Martyr Mother-In-Laws

You’ve seen her type. Outwardly she’s all sacrificial like Mother Teresa, but inwardly she’s all vengeful like Jane Fonda in “Monster-in-Law!”

So, how can you tell if you might have a “Martyr Mother-In-Law?”

martyr-mother-in-law
Look for examples like these:

1. She uses guilt to manipulate you into changing your “evil or selfish ways.”
One woman told me recently that she and her husband were planning a trip to the Bahamas for their anniversary. She was really excited about it until her mother-in-law (MIL) said, “Well, we never went on frivolous and far-away trips like that when our children were small!”

2. She gets her feelings hurt easily over how you’ve treated her.
If your MIL is a true martyr, she won’t complain openly about this. She’ll just withdraw, not speak to you or your husband, whine, mope or even “turn on the waterworks” when you fail to give her the respect that she feels she deserves. She is, after all, the most maligned person in the whole family!

3. She secretly complains/whines about you to your husband, her son, in an effort to gain his support.
If she’s taking outward efforts to enlist your husband’s sympathies, then she’s moved to a new level of boundary violation. Most likely this means the situation has gone on for far too long and your husband has in some way given her encouragement.

So, how do you deal with a Martyr MIL?

1. Give her the acknowledgement that she’s seeking.
You may be thinking, Are you kidding me? Give her the satisfaction that she’s right? Never! I’m not saying you have to agree with her, but you can acknowledge the part that may be true, without agreeing totally with her logic.

For example, the woman I mentioned above whose MIL was critical of her taking a trip could say, “Mom, you’re right that you and dad never took those kinds of trips. That must have been hard on you. But Bob and I want to celebrate our marriage with this trip and we believe our kids will be happy that we’ve strengthened our marriage in that way.”

If her MIL continues to counter, “Well, I don’t think they’ll be happy. I think they’ll feel neglected.”  

She could say, “Well, you’re right. They may feel sad when we leave, but they’re probably going to have so much fun staying with you and dad that they’ll quickly recover. In fact, they’re really looking forward to staying with you.”

You can see how this might disarm the MIL and perhaps give her the acknowledgement that her concerns are legitimate, all the while you’re not backing down on your decision. She also probably feels insecure, so affirming her as important to your family can ease her defenses.

2. Present a united front.
Another way to neutralize a martyr MIL’s tactics is to encourage your husband to be the spokesperson for the two of you whenever possible. He can respectfully remind his mother with words like, “we decided …” and “our belief is …” to refer to your united front. This will probably evoke respect from her because she loves and trusts her son.

If your MIL continues to push these limits, then consistently persevere in setting clear boundaries, all the while acknowledging her concerns. Change can happen, but it takes time and consistency!

 

What are some of the difficulties you’ve had with your mother-in-law?

 

What are some of the fears you have in trying some of these strategies with your MIL?

BTW, not all mother-in-laws are “martyr’s,” but this post has been about those that sometimes are. In fact, my MIL is great, so writing about these issues will be a challenge! But in the weeks to come, I’ll be writing about some of the other ways MIL’s and FIL’s bring us joy and pain and how to deal with it when they do. So check back!

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  • Brandy Mutschler

    My MIL had so much to complain about as my husband and I were planning our wedding… she drove me a little nuts. She is a devout catholic, and we were not planning a catholic ceremony. We had chosen a non-traditional song as our recessional song and she asked about half of her relatives what they thought about the song because she didn’t like it. It really hurt me that she made such a big deal about it and gossiped about us behind our backs. She also did not like that we were taking our pictures before the ceremony because SHE needed more time to get ready… and I was the bride. lol. Even though I say these things about her… she really is a good woman. She raised my husband very well and I respect her and love her. She just gets under my skin sometimes because she can be a little high maintenance. But so can I. 🙂

  • Lisa Maria

    Good advice Beth! I especially love the ‘united front’.. that’s one I really believe in myself. As you say.. it takes time and consistency.

    God bless!

  • When we’d been married less than 5 years, our children became very ill — fevers of 103+ — and we canceled our planned trip to visit my husband’s family for Christmas. A couple of weeks later, my husband received a 3-page letter from his mother, trashing herself for being a “horrible mother” because her son wouldn’t even visit her for Christmas.

    I was too young to know how to handle this. My husband was crushed and did not respond. I wrote a long letter back, detailing everything he did each day: graduate school, full-time teaching, part-time ministry, keeping up the computer lab at school, home care, exercise, parenting, etc. I thought that if she knew how exhausted he was from all he did that she would understand his choice to stay home after the kids became well.

    At the time, I had not learned that self-sacrifice is the “love language” of my husband’s family. The more sleep you lose, the more ill you sound, the more inconvenience to yourself, the greater evidence of love you demonstrate by showing up anyhow.

    Needless to say, we hadn’t discussed anything like this in pre-marital counseling! It took a lot of trial-and-error for me to learn how to stay out of the way and not put my husband in the position of having to choose between me and his family.

