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How do I Deal With My Mother-in-Law?

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Q: How do I respect my husband’s relationship with his parents, particularly his mother, when they are a disruptive force in our marriage? I can’t talk to my husband about this because he always sides with them.

Dr. E says: First of all, unconditional respect means that you deal with situations respectfully. It does not mean that you agree with everything, or even condone everything. It means that when you confront a situation you disagree with, you do so respectfully.

Respectful Confrontation

What does this mean?  People seem to recognize disrespect more easily than respect. So before you discuss this with you husband, ask yourself “Is what I’m about to say going to come across as respectful or disrespectful?”

You may not be sure it’s respectful, but you probably know when it’s disrespectful. So…as I often say, just do less of that! In other words, lessen the disrespect for starters.

Obviously I don’t know the details of your situation so I need to speak in generalities. Please keep that in mind as I proceed.

For example, calling his parents names or telling your husband he is a “Momma’s boy” are examples of disrespect. Remember your husband loves his parents and feels a loyalty to them. He may not see them as you do, and this is understandable. And even if he does see their faults, he feels disloyal by criticizing them or agreeing with you when he thinks you are putting them down. If the roles were reversed, you may feel the same way.

Tone, Attitude, and Word Choice

Your husband may not always handle his parents in the way you would like, or even in a scriptural way, but complaining  about them to him is counterproductive. It is far more effective to gently and respectfully express your concerns to him.

Therefore, refrain from attacking your mother-in-law as the problem. Keep your comments about how this is affecting you. Share from your heart in a nonthreatening way.

For example, you could say, "When you put your parents’ wishes above mine, this feels as though I am less important to you. I know you love them and don't want to hurt them, and I respect that about you. But when you put your parents before me, I feel insecure about your love for me."

Remember that your tone and attitude are just as important as the words you choose. If you cannot say this without being overly emotional or angry, bite your tongue until you are calm and can say it respectfully, otherwise he will not hear your words.

Three Important Tips

Now, about your mother-in-law. Can you see her as an insecure person who is crying out to be loved? When a person becomes critical or overbearing, it is generally because they have deep inadequacies and fears, especially in regards to being accepted and loved. If she puts you down, she is attempting to feel superior when she is feeling threatened and jealous. This is her issue, not yours. She may always act this way and there is nothing you can do to change her - only God can!

However, there are some things you can do to make your life easier when she is around.

Here are three important tips:

1.      Remove yourself from the competition.

If you remove yourself from the competition and reframe this relationship as one where your mother-in-law is the weaker, needier person than you rather than in competition with you, you will be able to respond with more patience.

Remember, your husband chose to spend the rest of his life with you. If your mother-in-law is insecure, she is worried about losing her son and tries to hang on too tightly. If you choose to share him with her at appropriate times, you will all be happier.

2.      Pick and choose your battles.

Some things really are not worth fighting over just for the sake of winning or putting her in her place. By carefully picking and choosing your battles, you will have more energy to deal with the bigger issues. At those times, respectfully communicate to your husband that you need his strength and insight in helping you deal with the situation. He will be more inclined to come to your aid if it is not a constant pressure, and if he is approached respectfully.

If you are willing to make some sacrifices, even when you don't feel like it, you will probably expend less energy in the long run than if you fight her in order to get your way.

3.  Bring the Lord into this relationship.

This one is the most important. Doing any of this will be nearly impossible if your heart is not right. Ask the Lord how He intends to use your mother-in-law in your life. And - how He would like to use YOU in her life!

Whenever you get in a difficult situation immediately ask the Lord for wisdom in dealing with it in a godly way. Ask for patience and most of all, ask the Lord to give you a genuine love for her.

Will you make a decision to begin applying these three tips today?

I suggest you start with #3. You will be amazed at the outcome as you surrender this entirely to the Lord!

And ultimately, you will be communicating respect to your husband as well.


Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider