My mother in law is typically very nice, but because of some things she’s said I dislike her. It started when my husband and I got married and she stopped talking to me for about a month. A couple of months later during the family time one day, she said my husband shouldn’t have chosen me. When I told her I have a lot of positive traits and he and I have good things in common, she said she’s horrified anyone would think she said anything otherwise, instead of apologizing.
A few times she’s said to me that she doesn’t want me keeping my husband from her, which makes me feel blamed because I never tell him he can’t go see her. He just kinda avoids her on his own because she pressures him to do stuff or guilt trips him when he has his other plans than what she wanted. She pressures and guilts me too, but not to the degree she does with him. Nobody tells her to back off because she cries easily when confronted and it makes us feel awkward.
Other than those issues, she’s very nice to me and everyone else. She reaches out frequently, remembers my birthday, is supportive in my goals. She generally tries hard to be kind to me and talk to me a lot. The problem is that I still dislike her even after all her effort. When she reaches out I feel annoyed and wish she would just leave me alone. Conversations between us feel so forced and I don’t enjoy talking to her the way I enjoy talking to my girlfriends or my own mom or stepmom. I want to set boundaries with her but my boundaries would avoid contact at all costs, which isn’t fair to her or my husband. I want to fix the situation because we’re planning to have kids and I just want the family situation to be peaceful once kids are involved.
In general, these types of conflicts are best handled by moving toward them, not away from them. Trying to avoid her, even though she is difficult, is likely to make her even more needy and demanding.
Spend some time one-on-one with her. Go for coffee, or lunch, or shopping. Find ways to ask for her opinion of something that she is good at and let her feel helpful. Let her see the parts of you that are willing and able to make the extension toward her.
You may also want to talk with your husband and invite him to make preemptive connections with her. Him sending a text or emoji will allow her to feel his connection more readily and this, I believe, will help your effort as well.
The goal is to develop a relationship with her that gives you more opportunities with her and her behavior than you have now. Right now avoidance is the only strategy. My encouragement is to move closer to her so you can have greater ease and flexibility in the future when your children come along.
Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: http://www.dare2behappy.com/. He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.
APA Reference Tomasulo, D. (2019). Sensitive In-Law Situation. Psych Central.
Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2019/11/07/sensitive-in-law-situation/
Last updated: 5 Nov 2019 (Originally: 7 Nov 2019) Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 5 Nov 2019 Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.