Learn how to strengthen your marriage and love your husband by building a good relationship with your mother-in-law.
Chloe and Brett have been married two years, and they’ve been intentional from the get-go about building a great marriage. Yet one constant source of tension in their relationship has to do with Chloe’s mother-in-law.
“I feel so drained after being with your mom for the holidays,” Chloe says to her husband. “She talks incessantly, and never bothers to ask me any questions. Doesn’t she care about how my life is going? I feel like I can never get a word in.”
Over time, Chloe voices her complaints to Brett on repeat. Brett loves his mom, and while he realizes she’s more on the talker side of things than the listener, she’s not committing any crimes.
Chloe’s complaints about Brett’s mom are starting to grate on him. Every time he hears his wife griping about his mom, he starts to feel tense. How can he appease his wife while not hurting his mom? How do you ask someone you love to stop being who they are?
The communication issues between Chloe and Brett’s mom have not only created relational problems for the two of them, but have also caused emotional stress for Brett and Chloe in their marriage. Brett feels caught in the middle between two women he deeply loves and respects.
One thing few marriage books mention is the impact your relationship with your in-laws has on your spouse.
If we are a daughter-in-law, one of the best things we can do to strengthen our marriage is to build a good relationship with our mother-in-law. Or, put more succinctly, we can love our husband by loving his mom.
If we are proactive here instead of reactive, our marriage is more likely to flourish. With good communication we learn to ask questions, to listen with empathy, and then find practical ways to show our care.
On the other hand, hearing constant complaints about his mother will wear down the resolve of any husband and can easily result in anger or withdrawal. In other words, it’s not just your communication with her that matters, it’s your communication with him too.
Here’s an alarming statistic: three out of four couples have significant problems with their in-laws. If that is you, take heart that you’re not alone. This is an often difficult and tricky relationship to navigate. But we don’t need to lose hope and assume things will never get better.
When the Spirit of God is at work in your heart, change is possible. God’s Word reminds us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We can ask the Spirit of God to give us patience, kindness, and compassion for our in-law, even when interacting with her is difficult. When we commit to praying for our mother-in-law, our hearts will inevitably soften. Maybe the change will be more in your life than your in-law’s, but you can rest assured that God will not waste any family trials that you’re experiencing.
Communicate during conflict
While there are no easy, black-and-white answers, here are three simple and helpful steps to communicate well during conflict with your mother-in-law . . .
Respectfully share with your husband
Respectfully share your concerns with your husband. It’s easy to voice our complaints with a whiny and demanding spirit. We feel entitled to be treated better than we are. Yet our bad attitudes might push our biggest ally further away. After all, this is the woman who gave your husband life, cared for him for two decades, and sacrificed much of her time and resources. It can be hurtful for your husband to hear his mother berated.
Look for ways to gently share with your husband your concerns about your mother-in-law, while also affirming all the things you appreciate about her. Let your attitude be, “How can we strive for peace and unity in the family?” instead of “Let me tell you what your mother did this time!”
There may be a very real issue you need to discuss with him about her, but the posture you take and the attitude you bring to the conversation communicates just as much as your words do.
Think of it this way: If two people were having a hard conversation about your legitimate flaws — and we all have flaws — how would you want them to handle it? You wouldn’t want them to talk in a way that tears you down, but one that addresses the issue for the sake of building up or restoring something broken. You’d want them to see not just the bad, but the good too. You’d like gentleness. And the facts to be considered in context. You wouldn’t want to sound like a gossip session where the conversation relished your failure or scoffed in self-righteousness at your mistakes. You’d want the tone to be warm and respectful, with the aim of mending what went wrong. If that’s what you’d want when it comes to your own flaws and failures, extend the same courtesy to your in-law.
Let your husband speak first
Allow your husband to initiate the conversation with your mother-in-law. As close as you might be to your mother-in-law, your husband is closer. The family ties that bind can cause a parent to have a natural soft spot for their own child.
If you’re having any delicate conversations with your mother-in-law, from changing vacation plans to discussing a disagreement, it may be better received by her son. Allow your husband to lead in your marriage by initiating the hard conversations with his parents. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be involved or share your own perspective. But let the main feedback come from him.
And the reverse is true as well. If the problem in your family is with your parents, most of the time, you should be the one to talk with them about it. There are exceptions, of course, but the goal is to frame complicated conversations in a way that will be best received by all parties.
Humbly receive any feedback that is offered. Rarely does a hard conversation end without complaints and concerns expressed on both sides. How might you have contributed to the tension in the relationship? Ask God to prepare your heart for any critical feedback that you might receive.
Try to put yourself in your mother-in-law’s shoes. Why might she be responding the way she is? Is there added stress in her life — maybe she is caring for aging parents or she’s getting tired in a difficult job? Be ready to offer compassion, forgiveness, and a willingness to own up to whatever part you may have played in what’s happened. Biblical confrontation requires not only courage and conviction, but correctability.
Women serving as a mother-in-law or daughter-in-law can expect this new (or not so new!) role to bring both joy and challenge. There’s a delicate balance to achieve as women desire to fulfill their God-ordained role in serving and yet influencing, the other. Consider these ways to nurture communication:
Nurture your communication
Communicate that you are teammates
Let each other know you are cheering them on. Show your support through affirming words and actions to back them up.
Speak graciously and biblically
Come alongside your in-law with prayer and practical help. Ask God to open the way for you to study God’s Word together! Look for ways to speak of God — His Person and work — in your mind and heart.
Live with integrity
Refuse to listen to or engage in negative, belittling conversations aimed at your in-law. Be known as one who speaks gracious, affirming words that respect her role as wife or mother. Even if she has hurt your feelings or disappointed you, you can still obey what the Bible says about godly speech. Even in hard conversations when you need to address an issue directly, you can still do so in gentleness and respect.
Even if she is distant or difficult, look for ways to credit and bless her. Stay faithful. Care enough to pray for her and the entire family. Communicate your gratitude for her sacrificial service. Just as you would want done for you, be quick to notice the good she’s doing instead of the bad.
Discuss the calendar in advance
Make certain that you communicate collaboratively about family events. Discuss holiday celebrations and come to a mutual decision. Sync activities with each other’s family calendars. Stand firm to your commitments. Promote the other’s objectives as vigorously as you promote your own.
Make sure your in-law stays informed of developments affecting your life. Speak into the unique issues you face, without intercepting her role. Ensure that she doesn’t get caught off guard by being unaware. Offer insights from your viewpoint. Ask for her opinion.
Your in-law may or may not have had a good example of a loving mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. Set the example of how to love and show thanks. Words of affirmation and gratitude, showing interest in what interests her, and being an active listener in conversations can affirm your in-law’s role in your family.
Believe the best
There will be times when you feel misunderstood or maligned even by the most caring in-law. Remember the concerns and challenges she carries and choose to believe the absolute best of her character.
Our great, loving God can be trusted to care for your family, despite the frailties of both mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.
Excerpted with permission from Making Room for Her: Biblical Wisdom for a Healthier Relationship with Your Mother-In-Law or Daughter-In-Law by Barbara and Stacy Reaoch. © 2022, B&H Publishing.