Your spouse’s family is an inseparable part of who he or she is. All the reasons why you love him/her today and have chosen the person as your life partner is partly because he/she was brought up as such by his/her parents, and especially his/her mother. And yet the same person is also capable of creating problems for you both so that you may even find it impossible to continue with the marriage. Here are a few things you can do if your mother-in-law is ruining your marriage.
When the source of the main problem in your marriage is a third party – in this case, your mother-in-law - it is easy to become confrontational and transfer the entire burden of blame on to her. However before you go all out charging her with ruining your marriage, take a moment and think calmly. It goes without saying that your spouse will never be completely free of the influence of his/her mother. She is the one who has given birth to him/her, brought them up, catered to his/her every need and comfort for almost two decades of life. It is not easy to cut away such bonds of love and support just because you have entered your partner’s life. Under such circumstance, it is no use taking an either-me-or-her approach since for your spouse there is simply no justification for such a choice – you are each important to him/her in your own way and your partner simply sees no necessity of choosing between you and his/her mother.
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Consider things from her point of view
If your mother in law’s interference has been, as yet, limited to minor irritations like dropping in unexpectedly at your house or insisting on having your kids over to her place, bring your own maturity into play by trying to consider things from her perspective. Like you, she too wants to feel loved, valued, prioritized, understood and appreciated and the person from whom she knows she can get all this is her child, but also your husband/wife. Even more often, the mother-in-law has a hard time letting go once her "baby" gets married. This is true in some cultures more than others where the bride is expected to conform to the ways of her husband’s family and defer to her in-laws. While your partner may no longer follow such customs, it is possible his mother has not been able to move with changing times. If this is your situation too, the most effective weapon in your arsenal is patience – continue to show her respect even as you take decisions according to what is best for your own family. Avoid getting into confrontations but quietly maintain your own individuality and eventually she will get the message that though you are respectful and mindful of your elders – as should be in her culture – your marriage is also important to you, as should be everywhere.
However no sort of manipulation and especially interference can be good for a marriage, no matter who it comes from. If your partner fails to see that his/her mother has been taking things from bad to worse, there are still a few options you can consider. Firstly you need to get out of the victim mode by constantly complaining and gossiping about your mother in-law to your partner. Instead see what you can do and what is in your power to improve your situation. Be assertive and draw boundaries showing how far you will tolerate her interference and no more. For instance if your mother-in- law comes over yet again without any intimation, calmly go about your regular routine even if entailed going out for an appointment. Then again if she makes snide remarks about your culinary skills at a family get-together, use humor to deflect the barb or gush about her cooking till there is no point in taking things further. In other more complex situations, refuse to be manipulated by show of tears and tantrums on your partner’s or his/her mother’s part; be respectful but put the needs and priorities of your marriage and kids before all else.
Disengage as much as possible
However over time plotting and planning to beat a mother-in-law at her own game can get exhausting. You may find yourself perpetually on the defensive or watching out for verbal attacks and manipulative actions from her which need to be countered. The truth is, she's probably feeding off this process every bit as much as you think she is. When she can get you frustrated, or mad at your husband, or on edge, then she's very happy because she's done what she set out to do. In a sense, she's won – at least temporarily. Also when you're upset and angry, your partner sees you in a negative light – which is exactly what your mother in law has been angling at. Thus eventually it makes more sense to disengage from your mother in law as much as possible. If you can, move to a different city since in some cases putting geographical distance between a toxic in-law and your marriage can help. If this is not practical, then keep reminding yourself that you win when you and your partner are happy and you don't let her invade. Keep calm, smiling appearance when she is around and be obvious in your love and support for your partner. She will eventually come to learn that all her insults and interferences are a waste of her time and will only make her look bad to her own son or daughter.
Finally look for ways to build up your own self-esteem so that you do not have to look for validation from your partner’s mother. Get a job or work hard for a promotion especially if you find that your partner is lavishing financial resources which rightly belong to your family on his/her mother. If things don’t seem to improve at all and you are on the verge of breaking up with your spouse, seek the help of a marriage counselor who with an objective view will be better able to sort out the tangle of expectations, responsibilities and rights that have ruined your marriage.