More often that not, marrying your love includes the theme of unification. But it should be noted that includes them and their family. And if your mother-in-law (MIL) relationship is less-than-amicable, then it's worthwhile to know the signs your MIL is controlling. Nobody wants to assume their MIL is controlling if her behavior is just different than what you're used to, but it's better to be in the know than completely oblivious to behavior that is undoubtedly toxic.
If you do realize that your MIL is trying to control you, your life, or your relationship, you need to put a plan in place. "The only thing you can do with this kind of behavior is to cut it off at the root," Cynthia Chauvin, a certified hypnotherapist and intuitive counselor, tells Romper in an email interview. "Your spouse needs to inform his or her mother this behavior is unacceptable. If you don't put your foot down (and this can be difficult at times), it will grow like a bad weed."
Dealing with a pushy MIL can be a challenge, but you might be comforted to know that you're not alone: In her book What Do You Want from Me?: Learning to Get Along with In-Laws, Cambridge University psychologist Terri Apter revealed that "over 60% of women — versus just 15 percent of men — report having a negative relationship with their significant other’s mom," according to Psychology Today. Among the words used by daughters-in-law to describe their relationships with their MILs: “uncomfortable,” "strained," “infuriating,” “depressing,” and “simply awful." The number one source of tension between women and their in-laws was listed as "pressure to have children," while other common causes of conflict included "a parent’s belief that no one is good enough for their son or daughter," "money lending," "pressure to conform to religious or cultural norms" and even "a parent trying to drive a wedge into a marital relationship." Unsurprisingly, these tensions often manage to do just that, with couples dreading family gatherings and resentments eventually building. That's why, as Yvonne K. Fulbright Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today, "when a spouse has a problem with a parent-in-law, it is the couple’s problem, too."
"There is no dealing with the situation solo," Fulbright explained. "Whether or not they agree on all aspects of the situation, couples need to become a united front. This begins by having effective conversations about difficult, sensitive issues."
By addressing this kind of behavior now, you might find yourself in a better relationship with your MIL down the road. And that can be a wonderful thing.
1. She Shows Up Unannounced
If your MIL shows up to your home without notice, she may be flexing her controlling muscle, Lisa Concepcion, a certified professional dating and relationship transformation expert, tells Romper via email. "Perhaps she helped with the down payment, paid for some renovations, or perhaps she just feels entitled to drop by simply because she's the mother," she says. "Either way, unannounced visits are an example of a lack of boundaries and respect." Concepcion says you can put the kibosh on it by offering her times and days that work for your schedule — ahead of time.
If that doesn't work, then don't be afraid to simply not answer the door. When your MIL points out that she stopped by, Concepcion says you can say something like, "Oh, we so appreciate your thinking of us. We're unavailable today, what are you doing tomorrow evening?"
2. She Uses Her Cooking To Undermine You
If your mother-in-law brings her own meals to dinner at your home and says something about your partner enjoying her cooking more, then you might be dealing with a controlling mama, Bonnie Winston, celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert tells Romper. She may even complain about your cooking to your partner. If that's the case, then Winston says you can say something like, "That’s odd, as your son tells me he loves my cooking!” You might also try, "Well, mine is what is being served tonight, so if you'd like, go ahead and put yours in the microwave."
3. She Has Over-The-Top Reactions
If your MIL attempts to influence other people by over-the-top expressions of her emotions, then she might be trying to take the helm, Jordan Pickell, a registered clinical counselor, tells Romper. She may cry and act hurt while the people around her "scramble to try and make her feel better by doing whatever she is wanting them to do," she says.
When she has one of her over-the-top reactions, Pickell says it's important to stay calm. "Remind yourself you are not responsible for her behavior," she says. "Tell her you are sorry she feels that way. You might ask her what she needs. You might reinforce that, unfortunately, you are unable to give her what she wants. Let her have her reaction. You don’t have to try and fix it"
4. She Bombards You With Judgmental Questions
This one is tricky, because MILs who use this tactic tend to throw a veil of concern or interest over their judgments. "From paint color to kids' bedtimes, when it seems like mom has a judgement about your lives and how you choose to live it, that's a big signal she's controlling," Concepcion says. "Simply respond nicely and politely, but firm in your decision." Try also meeting a judgmental question such as, 'You're feeding them chicken nuggets again?' with a simple, 'Yes!'"
5. She Is *Always* Right
If your MIL exercises "mother knows best" to the extreme, then she's probably a tad controlling. "The 'she knows best' mentality can wreck any relationship, but a mother-in-law who is always in your face pointing out what you are doing wrong will have you tearing out your hair (metaphorically speaking)," Diana and Todd Mitchem, relationship coaches at EnariLove.com, tell Romper in an email interview. "To mitigate this type of behavior you will need to have a serious conversation with your spouse and have them on board before both of you can put boundaries in place that will keep the monster-in-law in check."
6. She Can't Take "No" For An Answer
Concepcion says a top sign your MIL enjoys a power struggle is when she can't handle hearing the word "no." For example, if you are unable to attend a family event (whether by choice or a scheduling conflict), them you might face a mother-in-law who demands to know why. She may even continue pressing you with the intention of changing your mind, Concepcion says.
"This is manipulative, strong arming, and it's a characteristic of narcissism," she says. "Anytime someone is trying to get you to serve their agenda, they're trying to control you." Concepcion recommends presenting a united front with your partner by saying, "we decided not to attend.
"It makes it clear that you and your spouse are a team, a decision was made and it is to be respected," she says. "In the end, loose boundaries and codependency leads to strained relationships with mothers-in-law."
7. She Criticizes Your Home
Winston says if your MIL takes aim at your home, then you can squash it quickly. Try saying, "I'm not perfect in all areas, and things might be a bit messy, but they are not dirty," she says. "Your son didn't marry Martha Stewart, he married me."
Cynthia Chauvin, a certified hypnotherapist and intuitive counselor.
Lisa Concepcion, a certified professional dating and relationship transformation expert.
Bonnie Winston, celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert.
Jordan Pickell, a registered clinical counselor and trauma therapist.
Diana and Todd Mitchem, relationship coaches at EnariLove.com.