Falling in love and getting married to the person you love, sounds like a dream come true, isn’t it? But there is one nightmare that can make that dream a scary one – your mother in law. Although she may not intend to do it, but mother-in-law problems can actually damage your marriage.
When I got engaged, I remember so well when a friend of mine told me that there are many ways that your mother in law can damage your marriage– even if she doesn’t want to. I remember thinking ‘Yeah, sure, but that won’t happen to us.’ Boy, was I wrong.
Mother in laws are not inherently evil and has developed a bad rep. But I know that my mother in law did play a role in the health of my marriage and I wish I had known then what I know now!
Here are 5 ways your mother-in-law can damage your marriage and some things that you can do to stop that from happening.
5 Common Mother In Law Problems That Can Ruin Your Marriage
1. She knows how she wants things.
I know that when I was growing up, my mother wanted things a certain way. Christmas eve involved a party, Christmas carols, one present, and midnight mass. We never turned the heat on until after Thanksgiving. Birthday parties were for immediate family.
No one was required to eat anything on their plate. That was just how things were. And, as a result, that is how I was when I went into my marriage. And, over the course of my ex-husband’s life, his mother did things her way and her way didn’t match mine. And that definitely caused some friction in our marriage.
My ex-husband didn’t care how we did Christmas or birthday parties or when we turned the heat on – he would go along with whatever. Unfortunately, often, his mother’s ‘whatever’ and mine were quite different. And, of course, I wanted to do things my way, my mother’s way. And my mother in law wasn’t always happy about that.
What did my ex do? He tried to keep his head down and stay out of the conflict. As a result, my mother in law and I struggled in a big way over the first few years of my marriage. Did that poison my relationship with my husband? Definitely.
As the years went on, I learned to adapt. I learned to pick and choose what I wanted to do ‘my way’ and let her have some wins on that one too. It worked to keep the peace between us but my marriage was definitely damaged by the conflict that was present in the years before we worked things out.
2. They had 18 years together.
Like it or not, your husband and his mother go WAAAAY back. At one point in his life, she was his everything, and he hers. She taught him to walk and talk and eat and swim and read and drive. She was there for all of the milestones of his life and the sun rose and set on him!
I can tell you that my favorite man in the WHOLE WORLD is my son and he most likely always will be. (sorry boyfriend). It is hard for me to fathom that someday he will be with someone who he will love intensely, who he will turn to when he is sad, happy, excited, or overwhelmed. And that thought scares the hell out of me. Because that is who I always was to him.
So, if you are wondering how your mother in law can damage your marriage, know that this is a thing. That she was there first and that her love for him is intense. And, you filling her shoes might be intensely painful for her.
If your man’s mother is causing conflict in your marriage, know that it might be based on this pain – that losing her son to another woman is something that she has to get used to. I would encourage you to just be as kind and patient with her as you can – give her some time to get used to the new reality.
If you can be kind during this period of transition, instead of being angry and offended, I think you will find that your relationship with your partner will be stronger because of it.
3. Conflicting allegiances.
Again, your man and his mother go way back. He has loved her his whole life and she has always been there for him. I am guessing that he would do anything for her. I know that my son would do anything for me.
So, imagine what it must be like for him to have another woman in his life – another woman he loves intensely and who he would do anything for. And imagine if both of those women were asking different things about him.
Men are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but managing conflict between women is not one of their strong points. Remember, women spend every minute of everyday processing emotions. For us, we are fluent in it. But men, not so much. For them, conflict is a scary, scary thing and something to be avoided at all costs!
So, when your man is presented with having to choose between the needs of the two women he loves the most in the world, imagine how paralyzed he would be.
He, most likely, doesn’t have the skills that he needs to navigate what is happening between the two of you. So, what does he do? He just doesn’t deal. And what does that do? It makes the conflict worse.
If you find that your man is really struggling between the wants and needs of the two women in his life, recognize it for what it is. Have some compassion. Help him work through the conflict in a meaningful way. You are a couple after all – that’s what couples do.
So, be honest with yourself. Are you just a little bit jealous of your guy’s mother? Are you perhaps jealous of all of their years together? Are you jealous that she knows him so well? Are you jealous that he spends an hour every Sunday night on the phone with her, even if you have to rearrange your schedules to do so?
If you are, don’t be hard on yourself. The jealousy is totally natural.
A man’s relationship with his mother can be very solid and it can be a very intimidating one to come into. And we often come into relationships with men who are close to their mothers thinking that we have to compete for time and attention.
Much like being married to a man who has a daughter, knowing that your guy has another woman who he loves like he does you can be off-putting.
But I can tell you this. Everyone, everyone, has the capacity to love fully. Just because your man has a big love for his mother or his daughter, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have enough room in his heart to love you in a big way. You don’t have to fight for a space in his heart – there is lots of room in there for all of you – even if there were others in there first.
As a result, one way that your mother-in-law can damage your marriage actually has to do with YOU, not with HER. Let me tell you how.
The last time that you and your man got into a scuffle about a conflict with his mother, did you say to him ‘if you loved me more you would put me first?” Or did you think to yourself that there is no way he could possibly really love you if he didn’t automatically choose you every time?
If the answer to either of those statements is ‘yes’ then I would argue that you are sabotaging your relationship with your man, not his mother. That you are insisting that the amount that he loves you is reflected by whether or not he chooses you over her every time. And telling yourself that, or, even worse, telling him that, will only tear your relationship apart.
Your man can love you fully and completely and still struggle with the conflict between his mother and his partner. This conflict has nothing to do with his love for you – it has to do with the conflict itself and his difficulty in navigating it!
5. You are just two women in the world.
My father once said to me ‘If we weren’t family we wouldn’t be friends.’ Lovely thing to hear from your father, no? That being said, those words gave me pause – they really made me think about the difference between friends and family. Your friends you choose, your family you are given.
So, another way your mother in law can damage your marriage is if the two of you don’t see eye to eye. If the two of you most likely wouldn’t have been friends out in the real world then getting along in this familial relationship will be even more challenging.
My stepmother and I have had conflicts for years. She has always hated my relationship with my father and has made my life miserable for 35 years (as I am sure I have done to her). What I realized as I became an adult is that we never would have been friends out in the real world.
We are so incredibly different than if our paths had crossed we would have kept moving. Just because my dad brought her into our world didn’t mean that we would get along.
So, think about this. Might it be that you and your mother in law are just plain different – that you might never be friends in the real world? If so, take that into this relationship. Just because you are now (somewhat) related that doesn’t mean that you have to be best friends.
Treat your man’s mother like you would a work colleague you didn’t really get along with. Be polite, unemotional, and non-confrontational, and know that, at the end of the day, you will go home with your partner and that she will go home to her house. She doesn’t have to be your friend – you already have plenty of those!
So, there are 5 ways your mother in law can damage your marriage, even if she doesn’t mean to. Relationships are complicated and none more so that the relationship between two women who love the same man – mother/son or father/daughter.
What I can tell you is this – you will never be able to change another woman’s behavior. You can only change your reaction to her behavior.
I would encourage you to recognize that she and her son go way back and that having you as part of their twosome is a new thing for everyone, something that will take some getting used to. Know that your man doesn’t really have the skills that he needs to mediate your relationship and that your jealousy might be playing a part in this situation.
And know that you and your man’s mother might never be friends and that’s ok. Accept that and figure out a way to live with it – people do it at work all the time.
Don’t let your mother-in-law damage your marriage. Change your reactions to her behavior, work together with your partner as to how to best manage the situation, and know that there is room in his heart for both of you! I promise!
Written By: Mitzi Bockmann
Originally Appeared On: Let Your Dreams Begin