Mother-in-Law Pushing Your Buttons Again?


Tips on dealing with in-law drama:

By Deanna Brann, Ph.D. for


You just got off the phone with your mother-in-law. You were all set for this conversation to be different, feeling prepared for anything. But then — wham! — she said something completely off-base that you couldn’t have planned for in a million years.

Man, you think, she knows exactly how to push my buttons! How did I let this happen again?

Your emotions are flowing full force, but you have no clue what to do with them or how to deal with this woman. Now what?


As the late drama critic George Jean Nathan once said, “No man can think clearly with his fists clenched.” The same is true for daughters-in-law.


When you allow your feelings about what she did or said to keep you engaged in the "right or wrong" debate, you get stuck in those feelings—and in your own perception of your mother-in-law. And there you stay, focused on your own pain and on who caused that pain. This not only affects your future interactions with your mother-in-law but, more importantly, it affects a bigger picture—your children and their understanding about getting along in relationships.

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Even though you feel stuck, the truth is that you can get unstuck! And in doing so, you can teach your children some valuable lessons to carry into their future family ties. Here are some tips:

1. Know which type of mother-in-law you are dealing with. All mothers-in-law fit into one of four types: Comfortable Carla, Mothering Margaret, Off-the-Wall Wanda, or Uncertain Sara. When you know her personality type, you can put some emotional distance between you and her actions. Then you are better able to see that her actions are more about her than about you.

2. Focus on the bigger picture—not on who is right and who is wrong. When you focus on what you want in the relationship (instead of on how angry she makes you), you move closer to knowing exactly what that next step is..

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3. Help her see you for who you really are. Think about how you would respond to your mother-in-law if your emotions about her actions were not so intense. How would that change your reactions? Taking the emotion out of the situation gives you a chance to show your mother-in-law the real you, a shift that can make a big difference.

4. Determine what small step you can take first. Instead of getting overwhelmed, ask yourself, What is one thing I can do to move me closer to where I want to be in the relationship? You just have to focus on the first thing—nothing else. Once you’ve taken that step, then move on to the next thing, and so on until you are where you want to be.

With these tips, you can create a win-win situation. And if you add in the lessons you will be teaching your children, it will actually be a win-win-win.

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This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.