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Mother-In-Law: The Ultimate Frenemy

May 21, 2012

Ah, the much-maligned mother-in-law. For so many, the ultimate “frenemy” – that one guaranteed person whom can either be an enemy disguised as a friend or someone who’s both a friend and a rival. And, dealing with anyone whom you consider to be a frenemy can be tough, to say the least.

For those of you who have a MIL, perhaps the following truths might help in understanding her:

1.   You both have something very obvious in common: you love the same person. And while in other instances, this might create a huge problem – for someone living through the process of forging family and lifetime bonds, you must keep this in mind as this is the beginning of that process which includes finding common ground.

2.  Another obvious fact is that she was the very first person to love your spouse and has loved them longer.  There’s no getting around that fact and with it the reality that deep down she, on some subconscious level, feels that she “trumps.” And, if for some unfortunate reason your marriage doesn’t go the distance – either through premature death or divorce – in all likelihood, she’ll be the person to whom your spouse will turn to for love, comfort and sympathy.  It’s what good mothers do for their child – no matter how old they are. It’s that special mother-child bond that lasts until one of them dies. In all probablity, you won’t “get” this until you are a parent yourself.

So, these 2 truths then beg the questions: “O.K., I understand where she’s coming from, but how do I get along with her? How do I broker a satisfying peace with her?” Well, unless you do indeed have the very rare MIL-from-Hell (which you should have had some clue about while dating your beloved), the solutions are quite simple:

1.  NEVER put your spouse in the middle of a disagreement with your MIL.  I’m going to put this next statement in all caps on purpose because it is very important: MEN ABSOLUTELY HATE BEING PUT IN THE MIDDLE BETWEEN THEIR WIFE AND THEIR MOTHER. Women aren’t too crazy about it either. Neither men nor women are fond of being given an ultimatum of choosing between their spouse or a parent – so don’t be the one to do so. “But, but..,” you say. Sorry, but no. You probably saw warning signs regarding your future MIL when you were dating but chose to ignore them or were too innocent to consider what those warning signs might mean in the future because you were so much in love. You also erroneously thought that you’d be the one calling all of the shots. Well….I’m sorry, but things don’t always work out the way we fantasize. So you’re going to have to deal with/overcome – or in dire cases, ditch – the reality

2.  ALWAYS treat your MIL with respect.  NEVER say anything that could be misconstrued as critical, mean, sarcastic, bitchy, etc.  to your MIL and especially about her to your spouse. If your spouse, however, is frustrated about their mother’s behaviors and vents to you – simply listen and say “I understand how you must feel.”  Then shut up. “WHAT? You mean I can’t tell my spouse about all of the mean/hurtful/rude things his/her mother has said/done???” Nope – not unless specifically asked. You also can let your spouse know – again, if asked – that it makes you sad  because you just want to have a good relationship. Then shut up. The reason behind this reasoning is this: when you criticize your MIL you are also criticizing your spouse – at least this is how it is perceived subconsciously – as your spouse is the product of his/her parents. Criticize your spouse’s mother and you are indirectly criticizing your spouse which means they will get defensive.  Sound familiar? 

I must disclose that I am a very rare – and very fortunate – person as I don’t have a mother-in-law that I consider to be a “frenemy.”  But, our relationship could have been very different had I not practice what I preach and made the conscious decision to be her friend, finding things to like and love about her if for no other reason than she raised my wonderful-fine-speciman-of-a-human-being better half. Things could have been SO much different had I not made that decision as she is a naturally competitive and strong-willed woman.  I didn’t want the drama/trauma that I’ve observed between so many other in-law relationships so I chose not to have a tense, competitive, dysfunctional relationship with her. I can’t speak for her, but I think she considers me her friend too. After all, we both love her baby boy.

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