, using “I” statements instead of accusatory language, and being open to compromise while understanding the other person’s perspective.

Educate Yourself

Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law come from different backgrounds and may have different expectations.

Take the time to educate yourself on each other’s cultures, traditions, and values. This approach can contribute to building understanding and mutual respect between individuals.

Practice Self-Care

Dealing with the conflicts and challenges of mother-in-law problems can be emotionally draining, so it’s important to spend time practicing self-care.

Allocate time for yourself and participate in activities that bring you joy and aid in stress reduction. It will also give you the self-confidence and emotional resilience to handle conflicts when they arise. There are many cheap self-care ideas to choose from.

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Choose Your Battles

Not every disagreement must become a big argument. Choose which battles are worth fighting for and which ones can be overlooked or compromised.

Drastic Measures for Extreme Situations

In some extreme situations, drastic measures may be necessary for the sake of your mental and emotional wellness. These can include limiting contact with the other person or seeking professional help.

Recognizing Narcissistic Traits

In some cases, the toxic family relationships between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law may be due to narcissistic traits. Someone with an extremely controlling personality is narcissistic. Recognizing these traits can help you understand and cope with their behavior.

These can include extreme controlling behavior, lack of empathy, and constant need for control and attention. It’s important to recognize these behaviors and seek professional help if necessary.

Be aware that true narcism is a personality disorder. People with this disorder may not be able to change their behavior, even with therapy.

Dealing with Narcissistic In-Laws

If you find yourself in a situation with a narcissistic in-law, it’s important to set clear boundaries and limit contact if necessary.

Remember that you have the right to protect your own well-being and mental health. Seek support from your spouse, friends, or therapist to help navigate this difficult situation.

Seeking Professional Help

If mother-in-law problems are seriously straining your relationships and family dynamics, it may be beneficial to seek professional help. 

A licensed professional counselor or family therapist can provide unbiased guidance and help facilitate communication and resolution.

Family therapy may involve everyone in the family, including your mother-in-law, to work on improving the relationship and addressing any underlying issues. 

Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek outside support. Sometimes, a neutral third party can make all the difference in resolving conflicts.

a woman with a pad of paper on her lap is talking with another woman - mother-in-law problems

Limiting Contact

Sometimes, you might need to reduce or stop contact with a difficult in-law for your own happiness and mental well-being, as well as for better relationships with your husband and kids.

It’s important to focus on your own happiness and emotional stability, and if that means setting boundaries or avoiding certain interactions, you are absolutely within your rights to do so.

My own mother-in-law was a constant problem the whole time I lived next door to her. I endured my toxic mother-in-law for 23 years. Because my mother-in-law is narcissistic, there was no reconciling.

No strategy worked, not even therapy. The situation became very toxic and volatile. It was extremely harmful to my children. 

The only way we could solve our issues was to leave and move far away.

Not every situation is as tough, so if you face issues with your mother-in-law, hopefully, you can recognize the red flags and apply the advice in this post to deal with them.

Acceptance and Letting Go

Remembering that you cannot change someone else’s behavior or personality is important. Sometimes, your best efforts will not result in a solution. 

Practice acceptance, including learning to let go of the need for approval or validation from a toxic in-law. It can be incredibly freeing.

My best advice is to build and maintain a good relationship with your own family and those who truly care about your well-being and happiness.

Celebrating Successes

One way to cope with difficult in-laws is to celebrate successes.

Successful Strategies

One successful strategy for improving the relationship with your mother-in-law is to communicate openly and honestly.

Another effective approach is to find common ground or shared interests. This can help create a positive foundation for your relationship.

In addition, set boundaries and stick to them. This may include limiting the amount of time you spend together or clearly stating what behaviors are unacceptable.

Remember that any progress, no matter how small, should be celebrated. Every successful interaction with your mother-in-law is a step towards a better relationship.

an older woman and younger woman are sitting on a couch facing each other - mother-in-law problems

Growth in Your Relationship with Your Mother-in-Law

It is important to actively encourage positive interactions with your mother-in-law and promote growth in the relationship.

