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Deanna Brann, Ph.D. Headshot

How to Keep Your Mother-in-Law From Sabotaging Your Love Life

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It seems to keep happening -- arguments with your husband about his mother. He's your husband, and so you want him to understand how you feel about what his mother said or did, but it seems as though he always wants to take her side. He just doesn't get why his mother is such a problem. "Why can't he see it my way?" you think to yourself. "Why does he always have to point out her side of things?"

These discussions always end the same way: you feel defeated, alone, and completely misunderstood by the one person you count on the most to really support you. And you're incredibly frustrated that the more you try to get your mate to see things from your perspective, the more he digs his heels in and defends his mother.

Fortunately, the situation isn't hopeless, even though it may sure seem that way. Let me share three simple strategies with you for getting your husband to really hear what you have to say and actively work with you to make things better:

1. Figure out what you want from him. Do you just want to vent, do you want him to truly understand your emotional pain, or do you want him to fix the situation? Or do you want some combination of these? You'll get better results if you begin the conversation being clear on what you are trying to achieve. After all, if you don't know what you want from him, how can he possibly know?

2. Tell him what you want early on. Start the conversation by telling him right up front what it is you want from him. You might say, "I just need to vent right now -- I really don't want you to feel like you have to say or do anything." That takes the pressure off for him, but more importantly it helps him know what he can do to help. Or you might say something like: "I really need for you understand how hard things are for me, how hurt I feel..." Or even, "I want to talk about something your mother said that really upset me, and then I would love your help figuring out how we can deal with this." No matter what you want, spelling it out helps him to deliver just that.

Word your request carefully, however, because that's critically important to getting what you're after. Complaining about his mother, berating her, or blaming him will not get you what you want (even if it makes you feel better at the time). Avoid saying things that are more likely to cause an argument and make the situation worse, not better.

3. Focus on the two of you -- not on your mother-in-law. Remember, this discussion -- what you want and what you are asking him for -- is between you and your husband. This is a marital issue. His mother just happens to be the catalyst. Putting the issue at the center (you need to feel his support) instead of his mother (and how insensitive she is) keeps the two of you in problem-solving mode and makes it much more likely that the discussion will be productive.

So instead of tossing out accusations like, "Only a psycho would let herself into someone else's house when no one is home! She's lucky we don't call the police!" try this instead: "Your mother came in our house again when we weren't home and it feels creepy to me. It feels like she doesn't respect the fact that this is our house." Or instead of saying, "I am sick of the way you always stick up for that woman!" instead say, "When you cut me off and start defending your mother, I feel as though you're dismissing how I feel -- and that you're dismissing me." This allows your husband to remove his armor and actually hear what is bothering you -- which means he's more likely to address it with you and want to make it better.

Practice using these three strategies, and before you know it, your husband will start to feel more like your ally than your adversary. Not only will that make you feel closer to the man you married, but it will also make it more likely that the two of you will find a way to resolve your in-law issues. It's a win-win!