In- law wars causing Continual Conflict?

What to do when a mother-in-law is at war with her son’s new wife

By Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Family Law Mediator

Dozens of times a year I am involved in mediating a common, but often rarely discussed major family dispute. This virtual 'civil war' tears apart a family for years and occurs between a very unhappy new mother-in-law and her equally unhappy daughter-in-law. Basically the battle is over who will be the main influence in this young man's life, and the younger he is, the more likely he will cut out of the conflict to let these two most significant women in his life just vent on each other. That's a terrible plan, since it only creates more hurt feelings for everyone. There are no winners in this type of conflict, only wounded survivors.

This is a very common source of conflict, and one that frequently pops up to worsen around holidays or special occasions where traditional family functions are forced to change and make some major adjustments to add a new face at the table. Sadly in bitter in-law disputes, no one really wins the ‘war’ it just becomes a time of misery without any positive memories for anyone. It’s sort of like Jane Fonda's character back in the film "Monster-in-law" because that persona is actually not a character at all because some mom's actually try to bully new brides with manipulation to keep control of their adult son. Thankfully most women are mature enough to not become a complete ‘monster’ about the major change in the mother/son relationship. And if given some guidance, a young man learns how to be a stronger man to set healthy limits to protect his new wife, while honoring his mother in the process.

As a family law mediator, I've seen way too much pain from not dealing with this new relationship directly, so here are some insights to as to why the conflicts occur and more importantly, what to do to create positive change. These basic principles will help you go from family battles, to experience new extended family blessings.Since new marriages are full of changes for everyone involved, here's some relationship advice directly for the newest member of a family system, the daughter-in-law to save years of tears or heartache and pain as well as to help clear the air to prevent a mother-in-law from being portrayed as a monster.

Remember, the first year of marriage is the toughest year, and statistically the most common time that people will divorce. No question that it is a time of major adjustment, yet the good news is that most new relationships gained by marriage can grow stronger over the course of a few years, so you actually can expand your family and have more people to love, instead of staying exhausted in a continual dispute over meaningless power struggles.

1) She's your husband's mother, not yours

Keep a realistic perspective on just how close you can get to this other woman who really did love him first. The faster you try to push into his family circle, the more you find some strong minded women pushing back.

2) She won't like you sometimes in the beginning and may show it

Some women have a tendency to overprotect their sons, while others tend to over-provide for them. Helping his Mom see that you are already on the job as a loving wife who deeply cares for her son, and that you are taking good care of him can build trust. This way she doesn't have to sit around worrying about him now that you are in the family.

3) She needs time to build a relationship with you

It took time to grow in your love to your new husband and you had the advantage of being motivated by romance. It will take a longer time to build a relationship with his mom and you may have the disadvantage of time or distance. Think of how you built friendships with the other women in your life- lots of phone calls, cards, meals, trips, shared holiday's and shopping! Take realistic steps to build a relationship with your mother-in-law in the early years and you might gain an additional supportive mentor for a lifetime.

In most cases a new daughter-in-law should try to flow with the relationship changes her husband is going through, since typically it will grow into the sense of belonging to his extended family within a few years. Understand that if you only invest an hour a year at Thanksgiving into actually connecting with your new mother-in-law that it may take a very long time to get to a heart-to-heart friendship, if ever.

A new daughter-in-law can control much of the timing of how close this relationship will be so she should honesty consider the situation and think through the steps to move beyond an angry or attacking 'monster' to move toward gaining another mother's love and respect which benefits everyone for a lifetime. Good trade if you have the courage to try.

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About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and partners with media, major corporations and non-profit organizations to make a positive difference in our culture.

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