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How to Deal with a Toxic Mother in Law

Toxic Mother in Law? Don’t know how to handle such things in your own family either? Does the relationship with your mother-in-law feel painful and difficult?

If a mother-in-law or mother’s behavior is toxic, you must take this situation with specific strategies.

Signs of a Toxic Mother-in-Law

If you feel frustrated, you’ve struggled with your mother-in-law from day one; you may recognize some behaviors from the list below.

1. She is Overly Enmeshed With Family Relationships

Toxic Mother in Law Eavesdropping

You might think your relationship, family, or couple’s relationship with your spouse or children’s lives is private, but you’d be wrong. She will meddle and put herself in the middle of any personal family situation.

If you try to push back and keep some privacy, she’ll react in an overblown passive-aggressive way. She’ll claim she is just trying to help or has the right to involve herself and in-laws.

Her relationship drama is exhausting and creates problems where they don’t exist. But you won’t be able to stop her from butting in.

2. She’ll Hold a Grudge Forever

If you thought your mother-in-law would forget the lame gift you got her for Christmas 10 years ago, think again. The list of grudges is long, and there’s no expiration date.

She’s been keeping score of important your mothers in law laws relationship since long before you knew there was a scorecard. Any time she needs to boost herself up, she can bring up that time you ruined her child’s happy birthday for a fun “gotcha” moment. Yes, an overbearing mother-in-law is just one of the signs of dealing with a toxic other personality.

3. She’s Never, Ever Wrong

The first rule of being in your mother-in-law’s family is that she is correct and you are wrong—end of the story.

Some of your actions are still wrong, even if you agree with her. Allowing you to be correct would mean she gave up some of her power over you, and she’ll never do that.

She may try to smooth things over and save face if you disagree in public. But privately, you’ll be reminded that she won’t tolerate that disrespect. She’s controlling and powerful, and your opinion is meaningless.

4. She Expects Her Child (Your Spouse) to Stay Loyal to Her, Not You

Toxic Mother in Law Manipulating Relationship

This goes a step beyond family meddling in law now. Your mother-in-law believes she should be the only person most important in her adult child’s mental health and life. She will actively interfere with her children’s personal space, mental health, and marital relationships.

This can be very dangerous for the mental health of your marriage, especially if your spouse makes excuses, completely ignores you, or diminishes her actions. She’s self-centered and can quickly wedge between you and your spouse if you aren’t a united front. Nothing would please her more than to get you out of the way.

5. You’ll Never Satisfy Her Standards

You can’t possibly feed your children well enough, have a lovely enough home, or have the right job. She’ll keep the bar impossibly high even when you achieve something great.

Your toxic mother-in-law doesn’t know how to give another person credit without feeling bad about herself. She can’t be happy for you when you accomplish something, even if it’s exactly what she said you should do. People like this feel better when she holds the measuring stick.

6. Nothing is Ever Her Fault

It doesn’t matter if your toxic mother-in-law or mother in laws.-in-law is directly responsible for something wrong. It isn’t her fault. Ever. You might have tried to communicate openly and honestly; nevertheless, you keep getting the same old toxic mother-in-law patterns. The controlling mother-in-law keeps avoiding the conversation.

One of the hallmarks and signs of a toxic monster in law, a toxic mother-in-law, or a toxic person is their use of manipulation. Like Fred Astaire, your toxic mother-in-law will find a way to dance around responsibility. She is very skilled at deflecting blame from herself.

She’ll come up with any excuses to establish her innocence. If that doesn’t work, she will blame games and downplay the problem to make it seem unimportant. No matter what, she’ll find a way to skate out of any responsibility.

7. She’s Emotionally Manipulative

Has your mother-in-law made you feel like you were on an emotional roller coaster? Toxic people are masters at emotional manipulation and mind games. The more off-balance you are, the easier it is to control you. You don’t feel like a family or a daughter or mother-in-law or sister or daughter-in-law now, more like a stranger.

Trust, self-judgment, and empathy may be essential values in your life. But your mother-in-law sees these as weaknesses she can use against you.

One moment she seems sympathetic to you, and the next, she’s indifferent. Other family members may seem to turn against you as well.

A manipulative mother-in-law is likely at the center of the drama.

8. She Makes Sure You Look Bad

Toxic Mother in Law Making Wife Look Bad

There’s only room for one strong person in this family dynamics relationship – your mother-in-law. She can’t feel powerful if her behavior makes you feel inferior. Someone else is stealing the family relationship dynamics spotlight.

She won’t waste an opportunity to see you trip up. Any chance she gets to knock you down a peg, she’ll do it.

9. She Tears Down the People You Care About

Why insult you when you can also bring down everyone else around you? Your mother-in-law takes whatever opportunity to insult your family, coworkers, and close friends.

Tearing you down is the primary goal, but including others, you care about is even more effective.

Your parents may be a prime target, or maybe your hometown. Anything that trashes your origin or social network will be used against you.

