Tag Archives: In-laws

Ways to Improve Your Mother- and Daughter-in-Law Relationship

If I had to pick the most popular subject people call my show about, it would be mother- and daughter-in-law relationships.  Here’s why:
Mother-in-law’s perspective

The mother-in-law has been the number one woman in her son’s life for the past two or three decades. She gave birth to him, raised him, loved him, kissed him, hugged him, nurtured him, and disciplined him. Then suddenly, a younger, less mature woman comes into the picture, takes over, and (typically) behaves as if there can only be one woman in his life.

In addition, the mother-in-law no longer has a clear idea of her role in her son’s life. For the daughter-in-law, it’s simple – she’s his wife. But for the mother-in-law, it’s not so cut and dry.  The daughter-in-law doesn’t understand this because with her mother, it’s almost as if nothing has changed. The daughter-in-law’s mother isn’t expected to do guy stuff with her son-in-law. All she has to do is be nice when he shows up, hand him a beer, turn on the game, and he’s good to go.

Daughter-in-law’s perspective

The daughter-in-law is the newcomer. She doesn’t like getting advice and opinions from a more experienced and mature woman because it tugs at her insecurities as a wife and mother. Insecurity leads to defensiveness, defensiveness leads to snottiness, and snottiness results in harsh words and hurt feelings.

The solution

The mother/daughter-in-law relationship requires an intense amount of compassion, sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and gratitude on both sides, even when you want to strangle each other.

Mothers-in-law need to realize that it is not a competition. You also must give your son and his wife space. Don’t show up unannounced, and ask if certain things are OK beforehand.

Daughters-in-law need to make their mothers-in-law feel as at home as they make their own mothers feel. Just because a man gains a wife, doesn’t mean he has to lose a mom. Don’t treat your mother-in-law as a problem, and don’t feel annoyed or put down if she offers help or advice.  Giving advice isn’t mean or insulting. We all have something to learn, and besides, without your mother-in-law, you wouldn’t have your husband. Remember: The reason he’s so good to you has a lot to do with the woman who raised him. 

Putting Your Spouse Before Your Parents

 

Many married couples have trouble with the question of who comes first, your spouse or your parents? The answer is your spouse – that’s your first obligation.  When you get married, you leave your parents.  It doesn’t mean you don’t talk to them anymore (unless they’re horrible), but you have to cater to the new dynamic.  You’re going to have a much stronger marriage if you become a loyal husband or wife.

Here are some of the things I hear all the time from callers on my show:

  • “I just don’t have the courage to say ‘no’ to my parents.” 
  • “I don’t have a problem saying ‘no’ to my spouse, but I can’t say ‘no’ to my parents.”
  • “My parent did nothing wrong, my spouse is overreacting.”

I want to discuss how to put your spouse before your parents, and particularly, how to stop your parents from ruining your relationship. But first, let me ask you a fewquestions:

  • Does your husband or wife get upset when your parents drop by uninvited?
  • Is your spouse bothered by the fact that your mother calls constantly at all hours, day and night? 
  • Do you pressure your husband or wife to spend vacations with your parents because your parents want you to?
  • Do you listen to your Mommy or Daddy gossip about your mate? 
  • Guys, do you accuse your wife of overeating when she complains about something your parents said?
  • Ladies, do you consistently turn to your father for advice instead of your husband?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’re caught in a classic parent-spouse tug-of-war: “I want to please my parents. No wait, my spouse. No, my parents. No, my spouse…”

But don’t panic quite yet – I have some good news. Ready?

YOU DON’T HAVE TO TRY TO PLEASE EVERYONE!

The choice between your spouse and parents was already made when you took your vows. Your vows trump everything, even your neurotic attachment to your parents or your wussyhood in dealing with their over-controlling nature.  You have to focus on making your spouse your first priority, no matter how much it pisses off your mom or dad.

Here are 9 of the most common things your parents might be doing to interfere with your marriage and how you can deal with them:

1. They’re too intrusive.  They always have to know everything about what’s going on. They show up uninvited and/or overstay their welcome. 

How to deal: Set some rules and set them fast.  Talk to your parents about visits and say that they have to call first because “we might be in the middle of sex in the living room and we don’t want to be interrupted” (when you say things like that, parents hear you loud and clear). Tell them that you love them, but if they don’t call in advance, the door will not open unless it’s an emergency or somebody just died. Saying this might hurt their feelings, but it’s required.

