Still, it could happen that you face unfortunate circumstances of dealing with a manipulative mother-in-law. This situation could be bringing dark clouds over your happiness and have you wonder what you did wrong and how you can resolve it.
She can be more or less subtle about it or more or less successful in her efforts to manipulate the situation in her favor.
Be that as it may, you don’t have to despair. There are still things you can do to manage and survive a toxic mother-in-law.
Why do mothers-in-law tend to control?
If you are to handle a toxic mother-in-law, you need to understand her, and that means understanding her motives.
Difficult mothers-in-law don’t set out with the idea of simply being difficult. The effect you feel on your skin is a result of her endeavors to procure something of importance for herself.
An emotionally manipulative mother-in-law usually seeks to regain the control she thinks she is losing with your entrance into the family circle.
Things used to be done a certain way, and now she needs to adapt and change. And we know how change can be, say the least, challenging.
The moment you start saying to yourself, “my mother in law manipulates my husband,” you need to pay attention to the things she is trying to accomplish. They usually point to a need she has or a worry over what could happen if she relinquishes control.
A meddling mother-in-law often justifies her actions by implying how helpful she is trying to be. She might be pointing out things she knows about her son that others might not or how uniquely and perfectly she does things around the house.
If so, she might be looking for appreciation and worrying will she have it from the family once you join.
For some reason, a manipulative mother-in-law sees you as a threat. If you want to deal with a toxic mother-in-law successfully, you need to understand why that is. Then you can move on to how to mend or survive the situation.
A manipulative mother-in-law can cry when needed, get angry, or sick. She knows how to get attention and her way by using the empathy of others.
No space for privacy or personal decision
Not only does a manipulative mother-in-law push herself into your decision-making process, but she can also intrude on your time alone. The more she is a part of your lives, the more she can control them.
Now that you have gone over the signs, can you say with confidence, ‘my mother-in-law is controlling and manipulative’?
Recognizing is the first step. The next question we need to answer is how to deal with a manipulative mother-in-law.
1. Understand her motives
If you want to adjust your way, you need to understand why she is treating you this way.
Understanding is not an excuse for her behavior. It’s to give you clarity and guide your actions.
2. Avoid triggers
Although it won’t always be possible, try to recognize and then avoid triggers. Does she become especially difficult around the holidays? What topics is she sensitive about?
Learn what can make her turn into a monster-in-law, avoid the triggers, and, if not possible, have an escape plan.
3. Detach from her comments
It’s the same for a manipulative mother-in-law as is with anyone else. Her words say nothing about you and everything about her.
When you can see her words as a reflection of her, you can manage your emotional reaction easier.
4. De-escalate fights
When she is trying to bait you into an emotional battle, try some conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. You will still feel angry, but you will react with more control.
Thus, have much less mess to deal with after the fights.
5. Never start a fight, but be ready to stand firm
Don’t be the one to start a fight, but if she becomes disrespectful or dismissive, be ready to defend your standpoint. You may say that you can see what she is suggesting, but you prefer to do it another way.
Stand your ground, but don’t explain yourself too much to avoid looking overly defensive and give her more material to pick on you.
6. Outline and stick to the boundaries
What is allowed in your household? Can she enter without knocking? Can she teach your children differently than you allow? Can she drop by unannounced?
Verbalize the boundaries, and stick to them. For this step, you will probably need to discuss and agree with your spouse on them so you can enforce them together.
7. Involve your partner
This doesn’t mean you call him every time there is a problem between you two.
You will need to handle some of the fights on your own with the manipulative mother-in-law because he might not yet be ready to see her the same way you do.
Take a step-by-step approach to open his eyes and get his help. If you don’t want to be the bad person in his eyes, talk about your needs, not her actions.
Try reflecting on how you feel when she does something without labeling her or her actions.
8. Take a break from the relationship
She is your mother-in-law, not your mother. And even if she were your mom, you would need distance at times.
So, allow your spouse to keep visiting when they want, but also permit yourself not to join him as much.
9. Focus on building relationships with your spouse
One of the reasons she wants to tear you down is to remain the priority in your spouse’s life. Every time you are fighting her, you are not fighting for him and your relationship.
She might not be a good mother in law, but she might be a great mom or grandma. Maybe there are things about her that will make contact with her more pleasant.
Keep them in mind to withstand those long family dinners.
13. Work on your confidence
The more you believe in yourself, the less she can tear you down. What comments provoke you the most?
Use them as insights that could signal things you can work on and improve so she can not pick you on them.
14. Take notes from her book
She is good at manipulation because she had practice for years.
If you are to understand and deal with her, learn her methods. Not to become her but to better overcome her.
15. Be a brick wall
If she can’t upset you, she can’t touch you. Your emotional response gives the fight fuel, so learn to be a rock and not give her what she needs to keep going.
Emotions are attention, and that is what reinforces her. Take them away, and she can’t fight with someone who doesn’t want to engage.
16. Learn to forgive
If you are waiting for an apology, you might wait a long time. She won’t do it unless it benefits her. If you can, try to forgive her so you can move past the hurt. Forgiveness is not for her; it is for you.
17. Renounce expectations of her
Are you harboring any last hopes that she will change, come to your aid, and help with the kids, for example?
If she decides to, it is great!
However, don’t hold your breath because if you depend on her, you can become controlled by her. See if you can arrange things, so you don’t have any expectations towards her whatsoever.
Your independence is your strength.
18. Increase joyful activities
When you feel happy and optimistic, you can deal with her better. What makes you smile? What brings you joy?
Turn to those activities and people that make you feel that way so you can ground yourself and feel empowered. It will become easier to bear anything she throws at you (mentally, of course. Anything flying your way, duck!).
Also, you can try reading a book on toxic in-laws and protecting your marriage from them!
19. Try to find some humor in it
Not that you will share your mischievous and funny thought with a manipulative mother-in-law or your spouse, but humor can get you through almost any situation.
Some popular and successful sitcoms have been created based on such situations, and now you can use real-life for your own private “Everybody loves Raymond” script.
In the end, it might be a great story to share with other daughters-in-law.
20. Try to grow through this
It might not be easy to take this piece of advice, but even though we don’t always choose what happens to us, we choose what to do with it.
Therefore, why not use the experience to learn some lessons from it?
How to have sympathy for people we dislike, how to stay firm, how to be upset and react calmly, how to forgive and have self-respect, and after all, what kind of a mother-in-law not to be one day?
Having a toxic mother-in-law can bring clouds upon your newlywed happiness. If you recognize the signs of a manipulative mother-in-law, brace yourself.
You will most likely attempt to mend the fences at first and get her approval. If it doesn’t work, remember there are still things you can do.
Don’t throw in the towel just yet. You can learn to manage your emotions better, avoid triggers, outline new firmer boundaries, get help from your partner, and increase your confidence.
If you use these experiences to grow, you might be able to laugh at some situations that used to bring angry tears to your eyes.
You can have a peaceful family life with your spouse and kids and deal with a toxic mother-in-law because your feelings are in your hands.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Milica Markovic has graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy with a degree in Clinical Psychology. She has 7 years (and counting) of Psychotherapy and Coaching education (both Transactional Analysis and Psychology of Personal Constructs) and experience in working with clients. Throughout her career, she has had remote clients around the world facing various personal, academic, or professional challenges.
She finds her primary duty is to establish a trusting environment in which clients can feel safe enough to discuss anything that might be troubling them and grow closer to their goals. She believes that whether you are experiencing a personal, relationship related, or professional challenge, the journey to surpassing it can be made easier with the right help by your side.
Milica is also a strong advocate of lifelong learning and continuous improvement.