5 Ways to Get Along Better With Your Mother-in-Law

in-laws relationship

There are few relationships more fraught with drama than the ones with our in-laws. Even those who would claim to love their mothers-in-law (and we all hate you -- ha!) have had issues from time to time, right?

I mean, it makes perfect sense. You marry the man, not his mother. And even so, she creeps into everything he does and defends even his most boneheaded moves. It's bound to be a hard relationship. And who can blame her for loving her baby boy, anyway? Those of us who have sons can attest to just how strong that bond truly is.

Still, there are ways to ease the pain and make things just a little bit simpler for everyone (including yourself!). We asked experts for some tips and came up with five ways to improve your relationship with your in-laws.


1.) Pay your own way: We may be part of the first generation that won't do better than our parents financially, but that doesn't really excuse us from failing to be grown-ups. The fact is, in many families, even when Mom and Dad are in their 30s with children of their own, the grandparents are still footing the bills in some way, whether it's help with vacations, paying private school tuition, or providing the down payment on a house. But experts say to stop accepting the help whenever possible.

"Sometimes in-laws like to spend money on their grown kids -- and in the process, end up exerting some control over them," says Ray Advani, editor of Tie the Money Knot. "In this type of situation, it can help the relationship overall to take a position of, they pay for themselves, and you pay for yourself and your family ... The core tenet is that boundaries can be nicely set with clear, kind, yet firm communication."

2.) Accept their flaws: One of the biggest complaints people have about their in-laws is that they try to insert themselves where they shouldn't. If you don't want your kids having refined sugar or white bread and Grandma thinks, "That's how we did it, and do you think you're better than us?" then there are bound to be issues. Remind yourself that they love you -- and they love your kids. And lighten up.

"Perhaps you allow your child to have a small ice cream for dessert, but your in-laws go overboard giving them the large ice cream with chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and the works," says L.A.-based psychotherapist Barbara Neitlich. "Let it go. Small battles are not worth fighting."

3.) Learn from her: I know, I know. It sounds crazy. But your mother-in-law has skills you don't. She may be old-fashioned and do things for her husband you'd never dream of doing, but you can find things you respect. Does she sew really well? Bake an amazing pie crust? Decorate a beautiful cake? Whatever it is, ask her to teach you, says Dr. Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist and the author of Money, Sex, and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.

"Sharing informal, productive activities is very bonding, as is allowing others to mentor you," Tessina says. 

4.) Think of your kids: The fact is, these are their grandparents, and it's your job to teach them how to behave. The world will be full of people they don't like but still need to get along with. It's just a fact.

"If in-laws are difficult, learn to treat them as members of someone else's family -- with whom you'd not react to obnoxious things, but just politely ignore what they're doing or saying, and maintain a pleasant demeanor," says Tessina. "Be a grown-up, whether they are or not. If you have to treat them as misbehaving children, so be it -- just don't let them drag you into bad behavior of your own."

5.) Let your spouse handle the big issues: The fact is, this is HIS family. Not yours. Sure, you married into it, but in the end, it's his problem. If his parents are acting totally out of line, he needs to handle it. Talk to him in private and draw the boundaries, says Tessina. "Get a clear agreement with your spouse about the boundaries you're going to set with his/her parents. How will you handle holidays? Does one family like to 'drop in' and is that OK?"

It's also important to know when to let yourself out of the situation so he can deal with it himself. "Learn to give 'adult time-outs' to the in-laws if they behave badly or pressure you," Tessina says. What does that mean? "Withdraw to extremely polite but distant relating -- no personal interchanges, but no rudeness."

The fact is, your in-laws are a part of your spouse (whom you love) and your children (whom you also love), so whatever your feelings are about them, you have to tolerate them. "Accept that your in-laws are part of your life and always will be," Neitlich says.

Take it from me, someone who lost her mother-in-law suddenly last year. You may think the issues are huge and awful, but you might find sometime later that you cared more than you thought you did. Don't let that time come too late to change things.

Do you get along with your in-laws?


Image ©iStock.com/PaulSimcock

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