Combining families after marriage can be challenging. You have additional parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents that you then have to get to know and create relationships with.
But one of the more challenging relationships is between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law. It’s not guaranteed that everyone will like one another and get along. All mother-in-law jokes aside, getting along well with your spouse's family can be a major blessing in the long run. Even if you got off on the wrong foot, there's always something you can do to improve your relationship with her.
10 Secrets to a Great Relationship with Your Mother-in-LawBe inclusive. It’s important to remember to include her in your lives, especially if your spouse has a great relationship with her. Include her in family activities, holidays, outings and anything else you can find the time to include her in. Even something as small as going Christmas shopping can brighten her day. Don’t let her feel excluded from your lives.
Be polite. Whether you like your mother-in-law or not, you need to be polite when you’re around her. My husband isn’t a fan of my mother at all, but he’s incredibly polite on the rare occasion that we’re with her. He’ll take the time to ask her how she’s been and offer to pay for dinner. He’s learned to accept the fact that she is family regardless of his dislike for her.
Get to know her. Taking the time to get to know each other can be helpful in creating a great relationship with her. Ask her about her job, hobbies or passions. Ask her about her childhood or even about your spouse’s childhood. There has to be something the two of you have in common that you can bond over. Also, take the time to understand what makes her tick: what makes her do some of the things that she does or acts certain ways in situations? Chances are there’s an underlying reason for these things, and understanding each other better can help foster a great relationship.
Spend time with her. One-on-one time together is great. It allows the two of you to bond without any distractions. Get together for coffee or try out one of her favorite hobbies. Be willing to think outside the box and try something new.
Don’t compete with her. You both will have your own strengths and weaknesses. There’s nothing wrong with that, so don’t waste your time trying to outdo her. My mother-in-law is a great cook. I’m not. It’s not worth it to waste my time stressing over the fact that she’s better than me at something. Rather than trying to be better than her, I’ll ask her for some of her favorite recipes and ask for her advice on making my meals more exciting.
Give her space. Give her some one-on-one time with your spouse. I know it can be easy to not want to share his attention with another person, but this is important. He may be your husband, but he’s also her son. She needs time with him, too, especially if you normally live far away from her.
Communicate your feelings and needs. Just like in your marriage, communication is crucial. If there’s an issue, it’s important to be open and honest about it. This has been the most helpful for me in having a great relationship with my own mother-in-law. She’s not going to know that something is bothering me if I don’t bring it to her attention. Of course, this needs to be done in the nicest way possible. Pull her aside, sit down and have an open and honest conversation about what’s on your mind and devise a plan to fix the issue and move forward. Say something along the lines of “I feel ____ when you ______”. This works much better than waiting until she’s pushed every button you have and you end up snapping.
Communicate with your spouse. On top of communicating with your mother-in-law, it’s also important to bring the issue to your husband’s attention. He too needs to know what’s going on and how you’re feeling. Don’t expect him to take sides, though. If possible, allow him to stay as neutral as possible. Of course you and your husband are a team, but it can be tough for your spouse to be stuck in the middle of his wife and his mother. Simply express your concerns and see if he has any advice for fixing the issue.
Learn to listen. Just like having to communicate your feelings with your mother-in-law, she needs to be able to do the same with you. Take the time to listen to how she’s feeling and what she needs from you as her daughter-in-law. Ask her things like, “What can I do to improve our relationship?” You both have your own needs, so take the time to make sure those needs are met. A great relationship is a two way street.
Be understanding. Sometimes it can be hard for mothers to let go of their son and watch them get married and have another woman in their life. It’s an adjustment for everyone. Try to be understanding and put yourself in her shoes. Think about how certain situations may make her feel, and how it would make you feel if you were in her position.
No matter what type of relationship you have with your mother-in-law, know that you both have one very important thing in common: you both love and are proud of your service member.
Photo: courtesy U.S. Air National Guard.