How to handle your difficult mother-in-law


By Anastasia Amour

Type #1: The “never letting go” MIL

How to spot her: She’s the type to drop by unannounced and offer to do the cleaning, even though you’re perfectly capable. She’ll make meals for you and tell you she “knows the way her son likes it best”. In her mind, no one could take care of her son better than she can (and she’s not even certain that he can take care of himself). It often seems like she’s living in the past, still seeing her son as a toddler and she’ll fight to make sure that her son stays her “little boy”.

How to live with her: This behavior usually stems from an identity crisis – most of her life, she’s identified herself as a mother and she’s having trouble adjusting to the fact that she’s no longer needed as a full-time parent. Be patient and show her you value all the work she put into raising her son to be the wonderful man he is today – with the emphasis on man. Tell your MIL about the decisions you’re making as a couple, and brag about his adult achievements to her. This way, you’re both still celebrating her son but in a more age-appropriate context. If she knows that she’s valued as a mother, and still an important part of her son’s life (just in a different way), she’ll make peace with her new role.

Type #2: The “new bestie” MIL

How to spot her: She can frequently be spotted telling others that you’re like a daughter to her – she may even refer to you as one of her kids. She’ll talk openly with you about her personal life, and want to hear intimate details about your personal life too, even those involving her son.

How to live with her: This type of MIL usually has the best intentions, and it’s likely that she’s just lonely. She might even see being close with you as a way of keeping close with her son. However well you get along, it’s likely going to make your partner uncomfortable if you and his mother are spending all your time together – so some distance is a healthy way to go. If she brings up topics that you’re uncomfortable discussing, try changing the subject and politely let her know that you’re just not comfortable talking about some things, not even with your other girlfriends. The good news is that she probably genuinely values your connection and finds you interesting; use this upper hand to your advantage and allow the relationship to grow in an appropriate way.

Type #3: The “meanie” MIL

How to spot her: She doesn’t seem to be pleased with anything you do. She’ll make nasty, nit-picking comments and backhanded compliments, but will insist that she was kidding if you get offended. When confronted, she’ll deny, deny, deny. In fact, she’ll insist that she only wants the best for both of you and that she’s crazy about you. On the surface, you could be mistaken for thinking she’s sweet as pie. But if she’s manipulative enough, she’ll paint herself as the victim every time you catch her out making a comment – and in the process, she’ll paint you as the devil. She’ll never apologise, and if she does, it will be along the lines of “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry you took it that way”.

How to live with her: You’re going to have to grin and bear it. She’s most likely fearful of being shut out of her son’s life so try to alleviate her fear and include her wherever possible. You’ll need a thick skin to live with this kind of MIL. If she makes a nasty comment, you have 2 options: smile and change the subject, or be direct and call her out on it (politely, of course). She’s unlikely to change her behaviour, so you’ll need to adapt your behaviour to whatever makes you feel the least upset by her. If the drama gets to the point where something needs to be said, it’s best left to your partner (as whatever you do will most likely be seen as another effort from you to steal him from her). It will then be up to him to let her know that he won’t put up with negative comments made about you – and during this time, you should stay right out of it.

Type #4: The “mother knows best” MIL

How to spot her: She’s never one to shy away from giving advice or critiquing the way you do things. She’ll disguise needless criticism as helpful suggestions, picking away at every decision you make from what you wear to how you cook and clean, how you drive, how you handle your money and how you raise your kids (if you have them).

How to live with her: Anyone who’s hyper-critical usually has a poor sense of self-image. The best way to handle this is to smile and thank her for her suggestion, then continue to do things as you normally would. You can even re-direct her behaviour into ways that you would appreciate her input. For instance, let her know that you absolutely love the way she makes that dessert and ask if she wouldn’t mind sharing the recipe with you. She’ll learn that positive appreciation always trumps unsolicited criticism.


At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that you can’t control someone else’s actions, but you can control how you react to them. Wherever possible, try and salvage the relationship with your MIL – after all, it’s only because of her that he exists.

Do you have a difficult mother-in-law? How do you deal with her? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation @eHarmony_AU or on

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