Marriage is a blessing. New in-laws? Not so much. We've all heard horror stories about mother-in-laws driving newlyweds crazy, but what about those meddling MILs who continue to be a source of stress and conflict even after the honeymoon phase is over? What can be done to prevent their bad behavior from disrupting the marriage over the long haul?
The answer, according to family and relationship psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish, is "reasonable separation." That is, setting firm boundaries that keep the MIL at a safe distance (whether physically, emotionally, or both) while maintaining an amicable dynamic within the family.
Before you can deal with an overbearing mother-in-law, you need to be able to identify one. Read on to discover the top 10 signs that you have a meddling MIL on your hands.
She tries to take over your wedding.
Between the engagement party, the bridal shower, the wedding, and the honeymoon, tying the knot is full of happy moments that celebrate your new beginning. Unfortunately, the time also offers up countless opportunities for a meddling mother-in-law's true colors to shine.
Maybe she hijacks the guest list, or vetoes your choice of venue, or pouts when you say you won't be Facetiming her during your honeymoon. However she exhibits her meddlesome ways, it boils down to her desire (whether overt or subconscious) to make the occasion all about herself. Consider it a red flag if yours attempts to throw herself the celebrations she never had.
She wants to be your BFF.
Should you and your MIL have an open and honest dialogue? Sure. Should she be your closest confidant? Probably not. An overbearing mother-in-law will insist that you divulge personal info about yourself, the state of your marriage, and your kids' upbringing, among other topics. Worse yet, she might use this info as a springboard for unsolicited advice.
Speaking to those "reasonable boundaries" mentioned above, you need to set limits as to how much you're willing to give to (and take from) from your relationship with your mother-in-law. Remember that your allegiance should always be with your spouse; your relationship with your MIL shouldn't infringe upon the sanctity and privacy of your marriage.
She wants to go where you go.
An overbearing mother-in-law hates the thought of her little one being looked after by anyone that isn't her; this could apply to vacations or other big commitments like moving away. And while it's great to have this built-in support system wherever life takes you, it doesn't give you and your spouse the space needed to grow and evolve as a couple. How will you ever know what your marriage is made of if you're never allowed to fly solo?
She starts arguments between you and your partner.
Who knows us better than our moms? That can come in handy for a MIL looking to start some drama between you and your spouse. A meddling in-law will consistently start fights. She may bring up sensitive subjects that you may be uncomfortable with or bend the truth about past events that you had settled long ago. This behavior is highly manipulative and should be stopped in its tracks.
Think twice before directing harsh words at your mother-in-law. "Once certain words leave your mouth, you can never re-insert them," says Barbara Greenberg Ph.D.
Remind yourself that any negativity between you and your mother-in-law will likely affect your spouse and your kids, too.
She cleans your house and does your laundry.
On the surface, this seems like a good deed (free housekeeping!). For some mother-in-laws, however, there's an ulterior motive for the household chores, like having an excuse to go through your things or to criticize your cleaning and organizing abilities. You'll know the jig is up when your MIL makes snide comments or you catch her snooping.
She negotiates with you for your spouse's time.
Meddling mother-in-laws fail to realize that their adult children are married and that their spouses now get first dibs on their time. Instead, they go straight to the spouses to make up schedules and demand a certain amount of time. All three of you are independent people, and these negotiations are also a sign of manipulation. It will likely affect your spouse just as badly as it affects you, so together you can tackle the issue.
She makes you feel guilty.
Skillful mother-in-laws will get you to feel guilty about things that you shouldn't apologize for, like implementing boundaries to keep her at arm's length. The guilt is the first step in manipulating your decisions and your relationship with your partner. Marriages are about making decisions together, so don't let your dramatic MIL become a third voice against your own best interests.
She treats your spouse like they're still a baby.
There’s a difference between being a good mom and treating an adult like they're still a child who still needs to be doted on and coddled. Watch out for MILs who insist upon still being a huge part of their child's life, especially in front of you, a representative of her child's new life. It’s inappropriate and off-putting—not to mention a total buzzkill for your married sex life.
She dictates your life.
If your mother-in-law's opinion holds a lot of weight with your spouse, then your spouse could be swayed into making decisions that affect your relationship based on their mother’s desires. This is particularly dangerous because it sends the message that your MIL's opinions are more important than your own. However, the larger issue here is that your spouse should be coming to you for help with those hard life decisions, not their mom. Start working on your communication skills—stat.
She wants to move in with you.
There’s no question that you're dealing with a meddling mother-in-law if she's doing all she can to move into your home. She can’t accept that her child is married, and she wants to be in the middle of your marriage constantly. This is the worst-case scenario, so hopefully you won't reach this point before recognizing that your MIL needs to scale it back.