Expert Editions vol. 9: How to deal with an annoying mother-in-law

Let’s face it, unless we are the lucky few who happen to be BFFs with our mum-in-law’s, often we’re more likely to be lumbered with an annoying mum-in-law instead, where just a couple of hours with them can leave us looking like the above. This can, unsurprisingly add additional complications and friction in our family like that frankly, we could do without.

So how do we learn to deal with a momster (oops, sorry I mean mother)-in-law that just drives us totally nuts? Thankfully here is Deanna Brann, clinical psychotherapist and author of Reluctantly Related Revisited: Breaking Free of the Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Conflict to help us work that out in this week’s Expert Editions…. 

How to deal with an annoying mother in law

What is it about a mother in law that can drive us so crazy?

If you think about it…you have two women who are competing for the influence over this one man—the husband/son.

This is an artificial relationship – Neither of you chose to be in a relationship with one another. The two of you have been thrown together because of the fact that you married this particular man.

You both are at different stages of life and different emotional places. Because of this the relationship feels unbalanced, and often times, the DIL fights for her rightful place in this new family. MILs, on the other hand, have trouble giving up their role as “mom,” which includes a lot of privileges that are now obsolete.

Both MILs and DILs come into the relationship with their own personal history and emotional baggage. This baggage and history not only affects how they perceive the other person and her actions/words, it also affects how they react to her.


Despite the fact they can drive us to distraction, why is it so important to keep a mum in-law on side?

As much as your MIL can drive you crazy you need to remember she is your husband’s mother. She matters to him just as much as your mother matters to you. We all are a bit protective of our family of origin, even with all their quirks and oddities. And she is still his mother. What often happens is if you do not work on your relationship with your MIL it can affect your marriage and those issues with her will seep over and create or exacerbate marital issues. How you both choose to handle the issues you have with her is often how you choose to handle other issues in your marriage.

Also – You are a role model for your children. So how you choose to deal with family members, no matter how difficult, will be how your children learn to deal with family as well. Your actions will speak much louder than your words. They will watch how you interact with their grandmother, how you handle problems with her, etc. You are teaching them how to deal with people who are supposed to matter to you. If you treat her badly or decide to not have any contact with her, they are learning that when you have a problem with someone you can just get rid of them by avoiding them. Is this really what you want to teach your children?


What tips can you give to someone who is dealing with a difficult mother in law?

Set boundaries

Depending on the type of MIL you have setting boundaries with her can go a long way in defining the relationship. She learns what is expected of her, what her role is with your family, as well as where she fits. You need to do this in a loving, compassionate way, because many MILs really want to get along with you, they just are not sure where they fit and what their new role is with you and your family.

However, when your MIL is really difficult and does not listen or abide by your boundaries you need to also have consequences for her when she chooses to ignore your wishes. Again be kind and caring when setting these, but also be direct, firm, and unwavering. The key, though, is to make sure you follow through with your consequences. She needs to know you mean what you say.


    Do not take what she says personally. More than likely she acts the same with other people so her actions are not her reaction to you. It is more about who she is. When she says something off-the-wall, laugh as if she told a joke; tease her gently with her own words, exaggerating what she said so that it becomes quite clear her words were silly or ridiculous in nature.


What practical advice can you give for having dialogue with your p

artner about a difficult mum in law? What should and shouldn’t we say?

Your husband cannot fix the problem between you and his mother

That is unfair of you to ask of him, although he can help you figure out how to deal differently with his mother so that you can have a different relationship with her. There are 3 things I recommend you do to keep the conversation from getting out of hand and creating marital issues on top of what may be MIL issues.

Before you approach your husband, figure out what it is you want from him.

Do you want to vent and have him just listen, to understand your emotional pain, to help you come up with some strategies, or is there something else you want from him? (Remember he cannot fix it for you.) It is important that you get clear on this first, because if you don’t know what you want from him, how can he know?

Tell him right up front what it is you want from him.

By beginning the conversation with this information it helps him to be able to give you exactly what it is you. And he will appreciate you for it!

Keep the focus on the two of you

Remember you are working on getting closer to your spouse right now so that the two of you can work together to find a resolution to whatever the MIL issue might be. His mother just happens to be the catalyst, so keep her out of the conversation as much as possible until you both feel okay about how you want to handle the situation with her.

How can we turn “dreaded time” with the in-laws into something more positive?

  • Don’t take what they say personally.
  • Find humour in their words or actions.
  • Remember it is just one day – or if you are with them over an extended time period, think of it as “one day at a time.”
  • Find some down time for yourself away from everyone else so you can re-energize.
  • If there’s only one thing you could share about getting along with a mum-in-law it would be….

The best way to get along with your mother-in-law is to develop a relationship with her that is independent of your husband. This does not mean you have to be best friends, but what it does mean is that you see her as a person/individual in her own right, with likes, dislikes, interests, commonalities, and so on.

If you allow herself to see her as someone you may have things in common with, you are more likely to give her the benefit of the doubt during those times when miscommunication can lead to difficult or stressful times. Also you are less likely to take what she says and does personally because you understand her better (and in more depth) than someone who you only view as “my mother-in-law” or “my husband’s mother.”

Deanna Brann, Ph.D. has over 30 years of experience in the mental health field as a clinical psychotherapist specializing in communication skills, family and interpersonal relationships, and conflict resolution. As both a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, her own personal experiences led her to research the subject. Her first book, Reluctantly Related, began the discussion of examining and bettering the MIL/DIL relationship and is followed by her newest book, Reluctantly Related Revisited.

Connect with Dr. Brann at and Facebook & Twitter

Reluctantly Related Revisited: Breaking Free of the Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Conflict is available on Amazon UK.

Do you have a difficult relationship with your mother in law? What strategies have you tried?



One comment

  1. These are some great tips in theory. Unfortunately they just don’t work in my situation…

    My MIL is incredibly overbearing and manipulative about getting her own way. I’m not convinced it’s carried out with spite – she’s just very, very selfish. And my husband hates conflict, so at one time I was banned from being open with her when she overstepped the mark, yet he refused to deal with it either.

    As an example, she wanted to suit outside my labour ward so she could be the first person to hold my new baby – in front of both myself and my husband. Of course I told her there was no way. But all the same I was incredibly relieved to have an early emergency induction while she was in another country!

    Her attitude since our daughter’s arrival left me with Postnatal Anxiety, and in my first ever Mothers Day I told my husband to be a man or pack his bags. That was the day he opened his eyes and described his own mother as treating me like a surrogate for her child, when in reality she was a very domineering grandmother with unrealistic and inappropriate expectations.

    Over many months and (finally) with proper support from my husband, we got past our issues.

    I’m very sad to say that now my sister-in-law is due any day and I’m watching history repeat itself. Worse – she’s spent many hours complaining to me about my sister-in-law’s boundaries. That’s incredibly disappointing and has brought old feelings to the surface.

    I’m back at a point where I now once again refuse to see her without my husband.

    Sorry for the essay! Clearly this situation is rather stressful… Xx
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