We can choose who we marry but we can’t choose the extended family we marry into.
If you’ve found yourself with an overbearing, emotionally manipulative mother-in-law, I feel for you.
It’s a challenging situation, especially if your partner is close to their mother and doesn’t see it as an issue.
There is hope, however, here are 15 ways to deal with a manipulative mother-in-law so you can live free from her mind games!
15 Ways To Handle An Emotionally Manipulative Mother-in-Law
1. First You Need to Understand Why She’s Acting how She Is
When someone is exhibiting any kind of toxic or negative behavior the first step is always to try and understand their motivations.
This doesn’t mean that you’re going to accept them being emotionally manipulative or feel sorry for them, not at all.
But by better understanding their motivations you can better handle them and identify triggers or ways to avoid conflict.
2. Identify Where She’s Most Manipulative
If your mother-in-law is being emotionally manipulative there are going to be certain areas of your life she’s trying to control.
Maybe she wants more access to her grandkids or wants you to treat her child (your spouse) differently, there will be something.
Take the time to understand what she’s trying to achieve so you can protect yourself better in those areas of your life.
3. Speak with Your Partner About It
This is a very important step, no matter how much they’re twisted around their mother’s little finger or blind to her actions.
You need to have a conversation with your partner about what’s going on and how it makes you feel.
They need to be completely aware of the situation and acknowledge it’s happening so they can help you deal with it.
If your partner is unwilling or unable to see what’s happening then you have a much bigger problem on your hands.
4. Talk to Your Mother In Law Directly About Her Behavior
This is a difficult conversation to have, but it’s absolutely necessary that you talk directly to your mother-in-law and don’t shy from saying exactly how you feel.
There is no need to be confrontational or say anything upsetting, you can keep it to straight facts.
If she’s not mature enough to listen, see things from your side, and hopefully make some changes, it’s her problem, not yours.
5. Set Some Healthy Boundaries
Your mother-in-law is behaving in a way that’s crossing boundaries so it’s very important that you set some clear boundaries.
This means communicating what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, in no uncertain terms.
It’s also important that you follow through on these boundaries and don’t allow yourself to be walked all over.
If she steps over a boundary, calmly and firmly remind her of what was agreed upon and that her behavior isn’t going to be tolerated.
It’s a shame you need to treat her like a child, but she’s giving you no option based on her behavior.
6. Get Validation from Close Friends and Family
One of the main issues with emotional manipulation is that it starts to make you question if the perpetrator is acting in your best interests or if you’re the one in the wrong.
If you’re feeling doubts about how you’re being treated or whether you’re overreacting, reach out to close friends and family.
They can provide some much-needed validation and help you see the situation more objectively.
They might also be able to give you some valuable advice on how to handle the situation.
7. Don’t Say or Do Anything when You’re Feeling Emotional
We’re not able to act our most rationally when we’re emotional, and as I’m sure you’re aware we’re also liable to say things that we’ll regret.
So, if you’re feeling emotional about the situation with your mother-in-law it’s best to avoid any kind of confrontation.
This doesn’t mean you’re going to bottle everything up, but it’s worth waiting until you’ve calmed down before having any kind of discussion.
8. Never Escalate a Confrontation with Your Mother in Law
If you do find yourself in a confrontation with your mother-in-law, it’s important that you never escalate the situation.
This means no raised voices, no ultimatums, and no threats.
You need to keep your cool and remember that you’re the one in the right here.
The best thing you can do is calmly state your case and then walk away if she starts to get emotional or irrational.
9. Don’t Apologize for Standing Your Ground
Emotional abuse often leads the victim to feel like they’re in the wrong when they challenge the person doing the abuse.
You might find yourself apologizing for setting boundaries or speaking up about how you’re being treated, or even feeling bad for your mother-in-law if she looks sad.
It’s important that you don’t do this as it will only reinforce the abusive behavior.
You have nothing to apologize for and you need to stand your ground and do what’s best for your family.
10. Don’t Try to Change Them as A Person
It’s important to understand that you’re not trying to change your mother-in-law as a person, and it’s not possible anyway.
You’re trying to get her to see the error of her ways and how her actions are negatively affecting your family, and take small steps towards her not being emotionally manipulative.
It’s a tough balance to find, but it’s certainly achievable. Everyone is capable of seeing how their actions are affecting others and changing that part of themselves.
11. Put Some Distance Between You and Your Mother in Law
If you find that your mother-in-law is starting to have a negative impact on your mental health, it might be necessary to put some distance between you and her.
This doesn’t mean that you have to try and cut her out of your life completely, but it might be necessary to limit your contact with her.
It’s important to do what’s best for you, and if that means not seeing your mother-in-law as often even if it causes an issue with your partner, you need to stand strong.
12. Put Your Family First
It’s easy to get caught up in trying to please your mother-in-law or making her happy, but at the end of the day, you need to put your family first.
Your partner and children should be your top priority, not your mother-in-law.
It’s important to make decisions based on what’s best for your family, not what will make your mother-in-law happy.
13. Accept that She Might Never Totally Accept You for Who You Are
Mothers-in-law get a bad reputation for not accepting their children’s partners, and for good reason.
They want the very best for their children, and in some mothers-in-law’s eyes, no one will ever be good enough for their child.
It’s important to accept that your mother-in-law might never totally accept you for who you are and will always try to be emotionally manipulative, you might have to settle with the best middle ground you can get.
14. Focus on Your Own Happiness
It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the negativity about what’s going on with your mother-in-law and how she’s treating you, but it’s important to focus on your own happiness.
These kinds of family feuds or issues can easily become time-consuming or all-consuming.
You’ll be happier and better equipped to deal with your mother-in-law if you have your own life, friends, and hobbies outside of the family dynamic.
Even pursuing self-help techniques like therapy, meditation, or yoga can help you feel better about yourself and the situation.
15. Don’t Hold a Grudge
This is a big one, for the sake of your own mental health, it’s important that whatever your mother-in-law has done or is currently doing, you can’t hold a grudge.
It will only eat away at you and make the situation worse.
You need to learn to forgive your mother-in-law for her past transgressions and move on.
It’s not easy, but it’s important.
Hopefully, if you follow all of these steps and also adapt to your individual situation and the things your mother-in-law is doing, you can find a way to deal with her emotionally manipulative behavior in a way that works best for you and your family!
Image credits – Photo by William Krause on Unsplash
Phil lives in England, UK, and has around 20 years experience as a professional life, career and executive coach. He started this blog to help others find and define their own self development journey. Blogging about a wide range of topics to help facilitate a better future.