Is your relationship with your mother-in-law functional?
What you need to know:
- A woman who lives with her partner’s parents under one roof is three times more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease.
- You may lose your identity, character, and personality just to please your mother-in-law or fit in with your partner’s siblings.
- While you might not like her behaviour or her intrusion in your marriage, you must be courteous enough not to fly off the handle in a manner that will strain any possible future relations.
One of the most emotionally draining interactions you can have in marriage is one with a mother-in-law who can’t stand your face. You will struggle to understand why she holds you in so much disdain, and what you can do to improve your relationship. The impact of having an obnoxious mother-in-law on your health can be so dire, you could end up developing cardiovascular disease. According to a study by Osaka University, Japan, a woman who lives with her partner’s parents under one roof is three times more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease. This study looked at the effects of living arrangements on almost 91,000 healthy middle-aged men and women, over 14 years, between 1990 and 2004. So how do you cope if you find yourself in a battle field with your mother-in-law?
The mother-in-law pleaser: You may lose your identity, character, and personality just to please your mother-in-law or fit in with your partner’s siblings. This is a trap you must avoid. “Don’t pressure yourself or go against your character. You do not have to be a different person just because you have married into your partner’s family,” says Diane Barth, a psychotherapist and the author of I Know How You Feel. Also, you must not occupy all her space simply because you want to interact and form a good relationship with her.
The boundaries: There are certain boundaries you must adhere to when relating with a troublesome mother-in-law. For example, while you might not like her behaviour or her intrusion in your marriage, you must be courteous enough not to fly off the handle in a manner that will strain any possible future relations. “If you are married, you must know that while you do not have to like your mother-in-law, you have to live and interact with her in some way,” says Ms. Barth. Do not try to make her change into your ideal version of a mother-in-law, or demand that your partner asks her to change. “This will be ineffective. Instead, find some way to keep off her toes and live with her in peace,” says Ms. Barth. Nairobi-based family therapist Grace Kariuki says that you should not carry the burden of dealing with an unpleasant mother-in-law alone. "The man in the relationship must take a stand and set boundaries that none of his relatives should cross," she says. "This will form the base for respectful interactions."
The mirror: It is not impossible that you can be legitimately at fault in a strained relationship with a mother-in-law. Terri Apter, a psychologist and the author of Passing Judgment, says in a relationship where in-laws are commonly featured, you are likely to develop your own protective biases. “Before you point a finger, evaluate whether you are actually being unfair. Is your perspective of things right? Is she raising genuine concern? This will help silence the cries of ‘Whose side are you on?’ in your marriage,” says Ms. Apter. Remember, too, that your mother-in-law has most probably worn the same shoes you are in now.
Walking away: If you are not married, you might consider taking a break or walking away in the face of unrelenting trouble from your prospective mother-in-law. “The common understanding must be that while a prospective mother-in-law might not approve of her son’s choice of a mate, she must be mature enough to respect it,” says marriage therapist Nancy Kendi. This is echoed by Dr. Susan Newman, a social psychologist and the author of The Book of No. She says there are times when you might need to put your foot down and speak your mind to a prospective but obnoxious mother-in-law. “You are an adult with rights to disagree and do things your way. When the situation calls for it, take a firm stand. Don’t fall into the trap of behaving and, or thinking like a child when around your prospective mother-in-law,” she says. In addition, it is your partner’s responsibility to take your side and defend your dignity in the face of blatant abuse and disrespect from your in-laws.