When Robert came home from work, he found his wife sitting in a chair crying. She was hurt by something that happened on the phone talking to her mother-in-law about holiday plans. Robert’s mother insisted they come to her house for the big dinner. “I think it would be better for everyone if I hosted the dinner.” Renee hung up the phone frustrated. No matter what she said or did, her mother-in-law managed to put her down or criticize her. “Your mother doesn’t like me, and I don’t know why?”
In my work with families, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law conflict comes up often. The bringing together of two women forced to like each other doesn’t always go well.
If you want to deal with this issue, you have to confront it.
1) Begin by telling the in-law you are trying your best and would like a relationship with her.
2) Control your emotions, be respectful, honest. Don’t get defensive, give the silent treatment or try to avoid.
3) Prepare for a number of responses. She could apologize and tell you she had no idea; she could say she will try to work on the relationship and talk about whatever the issues involved might be; she could criticize, show contempt or avoid you. So be prepared. Think ahead how you will handle her response.
4) If she does acknowledge room for change, then be specific about what will help. Stick to behavior and stay positive. Avoid blame.
5) Use humor to break tension. If you can laugh at yourself and little things that happen, tension is less likely to build. I’ve seen this over and over in families that manage to all get along. Laughter is good medicine. It boosts endorphins and keeps stress hormones at bay. Conflict triggers a stress reaction in the body and humor diffuses it. It changes the mood, minimizes emotional tension and reestablishes a positive tone.
6) Appreciate your differences. Families approach life differently based on their beliefs, values, customs, and history. The more you know about the family, the more you understand why they behave the way they do. Understanding is a first step in tolerance. When you marry, you become part of another family with its own set of values and differences. Recognize, respect and talk about differences unless they are abusive or damaging. This is usually the heart of the problem–differences in expectations.