Dealing With a Meddling Mother-in-Law
Even moving out of state hasnít deterred this readerís mother-in-law from intruding on her marriage. Jenna offers 4 tips to help them out.
"What can I do about a mother-in-law who calls my husband everyday (we live in another state) and is always trying to meddle in our business? My husband is very vague about our life and has told her repeatedly to let us live our own lives. She is 80 years old and we are in our mid-40s. My husband and I moved out of the state she lives in because of this problem three years ago, but she continues to call everyday. When she cannot get any info from my husband, she tries to get info from other relatives about us. Help! She is out of control, and we are tired of it."
Many couples struggle with in-laws who think they are entitled to know every detail of their childrenís lives. These parents feel that healthy boundaries donít apply to them because they are "family." It can be very aggravating to deal with a mother-in-law who meddles into your private life or a father-in-law who offers unwanted advice in a condescending manner.
Here are some tips for dealing with meddling in-laws:
1. Unite as a couple. Rather than focusing on how awful your in-laws are, concentrate on making sure you donít allow their behavior to drive you and your spouse apart. You can have a great marriage even if your in-laws arenít so great. Work together as a team to find solutions instead of making the problem worse by fighting with one other. (In the scenario above, you are handling the problem very well. You both agree that itís best to live in a different state than your mother-in-law. You realize she is not entitled to know every detail of their lives, and your husband has the courage to tell her that.)
2. Do what is in your power to limit how your in-lawsí behavior affects you. You canít prevent your mother-in-law from calling every day, nor can you forbid your husband from answering her calls. However, you can screen her calls and you can gently encourage your husband to do the same. Neither of you are obligated to return her calls immediately. Visualize a future you want with regard to the frequency and type of communication (i.e., phone, letter, e-mail, text), and then work as a couple to reach that goal. For example, if you want to talk to her once a week on the phone, then screen her calls (via answering machine or Caller ID) and wait a week to return her call no matter how many times she calls before then. At first she will be very upset, but eventually she will likely accept your new behavior as normal.
3. Learn to let your in-laws be upset. When you change your behavior and draw boundaries, they may react negatively. They may test your boundariesósimilar to the way a toddler throws a tantrumóto see if you will cave in or not. Itís very important not to back down when parents challenge your (reasonable) boundaries even if they cry, make threats, gossip about you, or say you are a horrible son or daughter-in-law. Donít sink to their level: be confident, respectful, dignified and tactful.
4. Make an effort to put an end to gossip. You canít force your mother-in-law to stop gossiping about you, but you can confront her about it in a tactful manner. If she realizes that you know she is gossiping about you, that in itself may be enough motivation for her to stop. You can also confront those who are listening to her gossip about you. Without badmouthing your mother-in-law, encourage your relatives to change the subject when she starts pressuring them for information about your lives.
We can minimize the way our in-lawsí behavior affects us by uniting as a couple and respectfully enforcing our boundaries.
Jenna D. Barry is the author of "A Wifeís Guide to In-laws: How to Gain Your Husbandís Loyalty Without Killing His Parents." Find more at www.WifeGuide.org.