I swear the universe works in the most mysterious ways. When I got assigned this piece, I couldn't believe how fitting it was for me. Did my editor know that I was married to a toxic person, who had a toxic mom? Nope. But as it turns out, I've seen it all when it comes to dysfunctional mothers-in-law. So trust me when I say that if your partner says these 9 things about their mother, they may have a toxic mom.
Can you imagine hearing the blissfully joyful news that you're pregnant with your first child — you're going to be a mom — only to have the moment ruined by your partner's mother demanding he get a paternity test? Yes, that actually happened to me. My ex-mother-in-law actually convinced my ex-husband (for no good reason, mind you) that he should ask for a paternity test — say what? Yup, these people truly exist, and they create conflict and ruin relationships all the time. It's not just in the movies: These moms are real, they are toxic, and they are unhealthy... but don't take my word for it. I checked in with New York City-based couples therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Justena Kavanagh, and New York-based licensed master social worker Kimberly Hershenson, just in case.
1. "She Means Well"
While it may be true that she has good intentions, if your mother-in-law is constantly sticking her nose in situations where she doesn't belong, it's time to establish some healthy boundaries. Chances are she's a boundary ignorer, according to Bustle. A mother-in-law who doesn't respect or recognize boundaries might become over-involved in you and your partner's relationship, show up to your home unannounced or tell others personal things about you or your partner. In an article by Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright on Psychology Today, she discusses the need to be assertive in these kinds of situations and says, "you don’t need to always play nice in getting your points across." While we all like to keep the peace, you have to establish healthy boundaries for the sake of your sanity as well as everyone else's.
2. "She's Lying"
This is a big one. If your mother-in-law gets caught up in lies, telling secrets or hiding things, chances are, she's toxic. It's strange to think about a grown adult lying to another adult, especially a family member, but hey, stranger things have happened. While we all may tell an innocent white lie from time to time — like, telling someone you're leaving your house (when really, you don't even have your shoes on yet) is something we all do. But big lies are usually told to control or manipulate, according to an article on the We Have Kids website. Toxic mother-in-laws (MILs) will lie to avoid responsibility of their own misbehaviors or just flat out lie about yours.
3. "It's Not Her Fault/Be Patient With Her"
If your partner is always at the ready to run to the defense of his (or her) mom, then you need to call them out. Communicate your need for healthy boundaries and let them know why specific behaviors bother you. Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, tells Romper in an email that "a toxic mother-in-law can make you always feel wrong. Your partner may feel the need to defend his mother which can make you feel alone. It is important to set boundaries and share your needs with your partner."
4. "But She's My Mom, I Can't Just — *Fill In The Blank*"
Similar to the above, if your partner is unwilling to stand up to their mom and continues allowing you to fend for yourself, you could be in some serious trouble. Establishing boundaries is important in any healthy relationship, but it's especially important when it comes to toxic in-laws. Have a conversation about your specific wants and needs and work together to come up with a solution that satisfies you both. Justena Kavanagh, LCSW tells Romper in an email, "work it out between the spouses before attempting to work it out with the mother-in-law. Triangulation is very toxic and usually a very ineffective way to truly resolve anything. A united front is the best way to nip it in the bud — creating a boundary between the marriage and the mother-in-law. It’s more important to preserve the marriage first then try to solve the whole triangle. Get your mother-in-law 'out of (psychological) bed' with you two!" Amen to that.
5. "Don't Tell Her I Told You"
If you're required to keep secrets from her, chances are she's not a person who deals well with the truth and perhaps may have an over-investment in your relationship.
6." My Mom Said *insert something insulting/degrading/untrue about you*"
This one is clear. If your partner's mother is speaking badly about you behind your back, you need to decide if it's a relationship you want to try to repair, or begin making a plan to minimize contact. Your mental health and well being depends on it.
7. "But It Would Make Her Happy"
If your partner is more focused on aiming to please their mother than you, you need to make a plan to communicate your needs and expectations of them.
8. "That's Just The Way She Is/Just Ignore Her"
If your significant other is telling you "that's just the way she is" they're basically telling you that you're just going to have to deal with it — whatever "it" is. If your MIL is passive-aggressive, Justena Kavanagh says, "passive-aggression is much more toxic than aggression because it is insidious, confusing and denied." She mentions that "gas-lighting" can be a common theme in many families, where a family member acts as if they care about the needs and well being of another family member, but actually undermines them. She continues, stating that "mothers often catered to their sons, possibly to fill the void in their marriage or their self-esteem, in our culture and era and then want the wife to do the same." So, if you feel like you're not living up to your MIL's seemingly impossible expectations, your significant other (SO) may tell you things like "That's just the way she is".
9. "Stop Expecting Her To Change"
This one isn't entirely bad or untrue. While your MIL's behavior may be annoying or downright disrespectful and damaging to you and your family, Kavanagh says "it's best addressed between the couple, not with the mother-in-law. Trying to change the mother-in-law's thoughts, feelings and behaviors is much harder than working on the couples’ response to the mom. Once that's clarified, then the son (or daughter) can create boundaries with or appeal to their mother." She mentions that making these decisions as a "united front" is best in order to avoid the MIL driving a wedge between the couple.
After experiencing a traumatic c-section, this mother sought out a doula to support her through her second child’s delivery. Watch as that doula helps this mom reclaim the birth she felt robbed of with her first child, in Episode Three of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below. Visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes, launching Mondays in December.