And if she insults any bigger person than one of these people in person, she adds embarrassment into the mix. This chaos keeps you both extremely hurtful and reactive while she runs the show. Your hurt feelings are nothing to this toxic person. Unfortunately, it is another trait of toxic relationships to deal with the signs of toxic other people.

10. Apologies and Praise Come With a Price

Your mother-in-law may surprise you with an apology or unexpected compliment. If this feels very surprising and out-of-place, your instinct may be on-target.

A person who is genuinely toxic and manipulative rarely offers genuine kindness. Most likely, there are strings attached.

An apology may include a subtle insult. A compliment in front of others can have a sudden twist at the end that causes embarrassment.

And if any of these are done publicly, she can put on a good show in front of a crowd. She will still find a way to disrespect or diminish you when the others aren’t looking.

11. She is Unlikely to Change

Ultimately, all this trouble is caused by a self-absorbed person who meets her needs at the expense of others.

Your mother-in-law has lived much of her life getting her needs met in unhealthy ways that hurt others. She has also developed little empathy and no remorse for stirring up so much chaos.

Your mother-in-law likely learned these terrible behaviors as survival skills.

She honed them long before you came into her life. At this point in law now, this is all she knows how to do. The odds of her having a new perspective on life are slim.

You’ll walk straight into a buzz saw if you try to fight her on this. She’s impossible to deal with.

12. She Acts Like You Don’t Exist

Toxic Mother in Law Alienating Wife

Maybe your biggest problem is feeling like a ghost with your mother-in-law.

You aren’t a thing to her. You are so insignificant to your relationship with her mother that she barely acknowledges her relationship with you. Rather than relationship chaos, you are met with a relationship void.

This can feel almost worse than being constantly insulted. At least a put-down requires some honest conversation, though. Being ignored creates awkwardness, a lack of self-esteem and respect, and questions your value.

Your mother-in-law doesn’t have to say a word. A shutout like this can hurt even worse when she publicly showers other children and other family unit members with attention and praise.

Reasons for Toxic Personalities

You may be in disbelief about your mother-in-law’s cruelty. Why would she single you out? Why is she so intentionally awful to you? It helps to understand what makes someone like this tick.

A toxic person behaves and acts differently and thinks about how they do to protect themselves.

People who experience trauma and deep emotional pain learn many ways to do this. Some people grow up knowing that weakness is punished and power is respected.

Others with toxic behavior traits may grow up with supportive families but experience traumatic events and poisonous life. A person with harmful traits and behaviors covers up the reality of their pain by inflicting it on others.

The whole plan relies on twisted logic and avoidance of responsibility. They don’t understand any healthy relationship behaviors or coping skills. They only know their set of extreme relationship survival skills from the past.

Accepting responsibility or feeling behavior for toxic people’s behavior would open the door to a great depth of pain they aren’t prepared poisonous face. So getting a toxic person to “change their ways” out of the blue is nearly impossible.

How to Eliminate a Toxic Mother-in-Law Coping Strategies

So now you’ve confirmed your suspicions. The mother of your wonderful spouse is toxic to everyone around her. What can you do? How do you make a good life with this dark cloud lurking around every corner?

Fortunately, you have many healthy strategies to pick from. These are not always easy choices. Remember, she is a master of emotional abuse and manipulation.

You will likely pay the price for your choice, but you may be better off.

All the coping methods here interrupt your mother-in-law’s ability to disrupt your life. Since you cannot change her, you must focus on what you can do.

Dealing with a toxic person can be very draining. The best strategies help you conserve energy and minimize the negative energy that poisonous people and relationships can impact you.

When you feel more empowered and in control of your circumstances, you can better handle the pain and chaos she throws your way.

1. Choose Your Battles Wisely

Choosing Battles Wisely With Toxic Mother in Law

It’s rarely a good idea to argue with a toxic person.

They go for the win and don’t care about the pain they cause. However, standing up to someone like this is necessary at times.

Make sure you know which hill you are willing to die on. For example, you may be helpful to tolerate her insults about you, but if she comes after your parents or kids? That’s a different story.

You must still avoid giving a strong reaction, even though you’ll want to unload on her.

Be calm and assertive, saying as few words as possible to convey your point. Again, it can be helpful to rehearse a few short statements for a moment like this.

You can take your stand with less temptation to fly off the handle. “I will not discuss my parents’ money situation with you. It is not your business, and this conversation is over. Goodbye.”

2. Set Time Limits on Conversations

Limit your interactions and make them as brief as possible

You can’t control anything about your mother-in-law, but you can control yourself. If you can’t leave the conversation quickly, change the topic to something light and easy.

It might help to have a few canned phrases or excuses to help you step out of a conversation or change the subject.

Make yourself just too busy to ever get into much of a conversation. Have an exit strategy where a friend calls you to interrupt you.

The less time you spend with your mother-in-law, the less she can hook you into something uncomfortable.

