To be honest, I haven't had the best relationship with my mother-in-law. And, sadly, the holidays seem to bring out the worst in both of us. She hates my cooking, parenting, and housekeeping skills, so I feel like I can't do anything right. She does and says things to completely undermine me, so I'm bitter, passive-aggressive, and turn into a recluse so I can maintain my sanity. That's why I'm so glad I found expert tips for surviving toxic mother-in-laws during the holidays. Because, yes, I am totally going to need them. Again.
According to relationship therapist Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., the best way to survive a toxic relationship with your mother-in-law is to realize that her comments and behaviors are a reflection of her, not you. You can try not to let your mother-in-law get to you, or you can involve her in holiday planning to aim for common ground. Orbuch adds that it's important to set boundaries and expectations, so you don't burn out or find that trying to please her results in a less-than-happy holiday for you. If you fail to see eye-to-eye, psychotherapist Greg Cason suggests assigning "communicating with your mom" to your spouse's holiday to-do list. Carson also recommends some reverse psychology, telling HuffPost that by finding something (anything) you can ask your mother-in-law's input on could make her feel more included. And if she feels more included, she's less likely to try to interfere in the future.
If you've tried everything and your mother-in-law's toxic behavior continues to ruin the holidays, it may be time to limit contact with her entirely. As psychologist Sherrie Campbell told ABC News, if your mother-in-law is abusive, manipulative, negative, or toxic, sometimes you have to love yourself enough to cut off contact. In other words, don't invite them to celebrate the holidays with you.
For more tips on surviving the holiday season with a toxic mother-in-law breathing down your neck or looking over your shoulder, read on:
Be A Gray Rock
According to Love Fraud, a website focused on helping people recognize and recover from sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists, one of the best ways to respond to a toxic person is to ignore them. This so-called gray rock method of communication involves not responding to attempts to push your buttons or overtly rude criticism, to the point that you become boring to the toxic person you have to deal with.
Another strategy, according to psychologist Stephanie Buehler, is to simply change the subject or walk away. Buehler told HuffPost, "When a conversation is heading toward a toxic waste dump, it’s time to get up, get a glass of water, and come back to ask about an upcoming trip or some other light topic."
Develop A Thick Skin
According to relationship therapist Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., you should try to keep in mind that your mother-in-law's negative comments and undermining behaviors are not about you. Rather, they are likely a part of her efforts to maintain control or avoid losing traditions that are important to her. So, it's super important to not take your mother-in-law's criticism personally, which I know from experience is easier said than done.
While it seems easy to try to please everyone at the holidays, it's totally not always possible, especially if you have a toxic mother-in-law.
Setting boundaries is a life skill that all of us need to learn, but especially with our in-laws. As psychotherapist Deanna Brann, and author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets To Getting Along With Your Mother-In-Law Or Daughter-In-Law, tells HuffPost, the key is to. “Be clear, concise, yet kind." So, if you don't want to make your kids sit on Santa's lap, or you don't want to follow your mother-in-law's unsolicited advice, you need to stand your ground.
Orbuch agrees, adding that setting boundaries and expectations means that you won't have to sacrifice your own needs and wants in the process of trying to accommodate your mother-in-law's unreasonable or unrealistic requests.
Let Your Spouse Take The Lead
Psychotherapist Greg Cason suggests that you and your spouse discuss the situation and come up with a plan for how to push back when your mother-in-law misbehaves. Cason told HuffPost that if your spouse is passive to their mother's toxic behaviors, they send a message that those behaviors are OK. And since your partner knows their mom better than you do, they're more likely to reach them than you are.
Stand Up For Yourself & Your Kids
According to psychologist Susan Newman, it's important to set boundaries with your in-laws regarding your parenting. Newman told HuffPost this can be done in a gentle and non-confrontational way, saying, "Your best approach is to let them know you appreciate their advice, but have most things covered." Some ideas are to simply say "thank you," to explain that medical advice has changed, or by using my favorite response, "That's an interesting idea. I will keep that in mind."
Create Your Own Traditions
When you get married or partner up with another person, you are essentially combining to sets of family traditions together. Orbuch reminds us on the website Next Avenue that it's so important that you remember that you can't please everyone. So, it's totally OK to choose which traditions work for your family, and skip the ones that don't.
Cason adds that sometimes asking for a little input and finding some common ground might go a long way in creating some peace with your in-laws, telling HuffPost the following:
Look around and find a problem in your home or family that you could ask your in-law for advice on — a cooking or investing question, for instance....Your in-law will start liking you more because he or she feels respected. As a result, your in-law is less likely to invade.”
Consider Cutting Off (Or At Least Limiting) Contact
As Sherrie Campbell, psychologist and author of the book Loving Yourself : The Mastery of Being Your Own Person tells ABC News, that, sometimes, it's necessary to cut off contact completely with toxic people for your health and sanity.
Campbell said, "The facts are that family members are just people and not always healthy people, and if these people weren't family, we would never choose them to be a part of our lives due to their poor treatment of us."
This, of course, is a personal decision to be made with your family (and spouse) in mind, but if your toxic mother-in-law is abusive, manipulative, negative, or trying to harm your marriage, it might be time to remove them from your holiday invite list or stay home from the festivities at theirs.
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