I discovered my mother-in-law was actually a monster-in-law at my first dinner with the family. She placed a beautiful plate of food in front of me and said: “Don’t think I did this for you. I want my son to eat well.” What followed were constant insults, rejections and once even a threat (she said she wanted to kill me when she thought I had not treated her son properly). I was 20 when I started dating the man who is now my husband and father of my children. Back then I was unsure of myself and overly polite and I continued to be meek and fearful of her for the next five years.
“Your food is so salty. I never need to add salt to mine.” “What are you wearing? You look like a dog.” “That hair colour makes you look like a tart.” “Do you have so many clothes because you like to tart yourself up?” are just a few of the remarks I would have to endure. Comments made to her son in front of me included: “You’re not shaving enough. Send her out to buy your razors.” “You don’t need life insurance because if you die she’s not your problem. The state will take care of her and the children.”
My monster may be a little different from yours. Yours may be passive aggressive while mine is aggressive aggressive. You may have to witness yours belittling her child, whereas I watch mine standing guard from underneath his pedestal, sharpening her claws. Either way, for many people the mother-in-law relationship is hard and you’re not alone if you are having troubles coping.
When you find yourself at the crux of a highly stressful situation, eventually something’s got to give and this happened for me in the lead up to our wedding. Perhaps it was a mini meltdown (or, let’s be honest, a full blown breakdown) but my mother-in-law was taking over my day and I didn’t know how to stop it. I would sob at my parents’ kitchen table, wail to my friends and wake up at three in the morning unable to breathe. Until my sister said: “That woman is going to outlive us all and you’re going to die of an ulcer.” It was harsh but true. I needed to take action immediately. I needed help.
So off I went to a counsellor. I was going to learn how to stand up to my monster, things were going to change and I would take charge of my life. No more hiding. No more panic attacks. Sitting in the waiting room thoughts flowed through my head. What would my counsellor do? Hypnotise me? Role-play? Tell me that actually I wasn’t good enough for my partner? Fifteen minutes in and my counsellor said something that completely surprised me. “I want to meet with your fiancé … without you.” And, what followed was equally as surprising. My partner agreed to go and during the session he had a brain snap. He acknowledged that his mother had been controlling us, her behaviour towards me was unacceptable and he was going to be the one to deal with it. To hear him understand me and acknowledge what I had been through was the greatest thing I could have heard. To know that he was going to take care of the whole bloody mess was one of the most relieving experiences I’ve had in my life. It also made him feel stronger and more in charge and our relationship thrived. There was a light at the end of my monster’s dwelling and I was going to escape into it while my partner led the way.
Here’s what we learned:
1) Only see your mother-in-law with your partner
When invited to family events do you suddenly come down with a cold? Or have an urgent dilemma to attend to, or a work function you can’t get out of? If so you must stop with the lame excuses and face your monster. If you mother-in-law is always dropping in on your partner at work for some one-on-one quality time this also must stop. Why? Because the two of you must appear united. She has to understand that her child is the other half of a team now and she can’t wedge herself in the middle. If there comes the time where she is supportive of your relationship then things like one-on-one lunches are A-OKAY, but in the meantime you two are your own private army.
2) Change your language and conversation
This follows on from point one. Your language must also reflect that you are now a team and you can do this by changing your pronouns. Instead of: “I want to live here,” or “I want my child to attend this school,” say: “We decided it would be best if we move to…” and “We are discussing school options for our child.” If she is rude to you, your partner must pull her up on it straightway with replies such as: “Please don’t talk to her like that. It upsets me,” or “Mum, you’re being rude/unfair.” If she is trying to bully you into something such as: “You must get health insurance/a new car/take holidays with us,” reply with: “Thanks for the suggestion. We’ll think about it.” Then don’t give it another thought.
3) Don’t react
Both of you must stay calm, cool and collected. Don’t give in to tantrums, mind games, silent treatments or bitchy remarks. This might sound silly but try visualising a coat of armour around you. Also, make sure to mentally prepare before you see your mother-in-law by reminding yourself that she can’t hurt you or harm your relationship in any way. Your partner chose you and loves you for who you are. What she says doesn’t matter, but if you react by getting angry or tearful she’ll be able to use that against you and act as though you are over-sensitive or hysterical. At the end of the day you’ll feel better if you have controlled your emotions.
4) Learn to laugh at her
It sounds childish but do this in your head or behind her back. Make the things that used to upset or anger you now amuse you. I’m sure if you think about it enough your monster is a bit ridiculous. Whether it’s her nutty viewpoints, or the extreme way she reacts don’t allow her to bring you down. You and your partner deserve better.
This post was written by a Mamamia reader who does not wish to be named.
How do you deal with your in-laws?