Marriage Missions International

How Do I Tell My Mother-In-Law To “Back Off?”

The following is a question that will be answered by Jay Kessler:

Q: My mother-in-law seems to have so much sway with my husband, more than I have sometimes. Recently we were considering a career move that would have taken us hundreds of miles away. My husband’s mother told him, “What’s really important to you, career or your family?” The guilt trip she laid on him made the decision for us. How can I tactfully tell her to back off?

A: You can’t; so don’t try. A friend once told me, “A word to the wise is unnecessary.” The only person (besides herself) who can tell this woman anything might be your husband (her son). But even that could be a lose-lose scenario if your mother-in-law gets the idea that you’re behind it. So don’t have a conversation that could alienate the two of you for the rest of your marriage.

Another reason to avoid telling her off is that you don’t want to force your husband into a painful choice. His loyalty to you could cause him either to distance himself from his family or to have to endure his mother’s punishing remarks for years. He’s bound to resent that wedge driven between you and his family and even resent you, who in some ways caused it.

Ideally your husband should respond to his mom’s “suggestions” tactfully and firmly with a comment like, “Mom, I hear what you’re saying. Nancy and I will talk and pray about this. These are decisions we make together.” In this way he’s doing what the Bible says — “leaving” his father and mother and “cleaving” to his own wife.

Your role as daughter-in-law is a tough one. It may sound old-fashioned to suggest that you must have a deferential, even submissive, attitude toward your mother-in-law, but it’s a biblical pattern.

Ask God to give you patience and grace to respond lovingly in the face of her tyrannical behavior, and ask God to soften her heart toward you. Who knows how God will use your gracious behavior in this woman’s life?

I’ve heard of wretched mothers-in-law who, when facing tragedy or illness, turn to the in-law who has shown grace and strength over the years. This is “turning the other cheek” and “doing good to those who despitefully use you.” It’s a way of loving your enemy. It sounds like a weak response, but it takes a lot of strength to respond in a Christ-like way.

Meanwhile, build your teamwork with your husband so he gets accustomed to making decisions, big and small, with your good input. Maybe part of his problem is that he’s still learning how to work as a partner with you. You can’t do much about the mother-in-law, but you should do everything you can to be a solid teammate with your husband.

As his comfort level grows, he will be more likely to make decisions that are informed by your input, not his mother’s.

The above advice was written by Dr Jay Kesler, in a question and answer feature called, “Couple Counsel” that appeared in the Winter 1999 issue of Partnership Magazine, which unfortunately, is no longer being published.

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Comments

9 Responses to “How Do I Tell My Mother-In-Law To “Back Off?””
  1. Jane says:

    (USA) This only works with "rational" partners and it puts guilt on a Christian wife who is dealing with a husband who is emotionally abusive and not"healthy"… Advice for helping a daughter deal with a "controlling" husband who uses biblical quotes to shame her into "cleaving" to him out of misplaced Christian duty?

    • Amy says:

      (UNITED STATES)  Understood Jane! My husband was recently found to be having a phone sex relationship. His mother, who has slung insults at me for 3 years and made demands on my home since we married (not before?!) was on the next flight to our home and proceeded to shame me and refer to me as disrespectful of “HER” family for the duration. She even took a swing at me! He allowed it, in his own grief, he was a complete … idiot, for this one last 24 hour period. How can I not be allowed to attempt to regain (or gain even) some level of control when my famly needs a strong presence in order to protect our own family?!?

    • Brinna says:

      (USA)  Wow!!! What a subject… I can tell you from 18 years of a struggle with a husband that could not speak up to his parents, it was a long tormenting 18 years that ended in divorce. Today my former husband is remarried and now literally lives in the next lot over from his parents. They have had to go to counseling and it is evident he still has not learned any lessons.

      My advise… Do not marry anyone unless they can leave parents physically, emotionally, financially and without any dependency upon the parents. It will kill your marriage as it did mine…. I am now remarried and have a wonderful husband that left his parents years ago. Our marriage is not a perfect marriage but we are happy. We have Jesus as the center of our home.

      I have contemplated on writing a book on this subject… Suggestion… After the wedding Move far enough away so you depend upon each other…

      • Leni says:

        (SINGAPORE)  I think I have the same experience as what happened to you. We are on the process of separation. I can’t stand that my husband is a pet of his mum who is manipulating her son against me, his own wife. We have been married for 18 years and have been through tough life together but he still lets his mother ruin our life. He knows that is not the right things to do but he always comes with the excuse that she is old and tolerates it. Well, he should marry with his mum then.

    • Wistful says:

      (USA) I agree. Some adults are not capable of understanding personal boundaries. I found out the hard way that by not speaking up for myself early in my marriage when my in-laws wanted my DH to help them out financially, I had to live with the negative consequences of it (no one consulted me and I was too young to know any better).

      If I could go back in time, I would keep my sweet, calm demeanor like the author suggests. I would show respect to my new parents-in-law and welcome them to my home with open arms and serve them good food and invite their interest in our children. But certain things I would make off limits, with a smile but FIRM stance. They are new at being my in-laws too, so they need me to be assertive and let them know where they are and are not welcome.