3. Don’t Respond or React

Toxic Mother In Law Initiating Drama

A toxic person feeds off emotional reactions. Everything they do will charge you and create a juicy, vibrant scene.

The more efficiently you react, the more attractive you are as a target. While it can be tough to keep a straight face, it’s a real buzzkill for someone like your mother-in-law.

Emotional sensitivity is a beautiful personality trait and should be cherished. This may be incredibly challenging if you are more overly sensitive to other people. Make it a game with yourself to be the most boring person ever when they talk to you.

Pretend you are on stage acting a part in a play. Speak in a deliberate monotone if that helps. You become uninteresting if you take all the electricity out of the situation. That’s a good thing.

4. Put Some Distance

Sometimes physical distance can be the best barrier between you and your toxic mother-in-law.

No matter how determined she may be to stir up trouble, it’s more difficult when you don’t live close by. She’ll have a lot more difficulty dropping in unannounced.

You’ll also have a built-in excuse for not traveling too often. The bigger the move, the more helpful this strategy can be.

This is the “time limits” method on a bigger scale. You gain a sense of freedom when you don’t worry about casual drop-ins or running into her at the grocery store.

Feel free to absorb yourself in a new community without working around her interference.

It may seem like an extreme move, especially if you enjoy spending time in her area.

However, the constant drain on your energy and emotions is a hefty price to pay. Moving far away can be the correct answer if it’s more than you can manage.

5. Get Support From People Who Care About You

Couples Having Fun Drinking Wine

Going up against a toxic mother-in-law is no small task.

You’ll run out of strength and patience long before she does, especially if you go at it alone.

Instead, use your professional support and network to help you stay calm and focused when it matters the most.

Need to rally yourself ahead of a Christmas gathering at your husband’s mother-in-law’s house? Spend time with your family or good friends shortly before.

Feel defeated after a demoralizing phone call from her? Get on the phone with your best listening friend and spill your feelings.

The most important people on your side are your family system, spouse, mother-in-law, child’s life, family gatherings, and adult child’s life. You’re a strong team that can’t be torn apart when they back you up.

Sometimes your spouse might feel caught between your children. Your family loves your children and their mother. Please encourage them to stand up for themselves even when it’s uncomfortable.

6. Eliminate Her From Your Life

You might need to cut her out of your life completely.

If you’ve tried everything here or she has crossed an unforgivable line, you may need to take the most significant leap.

It may be the only way to protect you and your entire family from ongoing harm.

You and your spouse must be in complete agreement on this. It’s a huge step and not to be taken lightly.

With a choice this big, there’s bound to be some fallout. You might lose some inheritance. Other family members may side with her and stop talking to her. You might feel guilty and both free and lost at the same time.

Take heart – if you’ve made this decision and know it’s the best thing, you will be better off. You and your family can live peacefully and leave all the negative things and pain behind. However, this kind of adjustment can be stressful and emotional.

Keep in touch with people who care about you. You and your spouse might find that this decision has brought a lot of pain to the surface. If this becomes overwhelming, go to some counseling sessions and find ways to cope with the change. A toxic relationship is unhealthy and can turn a good relationship into a problem if not taken care of on time.

Wrapping Up a Toxic Mother-in-Law

Dealing with a toxic mother-in-law isn’t easy. Ultimately, you must use the best strategies that fit your situation. Above all, remember to take care of your well-being first. Your toxic mother-in-law certainly won’t.

Frequently Asked Questions

People also ask:

What Can I Do If My Mother-In-Law is Toxic?

The first meaningful step relationship is to identify the problem. You need to figure out what exactly is making your relationship toxic. Is it her attitude? Is she constantly criticizing you? Or does she dislike you? Once you identify the problem, you can start working on a solution.

You can do many things if a good relationship with your mother-in-law is toxic. You may try telling her how you feel and why her bad behavior bothers you. Also, try setting boundaries for yourself and telling her to set boundaries for what behaviors will complicate your good relationship again.

How Do You Act Around a Toxic Mother-In-Law?

Always be respectful even if you disagree with your in-laws’ actions or way of life. Accept as much as you can that they may have opposing ideas. This does not imply that you and your partner must tolerate their rudeness. If you feel upset, you (or your husband) may always suggest they stop or cancel the visit.

How Do You Ignore a Negative Mother-In-Law

If you find it impossible to speak to or be in her presence, it may seem that the only way to maintain your sanity and happiness is to ignore your mother-in-law. You may miss your mother-in-law if you restrict your own spending time with her, cope with her challenging behavior, and make an attempt to confront or become aware of the difficulties in your interaction with her.

How Do You Outsmart a Manipulative Mother-In-Law?

It is not easy to outsmart a manipulative mother-in-law, but there are some ways that you can try.

  • Recognize her intentions
  • Establish boundaries
  • Avoid triggers
  • Dissociate from her remarks
  • Let go of the urge to pleas
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Jennifer Tanaka

Jennifer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a passion for helping couples struggling within their marriage, relationship, or during the divorce process.

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