All Things In-Law...

Dr. Deanna Brann's Blog

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 –

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