  • messymarriage

    Thanks for sharing some of your struggles to fit in with a clearly difficult in-law tribe, Cheri. I’m so glad that your husband finally woke up to the need to align with you, his wife. That can make all the difference!

    BTW, I stopped by your blog and read your post, but it wouldn’t let me leave a comment. But here’s what I would’ve said: You’ve certainly had your share of trials and tribulations with your in-laws. I’m sure it has left you feeling bruised and battered. I will pray for your wounded heart, Cheri! Hugs to you too!

  • messymarriage

    Blending the personalities and interests of two families certainly can be challenging, as you’ve illustrated from real life here, Brandy. Thanks for sharing how you’ve been impacted. And I’m glad that you’ve not let those hurtful times keep you from loving and, ultimately, accepting your MIL. After all, humans, in general, can get under my skin! Oops, I guess that means I get on my own nerves too! haha!

  • Shortybear 63

    Awesome post.

  • Tonya Vander

    Setting proper boundaries is so important. Advice given without being asked is such a common issue. I didn’t have a MIL that was like that. Our issues were different. Great post. Thanks for stopping by!

  • messymarriage

    You’re sweet for saying! 🙂

  • messymarriage

    Yeah, that united front is sooo important! Thanks for stopping by and weighing in – I appreciate it!

  • e-Mom @ Chrysalis

    Awesome advice! So often we misread others’ remarks and take them as personal criticism, rather than as a plea for acknowlegement.

    MILs are human and need encouragement too. If we still think of ourselves as children, and treat her like all-powerful Mom figure she used to be, we will be disappointed.

    Your reprasing of her concerns in a positive way is terrific!

    Thanks for linking up for Marriage Monday today, Beth.

    Blessings, e-Mom ღ

  • messymarriage

    Thanks so much, e-Mom! Your encouragement means a lot to me. And thanks so much for “Marriage Monday’s.” There’s no other blogger who loves “Marriage Monday” more than me! I’m so glad I found your site! 🙂

  • messymarriage

    Thanks, Tonya, for stopping by my place too – and sharing your encouragement with me. 🙂

  • I’m fortunate not to have a martyr-in-law. I find your suggestion to give her the acknowledgment she’s seeking very interesting and helpful. Don’t we all want to know we’ve been heard and our opinion valued?

  • Faith

    i’m so thankful that my MIL isn’t a Martyr one!! wow…..i’m blessed…in fact she was over the top thrilled for us when we went to paris…she thot that was a great way to celebrate my 50th bday and our 20th year of marriage…(yes we brought our daughters….)….we’ve been on numerous trips around new england and sometimes without the children…..she is all for that!! lol….

    Oh…your son was in C lifton Park?? awesome….that is pretty close to us….I lived there right after grad school….but we are a little south of that now….

  • I have to say it I have personally seen this with father inlaws as well. UNITED front is so important even for the inlaw, so no one is confused.

  • Nice A

    I really agree with the idea of “united front”. If this is done consistently by both spouses, the MIL (the rest of the in-laws) will pick up the signal they’re both sending. It has worked well with me and hubby in dealing with my in-laws so now they clearly know our stance as a couple. They know that we support each other.
    As any other human relationships, it’s also important to recognize the need for affirmation of our in-laws, as you point out here. Every human being reacts positively by words or acts of affirmation and recognition.
    Thank you for leaving a comment in my post.

  • I’m just thankful I don’t have to deal with Martyr MIL! Blessings!

  • messymarriage

    haha! You and me both! 😀

  • messymarriage

    Thanks to you too for stopping by and weighing in!

  • messymarriage

    You’re probably right. Having a “martyr mentality” knows no gender. Although, unfortunately, women tend to fall into this trap more than men. Thanks for stopping by!

  • messymarriage

    That’s great that your MIL is so supportive. I think I’d be jealous of your trip to “PARIS”! Wow! I’m trying to talk my hubby in to taking me to the UK for our 25th. But then, we have three boys to put through college too! Yikes!

    Thanks for stopping by and replying to my comment too! 🙂

  • messymarriage

    You’re right, Tami. Being acknowledged seems to help any conflicted situation. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  • alfecia

    I love the advice you’ve given to acknowledge her feelings too. And I must admit, I probably haven’t done this enough in my dealing w/my own mother-in-law, who is great. So thanks for sharing! And please forgive me for not returning the MM visit sooner. It’s been a crazy week! Blessings to you!

  • Nancy Slagle

    My MIL lived with us for a while (the tenth circle of hell) and was jealous of any kindness I would extend to my PETS! I’m not a wierd, PETA-type animal worshipper or anything, and she never really acknowledges her deep seeded hatred of animals (as they get the house “dirty”. But whenever I was talking to, or caring for, one of our pets, she would watch for a minute in silence before uttering this gem: “Someone in your life must have hurt you deeply.”

