Before I dive into an article on how to have a healthy relationship with your mother-in-law, let me start by saying how grateful I am to have a great relationship with my own MIL, even though getting to this place didn’t happen overnight. She has always been sweet and caring in our relationship, but it is not always an easy terrain to navigate. By talking to my therapist about certain problems they needed to solve, I learned to communicate with her in a much more effective way. It was with these tips and an open mind that we opened a path to respect and understand each other. And now she is one of my closest confidants! So today, along with my story and advice from Elizza LeJeune, LMSW Licensed Clinical Social WorkerI am sharing ideas about understanding someone else’s world map and communicating its limits.
“For starters, I always think of healthy boundaries as a safe home,” says Elizza. “A house in which there are locks on the doors that open and close, a peephole to see who is visiting or a doorbell to check if it is a stranger. The key to these things is being able to make a decision about when you want to let someone in. Limits are a way to control how you feel and stay safe. They allow you to establish the distance between yourself and others. Think of them as youset the tone for what you will allow in your relationship with someone. “
Navigating my past with my own mother
My mother was in and out of the picture for a few years of my life, so I grew up with a hands-off approach and a vision of motherhood. I was emancipated at 17 (with my mother’s consent) to get my first apartment, and that was the extent to which my mother became involved in my life situations from then on. By the time we reconnected, I had already become a young adult, which led to our relationship becoming more of a friend or support person in my life than a conventional mother-daughter role. Fast forward 13 years later when I met my husband. He lived in an apartment completely decorated by his mother. I quickly realized that the role my MIL had played in my husband’s life was very different from the role my mother had played in mine.
As my relationship with my husband grew, I noticed that he was now involved in areas of his life that were previously handled by his mother. Being young and a bit self-absorbed, I didn’t think twice about asserting my perspective on her clothing, home décor, or any other life decision that seemed right for me to take over as the new woman in his life. I mean, we love each other and we intend to build a life together, so why wouldn’t I? Not once did I think about how her mother would feel about all the changes she was creating. Until me, his mother had been the main woman in his life. Slowly, I was stepping on my MIL fingers without even realizing it.
“When you love someone, you often think about how your actions and choices will affect them. Setting boundaries with a loved one should be handled carefully. “Says Elizza LeJeune.” Of course, you wouldn’t let your 3-year-old run out onto the streets because of the dangers that arise. This is a boundary that keeps them safe now. you emotionally from the pain. “
Of course, time passed and we decided to get married, we decided elope to Italy for our wedding. My family was delighted as we are not very traditional so telling them we weren’t going to have a big traditional wedding was not a big deal. Telling my MIL, on the other hand, was something much more difficult to do. My husband and I knew we might get some rejection, but we weren’t expecting the much bigger reaction we got. Needless to say, my mother-in-law was very upset. My initial response was defensiveness and anger. Why was he conveying such great feelings about our day? Didn’t he want us to be happy? After venting to my therapist, I found some life lessons to understand someone else’s world map and replaced my defensive attitude with curiosity and empathy.
After talking about my feelings with my husband and my therapist, I realized that just as I had dreamed of my wedding day, my MIL had dreamed of his son’s wedding day. And in her dream she was There, she did a mother-son dance and took pictures with her son. Her map of her son’s wedding looked very different from the reality we were presenting to her and from what she had dreamed of all her life. I knew firsthand how heartbreaking it could be when faced with the shock of your dream that doesn’t line up exactly the way you imagined it.
With some advice from my therapist, I learned that I could navigate and communicate with my mother-in-law in a much more effective way. Allowing myself to make sure she was heard, empathize with her feelings, and share my limits and desires was all it took to understand where she was coming from. I found that knowing someone else’s world map and communicating your limits is the best way to build healthy relationships!
Here are some of Elizza LeJeune’s simple tools to use when setting limits:
- What is the behavior Is it painful or intolerable?
- Do a temperature check. How do I feel emotionally when this behavior is performed? Do you have feelings of resentment that could affect your delivery?
- Practice makes perfect. Write clearly what your request or needs are and then ask a friend to practice communicating it to you. A good friend will really get involved in role-playing games and will resist. That will break the ice and make saying no or defending yourself less overwhelming when the time comes to do it!
- Release the result. Many times we fear what emotions setting limits will bring for the other person. This is called divination and not in an edifying way. Take a deep breath and remember that you are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness other than your own. Saying no or setting a limit doesn’t make you a bad daughter-in-law!