What can you do about unlovable inlaws? Sometimes you can do more than you may have at first thought. It truly is a Mission of Love—God’s love, as you try to do the best with those who are unlovable. Your focus is on “what would Jesus do” rather than what you want to do.
To help you in this mission we will share with you a testimony on this subject that comes from a book titled, The Best Thing I Ever Did for My Marriage: 50 Real Life Stories which contains 50 inspirational real-life stories compiled by Nancy Cobb and Connie Grigsby, published by Multnomah Publishers. We pray the following story by Diane Reilly will minister to your heart on loving the unlovable:
Dealing with Unlovable InLaws
“Mom Reilly came to live with us at the age of 79 after living alone as a widow for 15 years. We had been married for 9 years and had 4 small children. ‘Mom’ was determined to get as much attention as possible from my busy doctor husband, who was rarely home. She’d rise at 4 or 5 in the morning. Then she’d start banging a spoon on the kitchen table, announcing it was time for coffee.
“She insisted on never being alone, which meant I couldn’t even go to the bathroom alone. ‘Diaaannne,’ followed by knocks on the door, could be heard throughout the house. Carpools weren’t immune to her, either. She became a fixture in the front passenger seat. Her hand was on the horn if I walked a child inside and took too long.
“She was also a joy to shop with. When buying school clothes, I would find a comfy chair for her in the shoe department before heading out. Ten minutes later, I’d inevitably hear my name paged over the loudspeaker system!
“A ‘quiet and gentle’ spirit I did NOT have, but desperately wanted —and needed! I was in daily turmoil over the increasing demands I tried to place on myself in an effort to be the perfect wife and mother. My ‘thorn,’ Mom Reilly, was burrowing deeper and deeper into my side. Her tongue was so sharp. Nothing I said or did pleased her.”
Inner Resentment and Anger
“I became compliant on the outside, but seethed with resentment and anger on the inside. She was my ‘ball and chain.’ I took out my frustrations on my patient husband, sideswiping him time and again about being a workaholic. My tongue became as virulent as, if not worse than, Mom’s.
“One night God met me in a powerful and unexpected way. I was reading the crucifixion story in John’s Gospel. Jesus is on the cross looking down at His mother and His beloved disciples. With great tenderness and compassion, He says to John, ‘Here is your mother.’ He was giving me His mother —to love and care for —just as He had given His mother to John. Was I not also His disciple? Was I not also commanded to love others as He loved me?
“My heart changed that night. God gave me HIS heart for Mom Reilly. No longer was it an effort go love and care for her. She lived with us for 16 years, and we now see her time with us as a divine gift to bring supernatural love into our family.”
Applying God’s Blueprint
“It was the Lord who asked for a gentle and quiet spirit from me and it was this thorn of adversity that caused me to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. I fell more and more in love with Jesus, and my husband, as I practiced on ‘His mom.’ And as my heart changed toward Bob and he was no longer battling my anger and critical spirit, we began studying, applying and then teaching God’s blueprint for marriage.
“One of the best things we did was to begin praying together. Our times together with the Lord are our most intimate. It’s hard to be angry, critical, or disinterested when you go into the throne room together. We pray together daily and communion is so sweet. We also honored Mom Reilly and thank God for her, His special gift. From the bottom of my heart I can say that she gave us more than we gave her.”
That’s amazing, when you think about it! When we put our focus on God, rather than our circumstances, it’s amazing how things can go in a different direction.
The following are a few additional insights on this issue of loving unlovable inlaws. They come from the book “Toward a Growing Marriage” written by Gary Chapman. (Unfortunately, this book is no longer being published.) Dr Chapman writes:
“It’s true that not all parents live respectable lives. Their actions may not be worthy of honor, but because they’re made in the image of God, they’re worthy of honor. You can respect them for their humanity and for their position as your parents, even when you cannot respect their actions.
“It’s always right to honor your parents and those of your marriage partner. ‘Leaving’ your parents (as we’re told to, in the Bible in Genesis 2:24) doesn’t erase the responsibility to honor them. To ‘honor’ implies that we speak kindly with parents and in-laws. Paul admonishes: ‘Do not rebuke an older man harshly. But exhort him as if he were your father.‘(1 Timothy 5:1) We are to be understanding and sympathetic. Certainly we’re to speak the truth, but it must always be in love.” (See: Ephesians 4:15.)
“When we were young, our parents met our physical needs. As they grow older, we may have to do the same for them. If the need arises, we must bear the responsibility of caring for the physical needs of our parents. To fail in this responsibility is to deny our faith in Christ (see: 1 Timothy 5:8). By our actions, we must show our faith in Christ and honor for our parents.
“If I could make some other practical suggestions, I’d advise you to accept your in-laws as they are. Don’t feel that it’s your task to change them. If they’re not Christians, certainly you’ll want to pray for them. Then look for opportunities to present Christ, but don’t try to fit them into your mold. You expect them to give you independence to develop your own marriage. Give them the same.
