In-law relationships can be difficult to navigate. And sadly, Reddit user Xoxo76757, who for the sake of this article let’s just call Xoxo, found herself in a stalemate where neither person would admit they’ve crossed the line.
It all started when Xoxo’s mother-in-law came for a surprise visit. While the woman and her husband accepted the lady into their home, she decided to spend the night there and demanded the couple let her into their bedroom.
In some cases, that might have been okay. However, Xoxo wasn’t comfortable with having her mother-in-law in her bed. Besides, there was a completely functional guest room. But the MIL doubled down and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
One lady popped up for a surprise visit at her son and his wife’s place
Image credits: Castorly Stock (not an actual photo)
And the seemingly normal evening took a turn for the worse when she demanded their bedroom for the night
Image credits: Ashwin Vaswani (not an actual photo)
Image credits: Liza Summer (not an actual photo)
This situation represents a wider problem. Women actually struggle with each other more than men when it comes to in-law relationships.
“I think that men, in general, have left a lot of or some of the emotional work in families to women,” Geoffrey Greif, co-author of In-law Relationships: Mothers, Daughters, Fathers, and Sons,” told TODAY.
The book, which included survey and interview responses from more than 1,500 people, found that about 15% of MILs and DILs had a very troubled relationship. More than half felt good about their bond, and the rest were neutral.
Interestingly, mothers-in-law rated their relationship with their daughter-in-law much sunnier than vice versa:
- 33% strongly agreed the two were close, compared to 18% for the younger women;
- 42% strongly agreed they admired their daughter-in-law, but only 23% of the younger women felt the same way about their husband’s mother;
- 37% strongly agreed they enjoyed spending time together, compared to 22% for the younger women;
- 50% strongly agreed they trusted their daughter-in-law, but only 23% of the younger women felt the same way about their mother-in-law.
“A lot of it is wishful thinking on the part of the mother-in-law,” Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, said.
However, he thinks it’s a helpful approach.”You go into this relationship assuming the best and not assuming the worst — that’s a form of wishful thinking … I think that’s a really good and positive thing. Mothers-in-law really want to make this work.”
Plus, there may be more at stake for the older woman: most MILs and DILs described their relationship as equal in power, but when it wasn’t, both agreed the daughter-in-law held more power as the gatekeeper of the grandchild and someone who could limit or block access to her husband, Greif pointed out.
People think the lady is to blame here
Taking a look at this dynamic from a daughter-in-law’s perspective, we can see that her main concern is the interference in the marriage and child-rearing from the mother-in-law. “I felt like she was trying to take over,” one woman told the authors about her husband’s mother. A sentiment that’s also true for this story.
52% of daughters-in-law strongly disagreed or disagreed that they had the same parenting philosophy as their mothers-in-law.
When there are concerns, the goal is to figure out a way to stay connected with the MIL, while maintaining a boundary around the couple’s relationship, Greif said. But he recommended reframing the perceived interference as love, concern, and a wish to be engaged.
The man who connects the two women — the husband and the son — can help in presenting a united front as a couple.
“There’s essentially an emotional maturity that most daughters-in-law realize — ‘I’m going to try and make this work for the betterment of my family,’” he noted.
“Our research shows that when the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law are able to talk about things directly, those are signs that the relationship is a better relationship.”
The authors advised looking for common interests as a way to strengthen the connection. One strategy was to take the long view rather than letting a momentary hiccup derail the relationship.
Some in the comment section under Xoxo’s post said she should even divorce her husband, but Greif is certain that there’s hope even if the MIL and DIL don’t click right away.
“Chill, don’t force it,” Greif said. “Understand there are multiple dynamics in a family and that things can change.”
The mother-in-law, on the other hand, is often unsure about where she stands with her daughter-in-law and doesn’t want to do anything to upset a delicate balance. “It’s always very pleasant, but it’s always on her terms every time we get together,” one woman told the researchers about her daughter-in-law.
1 in 6 mothers-in-law said they walked on eggshells around their DILs just because they wanted access to their sons and grandchildren. A quarter felt left out by their son and daughter-in-law, and one-fifth felt their relationship with their son was hindered by his wife.
They were also self-conscious about “becoming” the Monster-in-law and tried to avoid giving advice to the couple, even when asked.
“There’s the expression, ‘You can’t unring the bell’… In general, people often regret the negative things they say,” Greif said.
“My read is that usually the daughter-in-law long knows [of their differing views.] She would not be surprised to know that the mother-in-law is not on the same page,” Greif said.
Mothers-in-law knew their DIL would remember any criticism about their marriage or parenting skills, so they characterized their approach as, “I’m really, really trying hard to keep my mouth shut and bite my tongue.”
Greif thinks it’s also a good approach as the couple needs to work on their relationship first, so the mother-in-law should take the position of trying to be supportive and available if needed.
However, in tricky scenarios, Greif believes the mother-in-law should give the daughter-in-law some space. Which is probably what Xoxo’s MIL should have done that night too.