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Take the Blinders Off to Change Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law Relationship

January 27, 2015

I know you know all too well how much the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship can impact you. It can create such a negative force that it is often difficult to see beyond the drama and despair. Everything you see, feel, and experience in this relationship is negative. The hurt and pain has grown to such a degree that this is all you feel when you just think about your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, let alone when you are physically around her. Everything she says and does seems to reinforce whatever you are already feeling and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

And then you reach a point where you know that if things are ever going to get better between you and your in-law you are going to have to do some things differently. And so you change some of your behavior in an attempt to elicit a change in your in-law. Nothing happens. You try again. Nothing happens. No matter what you do her behavior never seems to get to where you were hoping it would get – a place where you can co-exist with her in a pleasant, comfortable way.

It is so hard to notice anything positive, especially when all you’ve seen from your in-law is negative behavior. All you see is what isn’t changing.  Even when her positive actions are pointed out to you, you tend to dismiss them. You end up saying, “yes, but…,” giving reasons as to why this particular positive behavior doesn’t count.

Looking at Why

Why is it so difficult to let yourself see any positive action from your in-law? There are two aspects that come into play:

  • You have a general idea of what you want from her, but you have not thought about which specific behaviors would actually go into this action. For example, you might say, “I want her to acknowledge me.” Or, “Why can’t she treat me with respect?” Both of these statements are general concepts, but not really clear pictures of what it is you are asking of your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law.
  • Your expectation for how quickly you will get what you want is not realistic. Often times you will behave differently toward your in-law and when she doesn’t respond the way you had hope – the first or even the second time – you give up, saying, “She’s never going to change. Why do I even bother?”

As hard as it may be to move away from the cloud of negativity, doing just that is critical if you want your relationship with your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law to change. It is also not as difficult as you might think. Here are a couple of simple ways to begin moving away from negativity and toward a better relationship with your in-law.

Solutions:

  • Take your general idea of what you want from your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law and think about the specific behaviors she would have to show to demonstrate this general idea of yours.
  • Look at where your in-law is currently, where you want her to be, and then think about all the different behaviors that would show she is moving from where she is to where you want her to be.

Taking the time to think differently about what you want and how you’ll know when you get it will make all the difference in the world when it comes to feeling better about your relationship with your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law. Give it a try and see what happens!

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Holidays Without Your Family

December 24, 2014

Tomorrow is Christmas. Many of you will be with your families some time during this holiday season. Some of you will not have that opportunity. You and your in-law may have a “challenging” relationship, which sets the stage for either an extremely unpleasant time together, or in some cases, no time together at all. Believe me I know how painful it can be.

We all have our ideas of what the holiday time should look like. We either pull from our own memories from when we were children, or from what we did when our children were small. This is what we want to recreate either with our own children or with our grandchildren. It is only natural. Unfortunately, it is really hard to compete with memories. They are often locked in a special place, wrapped in the glow of years gone by, and sprinkled with the magic of time passing. (more…)

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Do Mothers-in-Law really need to apologize?

October 21, 2014

Are you at your wits end? You’ve apologized over and over to your daughter-in-law, but it doesn’t seem to matter. She’s still upset with you. You did what she wanted – you apologized, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. It’s never enough!

Often times when we apologize it isn’t enough – and rightly so. One of the things I hear, more times than not is, “I told her I was sorry over and over, but she’s still mad at me. She just won’t let it go.” Or when I ask a mother-in-law what it was she was apologizing for, she says to me, “I have no idea. I just know I upset her, and I wanted to fix it.”

Many times when you apology it is really an attempt to make the discomfort of the situation go away. You have no idea why you are apologizing, but things are awkward and uncomfortable. You are not sure how to deal with your daughter-in-law’s upset or angry feelings, let alone how to deal with the tension in the air, and so apologizing seems like the natural things to do.

However, when you do this – apologize to make the discomfort go away – you are so focused on getting away from the uncomfortable/awkward feelings that you don’t always know or understand why you are apologizing. You just want to move on. However, when you do this and don’t really understand what behaviors you did and why your actions upset your daughter-in-law you are likely to do these same behaviors in the future without realizing it. Also, when you apologize just for the sake of apologizing without really understanding why, it will feel to your daughter-in-law as disingenuous. These, then, create a history of distrust between you and daughter-in-law.

To Apologize or Not to Apologize – That is the Question

There are times when an apology is very appropriate and enough to dissipate your daughter-in-law’s hurt feelings. For example, if the relationship between you and daughter-in-law is solid, then of course an apology is often enough. Because of the nature of your relationship your daughter-in-law knows and can trust that those behaviors will not happen again. And the reason for this is that what she is upset about is easy for you to track to something you said or did. It’s clear to both of you that your actions were not to intentionally hurt her, but that something you said or did hurt or upset her momentarily.

However, when the relationship between the two of you is more tentative, I would say rarely is an apology enough. What the daughter-in-law really wants is to feel heard and to know that you really understand her emotional hurt or pain. In other words, it is less about the apology and more about wanting to feel heard.

For example – If a daughter-in-law has been refraining from saying anything to her mother-in-law about hurtful or upsetting behavior that, to her, keeps occurring over and over and then finally says something, an apology would not be enough. Or, if the daughter-in-law feels slighted or hurt by something her mother-in-law said or did and the relationship is tentative at best, an apology would not be enough. The daughter-in-law is not going to trust or believe that the behavior won’t happen again. At this point it is more about wanting to feel heard and less about an apology. The daughter-in-law wants to know that her mother-in-law “gets” it – “gets” why her actions are hurting the daughter-in-law.

You may be saying to yourself, But I didn’t do or say what it is she said I did or said. How can I get her to see that? At this point it is not about getting her to see things from your perspective. What is important right now – if your goal is to make things better and not worse between you and your daughter-in-law – is to look at things from her perspective. Keep in mind that just because you are willing to look at it from her perspective does not mean you have to agree with how she sees it. It means you want to understand how she sees the situation.

The key is to be able to listen to what your daughter-in-law has to say without getting defensive or without trying to convince her she is seeing your actions incorrectly. Doing either of these things will only make the situation worse. Your daughter-in-law will only feel you are not taking her issues and concerns seriously. Again, your apology, defensiveness, or explanation will feel disingenuous and the barrier between you and your daughter-in-law will get bigger.

If you would like help with the struggle you are having with your daughter-in-law, please email me – DrDeannaBrann@DrDeannaBrann.com

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