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Mother in Law Problems

QUESTION: I’m having Mother in Law problems. What can I do?


Having mother-in-law problems is nothing to laugh at. When television portrays an overbearing, over-indulgent, or overpowering spouse’s mother, we laugh while empathizing with their frustration. In reality, a single visit or phone call from our mother-in-law frequently injects us with a serious dosage of tension and aggravation that lasts for weeks, months . . . or longer.
  • “I was just trying to help.”
  • “In my day we never . . .”
  • “Are you sure that you can afford to . . .?”
  • “I don’t know what I’ve done to make you dislike/hate me!”
  • “I only say/do these things out of love and deep concern.”
  • “I never meant to upset you!”
  • “My grandchildren don’t even know who I am.”
The solution to one’s mother-in-law problems seems obvious, although not the sensible solution. You could live as far away from her as possible, restrict her visits and exposure to your children, and make sure your spouse knows his/her mother is the sole culprit in the bothersome relationship. In other words, you could establish that you’re usually right and your mother-in-law is frequently wrong! Surely these are not the most sensible solutions!

Having realistic expectations is vital when addressing mother-in-law problems. We all want to keep our sanity, while not allowing a tense situation to escalate. Is there a sensible solution for all concerned?

Three Steps to Sanity:

  • Become One – (Matthew 19:5–6) Marriage unites two unique individuals into a single body, mind, and spirit. Tension arises when either spouse includes a relative or non-professional into their personal decision-making process (finances, family planning). Even the best intentions do not justify a mother-in-law’s involvement in the marriage union. The husband-wife relationship is one of honor and respect for one’s spouse -- intimate and separate from outside influence.

  • Set Priorities – (Ephesians 5:22, 28, 33) Loyalty and devotion to your spouse’s well-being is crucial. Loyalty, however, doesn’t justify taking sides against the mother-in-law. Are you fueling animosity towards your spouse’s mother (Proverbs 10:12; Proverbs 26:20–21)? Does your spouse have to defend your fiery attacks on his/her mother? If your mother-in-law is a constant irritant, address the issue constructively (Colossians 3:12–14). In choosing to protect your marriage, you will give priority to cultivating harmony instead of hostility towards your spouse and both mothers-in-law. Through your “oneness,” a couple can establish the priorities and attitudes that foster a loving atmosphere in your home.

  • Exchange Respect – Your mother-in-law is the mother of your beloved. Her personality, physical characteristics, and care-giving shaped your beloved life-mate. As a mother-in-law, I must realize that I contribute to that relationship (good, bad, or ugly) with that unique individual, our child’s chosen partner for life. Even with diverse backgrounds and traditions, it is possible to exchange mutual respect (Ruth 1:15–17). Naomi and Ruth’s common love for a son/husband was the basis of their commitment to a tender relationship which God richly blessed (Ruth 4:15–16).

Your response may be “I am constantly having mother-in-law problems! You don’t know my circumstances!” For over 30 years, my family watched me criticize my mother-in-law, a woman who experienced multiple cancers and widowhood from Alzheimer’s. Like a cancer, self-righteousness blinded me. I doubted that my mother-/daughter-in-law’s relationship could ever change. I had forgotten the healing power of faith and forgiveness (Mark 11:22–25).

God heals damaged family relationships. But we have to relinquish our rights: to get even, to find fault, and to be angry. Only then can He accomplish the impossible through us (1 Peter 3:8–12).

Family Conflicts - Learn More!

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