      I do find it interesting that the author is a man giving advice for a wife, something he has never experienced. I find too often women are counseled to be MORE subservient. As a woman, I was already eager to please. I needed to be encouraged to stand up for myself, be assertive, and place healthy boundaries in my relationships, and that it is quite possible to do with with a heart of love and gentleness.

      In fact, Christ said of the two greatest commandments is to love our neighbors LIKE we love ourselves. That places importance on making sure we place enough value on ourselves to be mindful to keep ourselves in a ‘place’ where others cannot hurt us. And forgive the best we can when best intentions go awry.

      • Jean says:

        (USA) Yes, it is true that, often men counsel women on things they know nothing about. Along with that, women are told too often to be subservient, while nothing is said to husbands. Christian women are aware of their roles, but because men and Christian Counselors, often over use bias in scolding women, it makes us turn off from the messages. We over use the words such as submit, obey, subservient, respect, when referrring to the way they want to tell us how to react to the husband.

        I would for once, like to read an article that told both men and women what they are to do for their spouses. If these counselors are of God, they would talk to both men and women and not blame women for marriage problems. A real Christian, God-fearing counselor is easy for us to recognize, one way is by their fairness and balance, not blaming wives!!

  2. Jill says:

    (UNITED STATES) I’m all for the Christian values, but when your husband is going against God then you have a stand to do what is right in the eyes of God. I am ready to tell my MIL off. She has interfered with our life since the wedding. She takes my kids and who knows what she does while they’re in her care. They come home all wound up and very destructive.

    She constantly calls and when we don’t answer the phone she shows up on the doorstep demanding to know what we are doing. It’s rude and utterly ridiculous. I can’t take much more. Even my husband has had his fill of this behavior. Thankfully we don’t live next door to her or it would be worse. I just today, politely told her to leave me alone. She wasn’t happy, but too bad.

    I might be more forgiving, but she doesn’t even give her son encouragement or credit for anything. She is always belittling him a left-handed way. She even wanted to “take” the kids on father’s day. Seriously? What an insult! So, in God’s eyes, I am taking matters into my own hands and will rectify this situation by limiting her exposure to my children and eventually us. My family deals with “issues” that require a peaceful environment. I need to do what best for all. And, as God created the family, He would want what is best for us.

  3. Khanyi from South Africa says:

    Hi. Nice article. It has encouraged me and at the same time made me ask questions. I’m 8 yrs into my marriage with my husband. On the first 3 yrs of our marriage I was very ill treated by his mother and sister. I thought it was because we are not yet used of each other. They will get to know me as time goes on but it wasn’t like that. I feel that I’m not welcomed in this family and I will never be welcomed. I think I’ve misinterpreted God somewhere. When the fighting will start I think I listen to God and be calm and quite, submitt to my husband but after all I will be left with so much anger in me that I can’t control.

    My problem is that, I don’t have my husband’s support. He won’t even stand for the truth. Lately, I gave birth to our second born and my husband wanted his mother to come a month after the birth of our second born. I wasn’t happy with the idea but to keep peace I agreed. Indeed my mother-in-law came. She was supposed to stay for a month but she didn’t. She came with my sister-in- law’s son who is 3yrs. And I have my month old boy and 6 yrs old boy. The whole idea of her coming was to help me, as I gave birth by c-section. She was always accusing my 6yrs old boy for anything that went wrong in the house. After a few days of this happening, one evening I asked my 6 yr old son, what is it with the misbehaving he has been doing. We talked for some minutes and I thank God for closing my mouth and opening my ears to my son. I found out that his been wrongfully accused.

    Soon after that my husband came back early from work, we were sitting in the room as I was resting, the kids were playing out side with my 6 yrs old sons friends. Almost 5 kids were playing with them outside. My sister-in-law’s son cried, my God; my mother-in-law was shouting at my son and even bitting him. Calmly I went outside and asked the kids what happend why my sister-in- law’s child was crying. The response I got was they were playing and he fell on the water. I went in and talked to my husband and in the meantime my mother-in-law is busy shouting in the house. I was also getting irretated by her behavior. When my husband went out to see her, she was saying my 6yr old son is abusing my sister-in-law’s son and I’m also ill treating her. She started swearing at me calling all names.

    My husband didn’t say anything and she said she no longer wants to be with us and she is leaving. My husband took her to his sisters house, without asking her to stop calling me names. After 2 days I asked my husband to talk about it, I had no one to talk to about what happend. I was hurt, very hurt. When I tried to talk about it to my husband he just said both I and his mother were used by the devil not even first listening to what I wanted to say.

    I know his sister is also no longer talking to me. What makes me more angry is that, my mother-in-law is telling everybody in the village that I chased her away from my house. My husband is not even telling the truth when the news comes to us, he just keeps quite.

    Some times I don’t think I still want to be in this marriage. I just want to take my kids and leave. Everything changed since then. My husband sends his mother money without letting me know. I’ve got so much anger in my heart regarding this woman and the way my husband has dealt with this issues. I’m in the stage now that anything happens I will pack my bag and go. If it was right for me not to answer back when my mother-in-law was swearing at me. Why do I feel so much anger?

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