A mother-in-law that bullies you goes far beyond a difficult one. At one time or another, most daughter-in-laws struggle with their husband's mothers. Your mother-in-law likely learned her behavior in childhood. She may target you because she feels threatened or intimidated by your differences, and she feels that you are unlikely to confront her behavior, according to Deborah Ward, in the article, "Keep the Bullies at Bay by Building Your Confidence," published on the Psychology Today website. Your mother-in-law has a need to be in control and is using intimidation to attempt to gain it.
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Like all bullies, your mother-in-law is hiding from herself. She may feel lonely or insecure since her son has created a life for himself that doesn't include her as a central figure. Feelings such as jealousy, envy and sadness can cloud her judgment and may provoke her to put you down in an attempt to gain control. Your mother-in-law may not be consciously aware of the pain she carries inside, and her bullying is a direct reflection of those wounds, according to therapist, Roni Weisberg-Ross, LMFT, in the article, "The Basics of Bullying and How to Stop It." Remind yourself that this is not personal and that you need to deal with this in a mature, sensitive manner to avoid damaging your marriage.
Grab Hubby's Attention
A slim chance exists that you will be able to put your mother-in-law's behavior to rest by yourself. Sit down with your husband and let him know what his mother has been saying and doing, and the effects it has on you. Let him know if you feel angry, anxious or intimidated in her presence. Ask him to pay close attention the next time you are together. If she doesn't act out in front of her son, this can be tricky. If your husband is unable to stand up to his mother or to set reasonable limits with her, marital counseling may be helpful, according to the article, "Can This Marriage Be Saved? I Hate My Mother-in-Law," in Ladies' Home Journal. It can also help you to release your anger, communicate effectively with your husband and be more assertive with your mother-in-law.
Even though it's not about taking sides, your husband's loyalty should reside with you. With his assistance, come up with a few comebacks to stop her in her tracks or ways you can exit the bullying situation. For example, if she says, "Your kitchen is a mess and not fit to serve a meal," say in return, "I wasn't planning on serving a meal and we have dinner reservations. It's about time for you to leave so I can get ready." If this doesn't work, your husband will need to intervene and confront his mother on your behalf, says licensed marriage and family counselor, Shirley Dudley, in the Woman's Day article, "Dealing With a Difficult Mother-in-Law." Be prepared as this may cause additional family problems, as well.
Stop the Bully-in-Law
If your mother-in-law is a serial bully, it's unlikely that exposing her behavior by telling others or spending less time with her is going to alleviate the problem. Careful, well thought-out planning can show others exactly who she is. If exposed, your mother-in-law may take on the victim role, in an attempt to turn the family against you, possibly causing marital issues, as well. Remain calm and avoid acting out in anger or frustration. If possible, turn to a family member you trust. Write down the incidents and include details like the date and time the incident happened. If you notice a pattern such as your mother-in-law tends to invite you into the kitchen to help with dessert, and then belittles you, have your confidant listen quietly at the doorway to intervene when appropriate, suggests the Mental Health Support website.