Jackie was sitting on the couch trying to read, but she kept getting distracted and then she’d fidget. Her partner Terry was in the kitchen making coffee, and she couldn’t help noticing that Jackie was obviously stewing about something.
“What’s going on?” she asked Jackie. “You OK?” Although Jackie had been trying to stay calm, she found it hard to contain herself.
“Why does she have to be like that?” Jackie blurted out. Terry hated the sound of that. Something was definitely up.
“She who?” Terry asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.
“Your mother!” Jackie shot back exasperated, and with a definite edge to her voice. Terry dreaded what she knew would come next.
“What are you talking about?” she asked Jackie. “What did she do?”
Jackie couldn’t believe Terry was asking that. Why doesn’t she ever see it? she thought. I mean, it’s so obvious! She stood up and walked into the kitchen where Terry was sitting.
“What she always does!” she responded. “She always takes over. Like her thoughts and opinions are the only ones that count. She treats me like I’m not even here…like I don’t matter!”
Terry started to feel sick inside. Jackie’s complaints about Terry’s mother were nothing new, but Terry had no idea how to respond. She wished she could fix the problem, but she had no idea how to even start to address it. Why can’t they just get along? she thought to herself.
“So what did she say?” Terry asked, trying to sound supportive.
“Where do I begin?” Jackie shot back, on the verge of screaming. “She was over here earlier, helping me plan Kristen’s birthday party, although I’d hardly call it helping. Every time I brought up something I wanted to do, she had to say why my idea wasn’t any good. Then she’d tell me what I should do, which totally ticked me off….” Terry knew where this was going.
“So did you say anything to her?” she asked without thinking, wanting to head the conversation in a different direction. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she knew it was a mistake. Jackie stopped talking and gave Terry a look she knew only too well.
“Of course I didn’t! You know how your mother is. Why does she have to be like that? Kristen’s our child. We should be able to do what we want!” Terry tried to interject, but it was too late. Jackie was on a roll.
What happened between Jackie and Terry is a pretty common experience for many couples—gay or straight. The bottom line is that when you’re in any type of intimate relationship, the relationship does not include just you and your spouse or partner. It actually includes your extended families as well. And that, for better or worse, usually includes mothers-in-law!
Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law have struggled for centuries, with each side blaming the other. Of course this relationship is difficult, most of us think. Look who I’m dealing with! But no matter how justified your feelings are, the truth is that harboring such resentment will kill any chance you may have of making the relationship better. And no matter how bad you are convinced things are between you, it is possible to improve the situation. Trust me. It may not be easy, and it may not happen quickly. But you can make inroads with your in-laws if you’re willing to take a big step back and look at both your in-law and your relationship from a new and different perspective.
The first step toward changing your relationship for the better forever is understanding why the relationship is so difficult in the first place. Let’s look at the five reasons why mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships are challenging.
- It’s an artificial relationship. If you think about it, as a mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, you did not choose to be in relationship with this other woman. The only reason you are in a relationship with her is because you both love the same person—her daughter/your partner. And so the two of you are quickly thrown together to forge a relationship before you really have a chance to know who the other woman is as an individual.
- You are both at different stages in your lives and in different emotional places. Your mother-in-law has already done the things you are just beginning to do. She’s established herself in all areas of her life—as an adult woman, as a mother, and often also in a career. You are beginning this part of your journey, figuring out who you are and what your place is going to be in the world. You are still determining what you want and how you plan to get it. To add yet another layer to that, the two of you are also in different emotional places. Your mother-in-law sees life differently now from how she did when she was your age. She tends to focus on the past, remembering about what was, while you’re looking to the future, creating the life you want.
- You both bring your own personal history and emotional baggage. We all have emotional baggage based on our life experiences and personal history. And these past experiences affect who we are and how we feel about ourselves. They also affect how we experience other people, how we experience new situations, and how we react to both.
- You each have your own unique perception—or rather misperception. Perception is a funny thing. We all use our perceptions as a gauge to interpret what we see. We honestly believe that the way we perceive things is real—that it is The Truth. But in reality, our personal history is constantly at work behind the scene, coloring and shaping what we see and experience. The truth is that there is seldom ever one right way to look at anything. There are as many different ways to perceive something, as there are people to perceive it.
- You each react to things based on your own perception. Just as your perception can be a bit skewed because of your history and emotional baggage, your reaction can also be a bit off. And how you respond to someone will affect how your in-law then responds to you. You can’t immediately get her to perceive what you say or do differently, but you can change how you react to her perceptions.
Remember, it’s not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about making the relationship more tolerable. And who knows? It might someday end up being really good. Believe me, it happens! As in international diplomacy, when one side starts to understand where the other is coming from, whether they agree with that way of thinking or not, the situation often naturally becomes a little less volatile. And that is the start of something beautiful—for all three of you.
Dr. Deanna Brann • Author of Reluctantly Related:
Secrets To Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law • www.DrDeannaBrann.com
In how well or badly our relationships are with one another.
One person CAN change their relationship with another.
You have to take responsibility AND take action to create what you want in life.
You can change your relationship without confronting or challenging the other person.
“Our broad society is all too quick to simply make jokes about problems with mothers-in-law,” notes Dr. Brann, “while in fact the vast majority of marriages have MIL/DIL difficulties of some nature.” As a result, there is surprisingly little research and literature on the subject until now. Reluctantly Related truly offers hope and practical, step-by-step, hands-on solutions.