This can be done through small gestures of kindness or appreciation, such as sending a thank-you note for a gift or inviting her to join you in activities she enjoys.

Conclusion to Mother-in-Law Problems

No matter what kind of mother-in-law problems you face, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Many daughters-in-law struggle to maintain a healthy rapport with their mother and father-in-law. It’s completely normal to have conflicts occasionally.

A controlling, interfering, or annoying mother-in-law will wear you down and wreak havoc on your family. However, you can navigate these challenges by setting firm boundaries, communicating effectively, and caring for yourself mentally and emotionally.

Summary of the Key Red Flags

Throughout this article, I discussed seven red flags of mother-in-law problems to watch out for regarding your mother-in-law.

These included constant criticism and interference in your marriage, lack of respect for boundaries, and feeling like you will never have a good or intimate relationship. It’s important to recognize these behaviors as warning signs and address them.

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Encouragement to Address Issues Proactively and Seek Professional Help if Needed

If you are currently struggling with your mother-in-law, it’s important to address the issues proactively and not let them continue to escalate.

This could mean setting boundaries, having open and honest communication, or seeking professional help if needed. At the end of the day, your mental and emotional well-being should always be the top priority.

Opportunities to Enhance the Mother-in-Law Relationship

Seeking a positive relationship with your mother-in-law may seem daunting, but holding onto the possibility of forging a stronger bond is important.

Achieving a harmonious relationship might call for effort, patience, and a deep understanding from all parties involved. Creating positive interactions and finding common ground to build upon is essential.

Whether through shared interests or mutual respect, every small step towards improvement counts. Keep in mind the aim is to build a caring and understanding family environment that boosts your emotional health instead of draining it.

It’s crucial to understand that not all conflicts can be resolved. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, irreconcilable differences may persist. This does not reflect a personal failure on your part but rather the complex nature of human relationships.

Knowing when to seek harmony and when to accept irreconcilable differences is crucial for maintaining your peace of mind among ongoing mother-in-law problems.

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      1. Great tips! The relationship a spouse has with their in-laws can definitely have a huge impact on the marriage. Great tips on mending that relationship!

      2. This is such a great article about red flags and what you can do when there is a problem with a mother-in-law relationship. Thankfully, I didn’t have any problems with my mother-in-law until she had Parkinson’s and it changed her personality. Knowing coping strategies for hard relationships is essential, and you are going to help so many people with this article!

      3. This is a very interesting topic. I remember when I had issues with my mother-in-law. This is a really good topic to help young couples.

      4. I’m so grateful I have a wonderful mother in law. She’s like a second mother to me. I have a friend who’s mother in law would be happy to see her disappear.

        1. I identify with your friend, Beth! I wish it were the other way around, though. My experience was a nightmare.

      5. When I was married, a long time ago, my mother in law was great. We did not speak the same language, but we got along and I liked her.

      6. I had a great relationship with my mother-in-law. I`m so lucky to have my husband and his big family. I hope I`ll be a good mother-in-law for my son’s wives.

      7. Hi Catherine, this article is incredibly helpful! Addressing mother-in-law problems can be so challenging. Your practical tips on setting boundaries and open communication are spot on. It’s comforting to know that seeking professional help is okay if needed. Thanks for sharing such valuable advice!

      8. Great article with lots of helpful advice. Anyone with a mother-in-law could use to read your article about mother-in-law problems!

      9. Thanks for sharing the article about managing difficult mother-in-law relationships. It’s really helpful, especially for those dealing with personality changes due to health issues.

      10. Informative and awesome post will keep this in mind if I experience any of these. Love that you mention what to do with each one.

      11. I can totally relate to this as well as some other people. It is good to be aware of things that could be indicative of future problems.

      12. I love seeing posts that address the complex dynamics of in-law relationships with such useful advice and real-life experiences!

      13. I think there’s always some degree of this in all relationships. I have grown and matured quite a bit to handle these situations much better but still not perfect and I doubt it ever will be.

        1. Yes, I’ve matured as well, but I still couldn’t handle my in-laws today after moving far away over 10 years ago.

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