    WTF???

    The translation, once I had time to reflect, was something like, “I am terribly jealous of any attention you give to your animals, but since I can’t acknowledge that truth without seeming psychotically insecure, I’m going to assume you’ve turned to loving animals more than people. What I really suspect is you prefer them to ME, but since I’m a perfect and loveable human being, I’m going to project that imagined slight onto every other human alive. Disregard the fact that you are well-liked by others and I’m an over-sensitive, melancholy drag who keeps a running total of real or perceived slights against me. You must just hate people in general.”

    • It sounds as if you have incredible insight into your MIL’s heart and mind, Nancy. But it also sounds as if you have a lot of pain and resentment towards her still too. (I’m not saying that your anger is unwarranted, just that it is a factor to consider in your response to this situation).

      If I were you, I’d work on gaining more insight into her heart as well as your own regarding this hurtful situation. You need to process through your feelings, grieve this loss of relationship and find God’s comfort to heal your wounded heart. Find a good Christian counselor or life coach to walk through the necessary steps with you, if you are at a loss as to how to do all of that.

      Also, how has your husband responded to the way his mother has talked to you? Are you a united front in setting boundaries or addressing her hurtful behavior? That might be the best way to approach this situation at this point.

      Rest assured that I will pray for you in this situation, Nancy. I know it’s got to be heartbreaking.

  • Nancy Slagle

    My MIL lived with us for a while (the tenth circle of hell) and was jealous of any kindness I would extend to my PETS! I’m not a wierd, PETA-type animal worshipper or anything, and she never really acknowledges her deep seeded hatred of animals (as they get the house “dirty”. But whenever I was talking to, or caring for, one of our pets, she would watch for a minute in silence before uttering this gem: “Someone in your life must have hurt you deeply.”

    WTF???

    The translation, once I had time to reflect, was something like, “I am terribly jealous of any attention you give to your animals, but since I can’t acknowledge that truth without seeming psychotically insecure, I’m going to assume you’ve turned to loving animals more than people. What I really suspect is you prefer them to ME, but since I’m a perfect and loveable human being, I’m going to project that imagined slight onto every other human alive. Disregard the fact that you are well-liked by others and I’m an over-sensitive, melancholy drag who keeps a running total of real or perceived slights against me. You must just hate people in general.”

  • It sounds as if you have incredible insight into your MIL’s heart and mind, Nancy. But it also sounds as if you have a lot of pain and resentment towards her still too. (I’m not saying that your anger is unwarranted, just that it is a factor to consider in your response to this situation).

    If I were you, I’d work on gaining more insight into her heart as well as your own regarding this hurtful situation. You need to process through your feelings, grieve this loss of relationship and find God’s comfort to heal your wounded heart. Find a good Christian counselor or life coach to walk through the necessary steps with you, if you are at a loss as to how to do all of that.

    Also, how has your husband responded to the way his mother has talked to you? Are you a united front in setting boundaries or addressing her hurtful behavior? That might be the best way to approach this situation at this point.

    Rest assured that I will pray for you in this situation, Nancy. I know it’s got to be heartbreaking.

  • Jessica

    My MIL totally changed when my baby was born in May 2012. She became demanding in doing things for the baby without asking me or my husband. She would always stare at me when I would breastfeed my baby. I finally told her to her face in a crowded cafe while trying to breastfeed my screaming baby, “YOU’RE the one staring!” She bolted out for few minutes and came back with tears in her eyes. My husband was totally disgusted with me. Fast forward to a year later, and I finally confronted her at her home. She denied me the chance to talk to her about her interfering several months before, and I was bottling up all this resentment inside. She accused me of verbally abusing her, and she walked out of her own home. She kept saying how she failed in my eyes, and that all she ever did was give me love and support.

    This is what she emailed and texted to me after our confrontation:

    Jessica

    It saddens me to say that after careful consideration I am no longer
    prepared to listen to your unfounded verbal abuse. I am deeply upset it
    has come to this and I think you should seek immediate professional
    medical help on your return to Manchester as the carnage you are
    creating within this family is unsustainable. I hope that we can invite
    you back to our house once your behavioural issues are addressed and you
    discover how precious the gift of love is.

    Once you have come to terms with your emotional issues, and they are resolved, you are most welcome to visit us again.

    Jayne and Paul

  • pixigirl76

    My MIL lived with us for a year, and when we moved out of the home we rented, she left us cleaning the bathroom she shared with her cats! Imagine how fun that was for me! Oh then I get a call from my sister who owns the house saying the room smells like cat pee and the carpet will have to be torn out! Told husband about it, and what do ya know?? It was NOT a big deal, he’ll take care of it! Can’t stand irresponsible adults! So glad we’re in our own home now and my contact with her is next to none! But she plays the part as if she really likes me when I know she’s jealous of the fact that her son is no longer hers to impose on! I don’t let that crap happen if I can help it!