2. They assume that since you came from them, you’re going to do exactly what they did.  Houses, finances, kids, clothes, vacations – whatever it is, your parents expect you to do things exactly the way they did.

How to deal: A marriage brings together two people with two sets of genes, behaviors, family dynamics, and ways of doing things. Tell your parents that you appreciate their input and viewpoints, but you’ve made your own decision. Say you expect that someday your kids are going to tick you off too when they make their own decisions (a good joke thrown in is always helpful).

3. Your parents try to do everything for youThey shower you with a car or a vacation (of course, the car is the one they picked out and the vacation is with them.)

How to deal:  If you don’t have a lot of money, it seems like fun to have your parents pay for you, but there are always strings attached.  You become dependent on them, which means that you and your spouse are not two adults joined together as one.  Tell your parents no gifts over $100.  It may take you longer to save for your house or you may be staying at home for your vacation instead of going to Hawaii, but you’ll have more pride in yourself and your spouse. 

4. They bad-mouth your spouse.

How to deal: Explain to your parents that you don’t want to hear it and that you won’t be talking to them if they don’t stop. You married your spouse, not them, and if you’re happy, then that’s what matters.

5. They criticize your lifestyle.  From how far away you live to how you spend your money, it’s constant condemnation.  

How to deal: Stand by your choices and your spouse. You must live your life your way. NEVER side with your parents against your spouse, and don’t carry their criticisms home with you.  Don’t tell your spouse it went down, just deal with it.

6. They make a mountain out of a molehillMaybe you picked your sister-in-law’s wedding over the annual family reunion and now your parents are mad.

How to deal: Gently remind them that you have two families now and that there is going to be triage (in this case, the one-time wedding takes precedence over the annual reunion).

7. They set a bad example.  Your mother has been divorced four times, or your dad is cheap beyond repair.

How to deal: You can’t fix your parents or the past, so don’t bother trying. Instead, put your energy into not picking up their bad habits.

8. They don’t want to share. You have to be there for every birthday and holiday because that’s the tradition.

How to deal: Parents usually expect all holidays and family celebrations to remain the same even after you get married.  However, you need to tell them that you have a new family, which means new traditions.

9. They ignore the rules you have for your kids.  They load your kids up with gummy bears or worms, and let them stay up until 2 in the morning when you’ve said “no” (and when they never let YOU do it when you were a kid).

How to deal: Don’t fight, just lay down the law.  Limit your parents to short periods of time if they don’t follow the rules, or make sure you’re there.  Minimize the time that they can do damage.

Now, what happens if it’s your spouse’s parents who are rubbing you the wrong way?

How to deal: Talk to your spouse.  Say, “I don’t know why I have such a bone to pick with your parents, but I can’t stand it when your mother or father does ______.”  Usually, your spouse will respond, “I know, I grew up with that.”  By having an honest conversation instead of attacking them, you can become a team in learning to deal with it.

How to Be a Good Son-in-Law

Why is being a good son-in-law such a big deal?   Well, statistically speaking, we see a significant drop in the divorce rate when men get along with their wives’ parents, especially their fathers.   But even more importantly, it affects kids.  Grandparents are very important to a child’s sense of well-being because they can add depth and security to the loving relationships in his or her life.  The better your relationship is with your in-laws, the easier it is for your child to grow close with them and have more positive role models. 
 
For these reasons, I recommend that people think seriously about potential in-law problems before they consider marriage.  If you’re walking into a situation where your future in-laws hate you, you may want to rethink whether or not this match is right for you. 

Losing family connections is bad for everyone involved, as I learned all too well from my own parents.  My mother was a war bride from Italy, and my father was a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn.  My dad’s mom did not like the fact that he had married outside the faith, even though the only thing Jewish about his family was that they were culturally Jewish and celebrated Passover and Yom Kippur.  My mother also didn’t speak English very well, which made my mean grandmother all the more vicious.  She used to call up my mom almost daily saying how she wished my mother and me were dead.  It was a source of great strife in my family.

The less familial the connection is with your in-laws, the less happy, secure, and supported your marriage is going to be. Period.  That’s why I advise couples to do at least six months of premarital counseling so they can cover these kinds of issues before they get married.     
   
