All Things In-Law...

Dr. Deanna Brann's Blog

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.


  • 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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