“…The train of God’s will for marriage, must run on the parallel tracks of separation from parents and devotion to parents.”
Ask the Lord
The above thoughts given by Diane Reilly and Dr Gary Chapman are ones we hope you will prayerfully consider. We realize that many of you have in-laws that are even more difficult to love “as unto the Lord” because of the way they treat you and your family. There are others who even try to sabotage their “child’s” marriage. Truly that is disturbing.
But whatever they do, that doesn’t justify your acting toward them in ungodly ways, as well. Please ask the Lord to show you how to give grace as He would ask, and yet be able to put up boundaries to protect yourself and your marriage partnership the best way you can —as He leads, and leave the results to God. You aren’t accountable for your in laws actions, only your own.
Also, please know that we have articles concerning Dealing with In Laws & Parents posted on our web site. We encourage you to prayerfully glean through them. See if you can pick up a helpful tip here and there. It’s sure worth the look.
We pray that God will empower you to reflect the heart of Christ within your marriage,
Cindy and Steve Wright
More from Marriage Missions
Filed under: Marriage Messages
10 responses to “Unlovable InLaws – MM #122”
(SOUTH AFRICA) Dear Cindy this email was for me, as I have no peace in my marriage about this in law thing. My husband feels that I do not like his family, which is not true. We started off very bad in the marriage, with my mother in law being horrible with me –that’s including my sister in law. My husband is siding with his family. As a result, I told him that it’s better we call it quits.
I ignored my mother in law for a very long time. She is now becoming friendly with me. I could be wrong to think that she has a motive because she was always nasty. Please pray for me as this affects my marriage. God bless, Brenda.
(SOUTH AFRICA) Hi Brenda, I don’t think you are wrong to feel unsure about your mother in law’s friendliness. Give her the benefit of the doubt but this does not mean that you will be naive. Keep a watchful and prayerful eye. Even Jesus advised us to be as meek as doves but wise like a serpent ( Matthew 10:16). God is the garantor of your marriage not the in law.
(SOUTH AFRICA) God gave me a similar lesson that helped me change my mind about my mother in law. He taught me to love her, if not for any other reason but for the fact that she nurtured, nursed and helped train my husband into the man he is today. It was partially, if not mostly her influence in his life that has made him the man I fell in love with. So in a nut shell, if it was not for his parents influence, I would not have been so attracted to the qualities the man possesses today. You can even go further and talk about the sleepless nights she must have had when he was born or when he fell sick, the talks his parents had when he reached puberty etc. It was also the qualities that his father portrayed that makes him the man he is. Can we really not love or respect and honor a father and mother in law?
(SOUTH AFRICA) Hi Rose, Thank you so much for responding to my mail. God bless you. Thank you for uplifting me. Regards Brenda.
(CANADA) I am in a similar situation where my mother-in-law has been to the point of controlling, abuse and in the middle of our relationship and marriage. Our marriage coach tried to put the foot down and have my husband do the same, but it’s just not working. I’m ready to walk out. I just can’t handle her abuse another second. She is an extremely hateful and vile woman. Mother-in-laws are the top cause of divorce. I don’t want her to “win,” but honestly our relationship is filled with so much anger and resentment and problems now I don’t see it ever getting better for us. I hope if I ever have children I will not be a mother like this.
(USA) Not sure what to do. My mother in law has never liked me from the beginning of my marriage to her son, whom I’ve been married to for 13 years. The problem I have is that she accuses me of things I haven’t done or said. She is the type who likes to gossip so she has my husband’s whole family against me except for one aunt. She has called me names, puts me down and one day she raised her hand to hit me until my husband stopped her. She has accused me of even trying to poison her with my cooking.
My husband on the other hand is very loving and all. We get along great except where is mother is concerned I am not allowed to stand up or defend myself to her in anyway. He tells me he will take care of it but more than not he doesn’t. He tells me I should let it go and ignore her, that she is just jealous and that she was like that with his first wife also. But his family isn’t just like this towards me but has been like this towards our kids also. My husband does rely a lot on her for money no matter how much we have or don’t have. He runs to her anytime he wants or needs money or anything. If we try to separate ourselves from her at all he feels guilty. He says he worries about her. And I understand that and feel that that is natural especially has they get older. But to a sense though she is destroying our marriage. I’ve tried to be nice and even buy her things to only have them thrown back in my face.
I could really use some advice on how to handle this situation. I don’t want to come in between my husband and his mother or family. I don’t feel comfortable around them so I usually don’t go visit when he does, which by the way, his mom lives right beside of us and all those that live around us are his family aunts, uncles, cousins and so on. All of my family live about 7 hours from us. Any help, suggestions or advice would be appreciated.
