How To Deal With Your Critical Mother-In-Law

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critical mother-in-law on the phone

Love. Marriage. Oh, and the in-laws.

When it comes to finding 'the one,' we tend to overlook the fact that we'll also be marrying into a whole other family as well. After all, it's already hard enough trying to find someone we want to spend the rest of our life with, let alone making sure we get along with their relatives too.

Even the best in-laws, however, aren't immune to becoming overly critical — especially the mother-in-law.

Your mother-in-law may adore you; she couldn't imagine a more perfect person for her son or daughter to marry. No matter how much you get along with her, you are still a different person and are bound to do things differently.

Perhaps your mother-in-law is a helicopter parent. She is very involved, and now that you have kids of your own, she thinks you should be a helicopter parent too — except for the fact that's not your style.

Another example may be that you and your spouse just married this year and want to buy an apartment downtown. Your mother-in-law, however, isn't having it. She says, "You're married now. You should settle down somewhere in the suburbs, not the city."

Even something like your personal fashion style can come under scrutiny now that you're in the family. The list goes on.

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If you're feeling like your mother-in-law is constantly criticizing you for one thing — or everything — it can leave you feeling like you are in a relationship black hole. You're screwed if you say something and miserable if you don't.

Just remember, as much as you hold your mother-in-law in high regard and feel like you need to impress her, your happiness is important too. You shouldn't be made to feel bad by someone who is family. And your spouse shouldn't want his or her mom to make you feel like that.

How to Deal With a Critical Mother-in-Law

1. Try to understand where she's coming from.

A lot of times, a critical mother-in-law may not realize she's coming across that way. In her view, she's just trying to help. Even our own parents can do this to us as well.

People who are older than we love to give advice — regardless of whether or not we asked for it. Having knowledge and years of experience is definitely valuable, but rampant advice can begin to feel more critical than helpful.

When it comes to our in-laws, it's always good to try and see things from their perspective first — especially regarding your spouse's mom. We'll always see our son or daughter as a child, even when they are grown up and married. So, it's understandable that a mom would be enthusiastic about giving advice on all sorts of things. Unless your mother-in-law actually does not like you — which hopefully is never the case — she's usually just trying to help.

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2. Change the topic.

If you're in a conversation with your mother-in-law and you are getting the brunt of criticism on something, change the topic. Shift the focus from you to her.

Perhaps she's telling you how to parent your infant. Simply say something concise and polite like, "Okay, great, that's very helpful," and then immediately ask her how she's doing. Give her a chance to open up and talk about what's going on in her life. After all, if she's been worrying about everyone else, she probably hasn't had time to focus on herself and would appreciate someone willing to listen.

By shifting the conversation onto her, it's no longer about you and what she thinks you should be doing. Think of it as a mother-in-law diversion tactic.

3. Wait it out for a while.

The truth is that we may only see our in-laws from time to time, so when you encounter that criticism, it may just be a few times a year. If it's only occasionally, try your best to shrug it off. It might feel frustrating at the time, but if it's not a continuous problem, it's not necessarily worth addressing.

Now, if your mother-in-law is constantly around and it's a repeated issue causing you stress, it's time to consider talking about what's going on. If you keep your feelings bottled up, it will only cause you to resent her — and possibly, your spouse too.

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4. Discuss it with your spouse.

Before confronting your mother-in-law, it's a good idea to discuss the situation with your spouse first. Oddly, he or she may have no idea you've been feeling like this and understands that his or her mom can come across as a little too strong.

When bringing up the topic, though, don't be mean with how you talk about her. You may feel like she's driving you nuts, but bring it up kindly.

No one wants to hear their mom insulted. Remind your spouse that you adore your mother-in-law, but lately, you feel like she is constantly critical, and it's been bothering you. Suggest that your spouse talks to his or her mother.

A lot of times, it's way easier for us to be totally open with our own parents than with our in-laws. I wouldn't recommend your spouse to say that you complained, though — simply that they have noticed what's been going on. Your mother-in-law may feel offended if she hears you complaining behind her back.

5. Confront the source.

Despite using the word 'confront,' do not go into the conversation guns-blazing, looking for a fight. Remember to be sympathetic.

Emphasize that you know she means well, but the criticism has really been hurting you.

It's not always what you say but how you say it. The best-case scenario is that she probably had no idea how her words were affecting you and will be glad that you told her.

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Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer who covers entertainment, pop culture, and lifestyle.