Getting along with your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law means knowing when to speak up, when to stay silent, and how to maneuver within a disagreement so that you keep the relationship intact. It’s not easy to say the least. Although it is important to learn these things for all relationships, it is extremely important to figure these things out when it comes to the MIL/DIL relationship.
This relationship – like no other – needs to find that delicate balance. I have people ask me why this relationship is so different from all the other family relationships. It seems other family relationships, even other in-law relationships can weather the storm much better than the MIL/DIL relationship. And I believe that is true.
The MIL/DIL relationship is extremely fragile. One wrong look, one inconsiderate behavior, one off-putting remark can change this relationship forever. In my book Reluctantly Related I talk about five reasons why this relationship is so difficult. Here I want to talk about why it is so different from the other family relationships.
There is an undercurrent of competition between the MIL and DIL; however it is not what you think. Most women want to believe it is for the husband/son’s love. That is not it. The competition is for the influence one or the other has over him.
This is an unspoken competition. Most women feel something and try to label it with actions displayed by the other, e.g., His mother won’t let go, His wife wants to keep him from his family, etc. Saying these things is really how each woman tries to deal with the covert competition. These statements and/or reactions are the consequences of this undercurrent competition.
Think about it for a minute. Your in-law says or does something; you feel threatened in some way, but you aren’t sure why, so what do you do? You look at your in-law’s actions, find fault with it because that action is creating anxiety in you that you don’t understand. You push back to get rid of your anxiety. Your behavior, or should I say your reaction, – and hers – is all about this misunderstood threat.
So let’s say you now see this for what it is; what does that mean and how do you deal with it? Understanding this aspect of the MIL/DIL relationship is more than half the battle. Understanding this will start to shift your mind and emotions to some degree, which allows you to behavior/react differently when a situation arises.
If you know that this is about influence (or lack of influence) over your son or husband – not about his love for you, how might that impact your behavior? Here are some things for you to think about:
1. Look at the bigger picture and realize that each of you play a role in his life. A different role, mind you, but a role just the same.
2. Determine how your new role (as wife or as mother) can create a positive experience for all three of you.
a. As his mother, how can you shift your importance in his life to something that fits well for the adult he has become?
b. As his wife, how can you embrace your importance in his life without the need to discard his mother?