Belinda, Some people will always play the role of being “sandpaper” people in our lives –where they rub us the wrong way. As much as I wish we didn’t have to have those type of people around us and instead have only “pillow people” –those who are soft and comfortable in our lives, it isn’t a reality. And actually we wouldn’t grow as much, if all we had were pillow people around us. It sounds like your mother in law is a sandpaper person, or an “irregular” person. In her book “Irregular People”, Joyce Landorf Heatherly describes an irregular person as “that person who is blind, deaf, and mute to your deepest needs, no matter how hard you try to communicate.” Your mother in law sounds like one of those, for sure.
Belinda, you can keep bashing your emotions up against a wall, trying to figure her out (which I’m not sure you will unless the Holy Spirit, our Wonderful Counselor gives you enlightenment), or you can try to go with the flow as best as possible (which I believe you’re trying to do). Please read articles posted on our web site in the “In Laws” topic, to see if God gives you insights as to how to best deal with her. There’s also a few resources you might think of getting, which we recommend in the “Links and Recommended Resources” part of that topic. They might give you ideas on how to set up healthy boundaries.
Also, I found an article on the Internet, which might help you as you prayerfully consider all of this. It is written by Jean Stockdale and she writes of “A Strategy for Dealing with Irregular People” at: http://jeanstockdale.typepad.com/jean_stockdale_/2008/11/a-strategy-for-dealing-with-irregular-people.html. I believe you may find some helpful insights from reading this article. All I can say is to give grace when and where you can, try not to carry the weight of this onto yourself and allow bitterness to take root, chock her antics as “irregular” and unhealthy when it will help, set up healthy boundaries to help deal with her, and don’t allow yourself to stoop down so low that you allow her to get to you in such a way that you do that which you know you shouldn’t. Let your husband step in when he will, but if it doesn’t look like he will, then find a way of escape in dysfunctional situations. I’m not thinking confronting her will be productive because I’m not sure she would receive it in the way she should. So your best option seems to be to find other ways to deal with her.
Your mother in law is all part of the marriage package. She can’t be erased from your husband’s life, or yours. But she can be dealt with in ways that can let you put your focus on which is “true, honorable, right, and pure” as Philippians 4:8-9 tells us to do. And with that focus, we’re promised in those scriptures that “the peace of God will be with you.” I hope that for you –that you experience His peace and hope, despite whatever your mother-in-law does.
(USA) Though your comment was not addressed to me, it sure does apply to my situation that I posted under another in law article.
It is so funny that the ball always ends up in our court to pray, seek wisdom and make sure we are on the up and up. When you are in the midst of an in law problem, you can forget about all the things YOU can try to do in the Lord to correct the problem.
I thank God for you and your husband and this site. I don’t discuss my marriage with ANYONE. Not my parents, friends or other family. This site is a blessing. Sand paper and pillow people-thank you for that.
Hi Michelle, Thank you for the kind words. I’m sorry you’re having in law problems. I was fortunate that I had a great mother and father in law. I’ve had other in law problems though, so I know how extremely difficult it can be. Some people in our lives act like a continual thorn in our side. And I have to say that we receive emails from many, many mother in laws that are heart broken because of the problems they’re having with their daughter or son in law. So many times it goes both ways as far as the one that needs to seek and pray for solutions.
What I’ve learned is that even though we don’t like it, we do grow through these types of situations. We find out a lot about ourselves in the process –that we have a lot of junky feelings inside that we need to work through with the Lord. Stuff rises to the surface that they pull out of us as our “buttons” are pushed, that we need to learn how to deal with and learn to grow in maturity. And sometimes it helps us to be better prepared for other sandpaper people in our lives (maybe even our spouse, at times). Keep seeking the Lord for wisdom and strength and discernment (to let go of the small stuff and give grace when you can) in all that you encounter. Thank God we have Him! I wish you well.
Ok I’m having the most difficult time w my mother in law. I have absolutely no desire to ever see her again and think it may be fine just to love her by praying for her. I’m still working on a spot to forgive her. She comes in my home, undermines me to my children, talks bad about me to my husband and children, is physically abusive to me in front of my kids, and calls me names. She goes up, then down.
Do I really have to deal with this? Can’t I just pray for her and never see her again?? She would do anything for my husband (except respect his marriage and authority as a father and as head of his home). I wouldn’t partake with anyone willing to throw my marriage under the bus. Do I really have to do this?
I want to be obedient to God. At this point I seriously need some help with bitterness, forgiveness, and love, and all I’m feeling like is kicking my feet saying why God, why God? Isn’t there a line we should be drawing here or a boundry? I don’t understand? Could someone please help? My husband still talks to his mom. Of course he wants to honor God and his mother; he doesn’t have a father and his entire family including his own brother quit talking to his mom, except for one of her sisters.
He feels obligated because he’s really the only person she has but in my mind we’re not responsible for that and have in the past encouraged her and tried to set boundaries like ok you can’t come around until you really go seek out some help. We want you in our lives but you’re unhealthy, and you really need to get some help. Her response -your wife needs to be medicated. The worst part is she doesn’t even believe in medicine.