So, assuming your in-laws are reasonable people, here’s a list of things for all you men out there on establishing a good relationship with your wife’s parents:

  • Respect their daughter and take good care of her.  I am not the mother of a daughter, but if I was, I’d be in the face of her future husband saying, “You’d better take care of my baby.  Treat her with respect, love, and protection.  The most important thing to me is that you don’t hurt her and that you make her happy.”
  • Be there when their daughter needs you.  I’ve heard too many stories about men who were too busy doing one dumb thing or another and missed the birth of their child.  If you’re not at the hospital with your wife when your baby is born, you’ll be missing out on a lot of great parent-child bonding.
  • Act and look like a respectable man. If you want to have a meaningful relationship with her parents, act like a real man.  Don’t look or behave like an idiot. 
  • Reach out to your father-in-law.  The relationship between a father and a daughter is special. It will mean a lot to your wife and your mother-in-law if you can build a relationship with your father-in-law.  Find things that you have in common with him and go from there. Invite him to a ball game, go with him to a local event, or simply take him to lunch. Just spend some “guy time” together.  And if you aren’t married yet, be sure to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage before you pop the question. This is a show of respect that he will appreciate.
  • Attend family gatherings and engage. Don’t be frivolous about not attending family gatherings.  Unless it’s unavoidable, never let your wife and kids go to a holiday gathering at her parents’ house alone – you are missing a fantastic opportunity to build upon your relationship with your in-laws and the extended family through conversation and a shared experience.
  • Build good relationships with their other children. Try to connect with your wife’s siblings and their
  • Consult with your wife on how to handle sticky situations.  If it seems like there’s a growing issue, consult with your wife.  She knows her parents better than you do.  If you think a situation is a little sensitive, ask her for advice on how to respond.

Above all, treat their daughter like a queen and not like one of Henry VIII’s wives you’re going to behead.  Simply put: be nice.  It doesn’t kill you to be nice, does it?

Getting Along with Your In-Laws

Generally speaking, the divorce rate is lower for people who have good relationships with their in-laws.  However, the sad reality is that the majority of husbands and wives do not. 

For the most part, it’s the daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law who take issue with one another.  According to a study conducted by Terri Apter, a psychologist at Cambridge University, 60 percent of daughters-in-law report having a stressful relationship with their mother-in-law, but only 15 percent of sons-in-law do.  The primary reason: mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law feel a need to compete.

Let’s break it down.  A mother gives birth to her son and puts all her energy into raising and caring for him.  Then, this other woman comes along and takes him away after only knowing him for maybe two or three years.  This is what sets the stage for the competition between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.

My first rule for all you daughters-in-law out there is to stop being so prickly and try to look at things from your mother-in-law’s point of view.  I recently had a caller on my program who felt insulted because her live-in mother-in-law was constantly cleaning her house for her.  From the mother-in-law’s perspective, she was simply trying to have a purpose – instead of sitting around watching TV all day, she wanted to do something.  However, the caller interpreted her cleaning as a hint that she couldn’t take care of her own house.  I advised the caller not to confront her mother-in-law, which would only make her upset.  I told her instead to think about things from her mother-in-law’s perspective: How was she feeling?  What did she need?  

Another piece of advice: Don’t sweat the small stuff.  People say and do things all the time that they may not intend to be hurtful.  Be able to stand back and ask, “Does this person really want to hurt or harm me in some way, or are they just being a little assertive, overbearing, or excited?” 

Next, always try to avoid the criticism or insultListening will win you more points than arguing. 

In addition, remember that everyone likes to feel appreciated.  Find ways to show your in-laws respect.  Take your mother-in-law out to lunch for her birthday, or remember to send a card and/or flowers on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. 

Finally, don’t always think of your in-laws as “the in-laws.”  They can certainly be your friends and mentors.  Try to get involved with something they enjoy, like gardening or golf.  At the very least, sharing a common interest with them will give you something to talk about during family dinners and holidays.

Now, there is a caveat to all of this.  Some people simply have mean and nasty parents.  If that’s the case, you can expect that no matter how hard you try, they will create stress for you and your spouse.  Don’t let them.  Husbands and wives need to watch each other’s backs.   Mark my words, if you side with your parents against your spouse, it’ll be “The End.”  If her mother is being a pain, then she should talk to her.  If his mother is being a pain, then he should talk to her.  Don’t allow them to tear your marriage apart.