How to deal with a monster-in-law

Human behaviour expert Dr John Demartini shares his strategies for coping with the tensions that arise from having to deal with a difficult mother-in-law

The cliché of the difficult mother-in-law is often read about online, in books and magazines and even portrayed in movies. There is a lot of advice on how to deal with this challenge – from fleeing or cutting them off entirely, to fighting or tackling their issues head on, advice varies and can just make matters worse – but there is one thing you can do that will change the dynamic completely.

The initial intention of the marriage ceremony is a lifelong commitment and with that comes another family, and probably, a mother-in- law. You might as well master the art of communicating and work towards building a more meaningful and adaptable relationship, since you are probably going to be interacting with your partner’s mother for the rest of her life and much of yours.

What you may forget, is that while you wish to be loved and appreciated for who you are, and not whom others expect you to be, so does your partner’s mother in-law.

READ MORE: The challenges of dating a mama’s boy

When you are challenged by your mother-in-law, it is probably because she is projecting her values, expectations and what is most important to her onto you. These are potentially unrealistic expectations, given that her values are not always going to be the same as yours.

Understandably, as a result, conflict is a natural occurrence and instead of opting for the confrontational approach, I suggest some reflective self-questioning to reduce annoyance and open communication channels.

Here are three actions to help you reduce the tension:

  1. Identify your trigger-points: The first step to alleviating some of the frustration perceptually triggered by your mother-in-law’s behaviour is to ask yourself: “What specifically is she doing that I find challenging, frustrating, irritating or dislikable?” List each specific action that pushes your buttons down the far-left hand side of the paper.
  1. Identify and own these points: The next step is going to require some self-reflection. Ask yourself: “When have I acted in the same or similar manner towards others as she has done towards me?” This means you must own the trait or action that you see in her fully within yourself. List where and when you have demonstrated this behaviour, until you can honestly acknowledge that action to the same degree. This step will not only humble you, but ease your judgement of her too. The key is to keep going with this list until you have owned it. This could take as many as 30 memorable times.

READ MORE: Real talk: The realities of marriage

  1. Neutralise them: The final question you need to ask is: “How specifically is the action she is displaying serving you, benefitting you and of an advantage to you, or helping you in any area of your life?” Spend time answering this question until you start to feel gratitude for her action. It is never just what happens to you that matters, but how you perceive and then respond to what happens to you. If you see only drawbacks to her action without benefits, you will withdraw and feel like a victim. Instead of doing so, find enough benefits to each action until you don’t react and feel balanced and become the master of your destiny. You will begin to appreciate and love her for who she is and for what she is awakening within you.

By balancing your perceptions of her and mastering the skill of not having your mother-in-law run your life, you will come to appreciate her for who she is and she can become one of the people you can love and appreciate in your life.