While some have a great relationship with their mother-in-law, this is a relationship where boundaries are important.
Moms are usually involved in their children’s life but it can be hard to let the reigns go once their child is grown and married. In some cases, it may not even be conscious that they’re still trying to butt in.
But, how do you firmly but lovingly set that boundary?
The best approach to remind a Mother-In-Law to mind her own business is firm, direct, and doesn’t leave any room for interpretation. It’s often best done when the person is stepping in to give their opinion. Calmly point out that the situation is best handled by you and your spouse.
While this is easier said than done, there are a few simple but effective steps that you can take to ensure that this approach will be effective. If you’re not sure of how to put this advice into practice, then keep reading.
Avoid Anger but Recognize Some Hurt
Moms are used to having their opinions when it comes to their children’s lives and this isn’t going to stop because of a marriage. They may feel as though they have less control over their child’s life which causes them to be more overbearing.
Keep in mind that the mother-in-law’s actions are usually coming from a good place.
Whether it’s dispensing unwanted advice or simply putting their two cents in at a bad time, they want to help. It may be shocking for them to learn that what they’re doing is creating more friction in your marriage.
When you approach your mother-in-law, make sure that you do so from a positive place. As much as possible, try to see her as being an interested party. Yes, she has overstepped her boundaries but she’s been doing this for her child’s entire life. It may even be second nature to her.
If you approach her from an area of anger, she’s going to become defensive and not take the request seriously. If you find that you’re struggling to have this conversation without getting upset, then take the time you need to calm down before bringing it up.
At the same time, recognize that no matter how gentle you talk with her, she’s probably going to have some hurt feelings. No one likes to be told that their input is unwanted after all.
It may help to have some sympathy for her during this time. As much as possible, try to lead the conversation with some compassion. Once you start setting boundaries and sticking with them, she’ll start to follow them but expect the initial one to cause some hurt feelings.
When bringing up her being too involved, it may be best to have this conversation away from others. She will probably be embarrassed if brought up around other family or friends.
Consider taking her aside to have this conversation or even talk with her privately at your convenience. Make sure that you start the conversation by saying that you know she means well but her actions are undermining your marriage. Approaching the conversation from this area won’t completely prevent hurt feelings but it may help your relationship to move forward.
Discuss with Your Partner
Depending on the relationship that you have with your partner and the relationship between your spouse and mother-in-law, would it be better for him or her to have the conversation?
It may not always be easier to have the conversation with your parent directly but, in this instance, it’s less likely that your mother-in-law will think that you’re being controlling. Coming directly from her son/daughter may be a better way to handle this.
In some cases, this may not be possible. Your spouse may not see her meddling as being a problem or not be willing to have the conversation with her. While this doesn’t mean you should ignore the problem, make it clear to your spouse that if he/she won’t set those boundaries, then you will have to do it.
The worst thing would be to start setting boundaries without communicating them to your spouse.
Regardless of who has the conversation, work on agreeing on at least the basics of what you want to accomplish. Having you and your spouse on the same page is a good way to ensure that you maintain a united front even if you don’t see eye-to-eye entirely.
Start the Conversation
Regardless of whether you, your spouse or even the two of you decide to have this conversation, there are a few steps to follow. These are the basic ones to go through to have a successful conversation and make your point.
1. Start with a compliment
To get the conversation started, take a deep breath, and then let her know that you appreciate how much she cares. You should note that you understand her actions and words come from a place of affection.
However, at the same time, some areas are off-limits. You could mention that certain things need to be kept between you and your spouse.
When you come to talk about your marriage, it can be helpful to use “we” language. You may want to emphasize that you and your spouse like to make decisions jointly and need those not in the marriage to have faith that you will make the right decisions.
2. Note the Downsides of Her Interventions
Chances are that your mother-in-law doesn’t understand what she’s doing to your marriage. It may be helpful to let her know that when she always gives her opinion, it undermines your marriage and makes you feel like a failure.
You should note that this is not her intention but it makes you feel a certain way.
Often finding out how you are perceived makes people change how their opinion and view.
3. Give Specific Examples
Before you get ready to have the conversation, you should think of specific times and instances when she walked into your marriage.
Maybe she decided to let you know it wasn’t the right time to have children or possibly comment on your budget. Chances are that she’s done this several times if you’ve become this frustrated.
It’s a good idea to have at least a few times in the back of your mind when she didn’t respect normal boundaries.
While you’re pointing out what she did that undermined your marriage, then you should also point out how that made you feel. Undermining your parenting, for example, made you feel as though you weren’t up to the task of raising children.
Your mother-in-law may take this opportunity to state that she wished her mother-in-law had given her the same advice. You can respond to that by saying that you’re a different person and don’t feel the same way.
Keeping the conversation focused on you and how you feel is the key to having an effect.
4. State Your Desire for the Future
Once you’ve had this conversation, wrap it up by saying that while you hope you’ll remain close, you have to be firm in your wishes. This is the key to making your entire conversation stick.
Your mother-in-law won’t respect what you’re saying if you don’t have the desired outcome in mind. This may be as simple as her avoiding commenting on your marriage or simply allowing some privacy.
It could be something concrete such as not calling every single night or stopping over unannounced. This can be whatever you want to accomplish.
5. Stand Your Ground
Once your mother-in-law has heard your talk then she’ll probably respond in several ways. If the conversation has gone well, then she may respond graciously and with an intention to change. This would be ideal but there are other potential outcomes.
She may respond by ignoring you while being hurt by what you’ve said. Let her have her time but keep the doors of communication open to her if she wants to talk.
The other outcome is the worst possible and one of denial. She may respond with denial and anger at what you’ve said and simply refuse to listen.
When this happens, you have to continue standing your ground but say that you hope she respects you and your partner enough to listen and then end the conversation.
6. Remind Her of Your Conversation
Even when this conversation goes amazingly well, there are going to be some slip-ups. She spent a lifetime building certain habits and isn’t going to give them up overnight.
When this happens, you can provide a gentle reminder that this is your marriage. If she continues to display bad behavior, then it’s best to practice avoidance.
Say that she isn’t respecting your boundaries and then end the conversation.
Now that you have the steps needed to navigate this conversation, you’re ready to get started. Even if you don’t have a great relationship, try to approach this from the perspective of affection.
Your mother-in-law will hopefully respond positively but, even if not, you’ll have a better chance at keeping her out of your private lives.
Katie Holmes is a senior author at everyday-courtesy.com with over 15 years of experience in marketing and psychology. As a freelance consultant, she also supports companies and executives in overcoming communication challenges. Katie is a passionate digital nomad working on her first book on the art of communication.