Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Last week, we featured a letter from a woman dealing with a very critical mother-in-law. In her words, no matter what she does, she can’t please her.

 

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Dear Fan,

Having a critical mother-in-law is very hard to deal with. Thus, it is important to try and understand why she treats you this way. Perhaps your mother-in-law had a hard childhood and is jealous of the attention you are getting from her son (and maybe even the positivity you get from her husband). It’s imperative that you internalize the fact that her attitude and criticisms have little to do with you and are a result of her own insecurity. Once you are able to detach yourself, it will be easier for you not to feel hurt and get emotional when she criticizes you. This is not an easy thing to do, however, if you can, you will have won most of the battle.

A very important thing to remember is to never let your mother-in-law bait you into an emotional reaction – in other words, never escalate the situation. It doesn’t matter who is right – even though in the moment it will feel very important – you must keep calm and stand your ground. You don’t have to give in or do only what your mother-in-law wants, just stay calm and unemotional. Without being rude, be clear and neutral.

For example, if your mother-in-law is criticizing your clean house or your cooking, you can just smile and say, “You are right, it is important for me to have a clean house and to prepare good food.” This will likely throw her off her game.

If you continue to smile and validate her criticisms, you may be more successful in stopping the criticism, as people tend to feel ridiculous and/or validated when they’re told they are right when trying to hurt someone.

Let’s be honest – this is hard to do. So make sure to practice. Stand in front of the mirror and, based on previous situations, respond to what has been said to you. If the criticism is something untrue and hurtful, say, “I’m sure you do not mean to hurt me, but saying that is very hurtful.”

Using honesty is something she will not be expecting to hear – and what can she say, “Yes, I was trying to hurt you.”

Another good idea is to look for triggers.

If you know your mother-in-law is more nervous and more likely to pick a fight with you at family functions, don’t sit near her. Be warm and loving, but keep busy and away if possible. It’s also critical to enforce your boundaries – you need to decide what they should be: criticizing or overruling your parenting, etc. If she steps over the line, calmly and nicely explain that you will need to decide these things with your husband and while you appreciate her insight, it’s ultimately your decision. Do not become defensive and do not let the conversation continue. Just walk away.

If you can avoid conflict all together, then do so, but don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself if needed. Remember, if you train yourself to detach, it will be easier to remain calm in these types of situations.

Lastly, and possibly the most painful thing of all, you have to remember that you will likely not change your relationship with your mother-in-law. Do the best you can, but at some point you may have to accept that this is how things will be.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, you should. Just be prepared for the reality. And don’t let her negativity make you into a negative person. Dwelling on everything your mother-in-law does is not a healthy way to live your life. The less important these negative interactions become, the less hurt and more detached you will become, which will ultimately be very advantageous to you.

Hatzlocha with this difficult situation!

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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to deardryael@aol.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.