THE BLOG
11/16/2011 07:49 pm ET | Updated Jan 16, 2012

Mother-in-Law or Mother-in-Love?

You've found the man of your dreams -- but is his mother turning your life into a nightmare? You choose your husband, but you don't choose his family. His mom is a part of the package and somehow you've got to learn to get along. Even if you live far away and don't have to deal with each other daily, issues come up at holidays and birthdays and any family event. Who goes where and when and who cooks and what?

Get the image of Jane Fonda's "Monster-in-Law" character out of your head. All mother-in-laws are not like that! The media loves to exploit the relationship with over-the-top humor. Mother-in-laws are simply mothers, and if their behavior rages out of control it's because they don't want to lose that role, or that honored position, in their child's life.

I actually have two mother-in-laws. How can that be? Well, when I divorced my first husband I didn't divorce his mom. She's a very important part of my children's lives, and mine. I respect her, and make sure that she is updated on the boys' activities and kept abreast of any family going-ons that she needs to know about. She appreciates that, and always remembers me on my birthday and at Christmas. And my ex-husband still keeps up with my mother and often calls her for "motherly" advice. Meanwhile, I married again and I have a new mother-in-law who lives in Australia. She is "mum" to me! We don't get to see each other very often, but we talk on the phone quite a bit. When we go to visit we stay with her, and do what we can to help out while we're there.

Becoming a mother-in-law is a milestone in terms of aging. It can affect someone on a profound level, as they feel they become somewhat secondary in their child's life. Emotions are mixed, and communication can be cloudy, or harsh. The mother-in-law might take her frustrations out on the "other woman," which is YOU!

Yes, there are horror stories, you see them on "Jerry Springer" all the time. But it doesn't have to be like that. The mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship can be an alliance. You might be best-buds, you can definitely be friends, and at the very least you can have mutual respect and admiration. Here are some tips:

1. Remember that the first thing you two have in common is that you both love the same man: her son, your husband. This doesn't have to be a competition for his time and attention. You each hold a special place in his heart.

2. Have an attitude of gratitude. If it weren't for your mother-in-law, your husband wouldn't be here! Thank her for that. She has a lot to do with the man your husband is today. For all those good qualities he has, whether genetic or learned, thank her.

3. Be respectful. This woman has been through a lot in her life. She should be valued. Ask her questions, tap into her wealth of knowledge. Let her share her experiences with you.

4. Spend time together. Get to know this new person in your life. Take her to lunch, or have a spa day, have fun and laugh like girlfriends. These times when you get along great and there is no conflict will go along way to helping smooth things over when an inevitable disagreement comes along.

5. Be kind. Give compliments, send cards, remember her birthday and other special occasions. Smile when you see her. Bring flowers or a gift when you go to visit. When you put out kindness, that's what you get back. Kindness softens the heart.

6. Speak up, and also listen. If something is bothering you, or you feel like you're being put in a situation where you are not comfortable, clear the air. Don't let things fester. Be clear so that there are no misunderstandings. Let your mother-in-law talk to you when she needs to, and listen to what she has to say.

7. Understand that you can never change another person, you can only change your response to any given situation. Look at what you can do to make your relationship with your mother-in-law better. Don't have any expectations about what she "should" do or say or how she "should" behave. Learn to love her for who she is, as she is, not for who or how you want her to be.

8. Be yourself. Relax. You don't have to be perfect, and trying to be perfect will only put pressure on your mother-in-law to try to be perfect, too. It's okay to let her see you without your make-up on. It's okay that you aren't "superwoman." When you let your guard down, your mother-in-law will, too.

Keep in mind that one day you will be a mother-in-law, too, and you can employ many of these techniques in vice-versa to establish a positive and loving relationship with your new daughter-in-law.