Over a decade ago, my boyfriend called his parents with “THE news”. The call went a little something like this:
Dreamy Boyfriend: “Mom, I have news for you… we are getting married!”
Dreamy Boyfriend’s mom: ”WHY?”
And just like that, our relationship as mother-in-law (“MIL”) and daughter-in-law (“DIL”) was off to the races.
Eleven years of marriage and four kids later, I am hoping that her pressing question “WHY?” has been answered – beyond a shadow of a doubt.
I can only hope she sees me as a competent and loving mother and a supportive and loving wife.
I’m sure there are things I do that she would do differently. There are numerous things I don’t do that I should be doing – in her eyes. But those differences of opinion are just that… her opinion vs. mine.
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Every time a couple says “I do” or makes a commitment to each other, a new family is born. Dynamics shift and relationships change, therefore some people are bound to feel excluded while others celebrate a closer bond.
When a family has functioned well (or not) for 20-40 years, adding new family members leaves a level of uncertainty- until everyone sees “how this one plays out”.How to be the #Perfect #DaughterInLaw - Tips from an #expert! @DeannaBrann Click To Tweet
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing an expert in the MIL/ DIL relationship. Dr. Deanna Brann has over 30 years experience as a clinical psychotherapist specializing in family and interpersonal relationships. She recently released a follow up to her first book titled “Reluctantly Related”. “Reluctantly Related Revisited” takes an even closer look at the MIL/ DIL dynamics.
I knew Dr. Brann would have the answer to my pressing question: “What does it take to be a great daughter-in-law?”
The following is from our interview, which also included answers to the question: “What does it take to be a great mother-in-law?!” I will feature those answers in a future blog post.
How To Be The Perfect Daughter-In-Law:
1. As a new daughter in law, what can you do to start the relationship off on the right foot?
- The best way to start off on the right foot in your new relationship with your MIL is to develop a relationship with her – independent of your husband. Learn her likes, dislikes, hobbies, interests, things you have in common, and so on. Make the relationship more personal than just “she’s my husband’s mother.”
- Recognize that your MIL may be struggling with emotionally letting go of her son and the role she played in his life. This letting go is a process that takes time – honor it. Also, realize that your MIL wants to know that she is still relevant in her son’s life. Help her to see that she is still relevant, just in a different way.
2. How should a daughter in law handle family issues that date back before “her time”?
- You should stay out of any family issues that do not have anything to do with you. Those issues are between the members of your husband’s family and they do not concern you.
- Your input will only create problems for you.
- If any of his family members bring up something in your presence, just let them say what they want to say without commenting on it. If someone asks for your thoughts, just say, “…That was before my time, I really don’t have an opinion.”
3. What can a DIL do to “win over” a MIL who doesn’t think her son married the right person?
- I would start with the answer from #2 above. And then…I would suggest sitting down with your MIL and ask her if there is something you have done to upset her or that bothers her…and then listen – don’t defend yourself, explain or rationalize…just listen to what she says.
- If you want to ask her questions to help clarify her statements then do so, but again this is not the time to justify or try to change her mind.
4. How should a DIL handle meddling?
- The best way to handle meddling is to set boundaries with your MIL. This can be done in a nice way, but needs to be clear and specific. Depending on the type of MIL you have you may need to also give consequences if she chooses to ignore your boundaries (not all MILs need this, but there are certain ones who do).
- Consistency and follow through are key.
5. Should the husband/ son be brought into issues between the DIL/ MIL?
- There are times when he should, particularly when it has to do with parenting. However, he should not be brought in to fix things…he is there to support his wife and they should deal with the issue together – if that is setting boundaries, establishing rules, etc. the wife and husband need to do this together to show a united front.
6. Best conflict resolution tips for a DIL, which issues should she brush off and which ones should she address?
- Realize that what her MIL says is coming from her perspective, which has nothing to do with right or wrong – it is how she (the MIL) sees the situation.
- Listen to what your MIL has to say – without getting defensive, rationalizing, or justifying your actions; ask clarifying questions;
- repeat back to her what she said to you in your own words so that you check to see if you heard her correctly;
- This helps the MIL to see and feel heard by you, which will go a long way to resolving any negative feelings she is having toward you…after all, we all want to feel heard!
Thank you, Dr. Brann for your invaluable tips and insights.
The MIL/ DIL relationship is described in the media as a highly contested and drama-filled relationship, but it doesn’t have to be.
My biggest take-away from Dr. Brann’s advice is to remember that your MIL wants to be heard, just like you do. Sometimes when we don’t feel like we are being respected, honored or heard, we have to extend the olive branch and MODEL the behavior we so desperately seek.
How is your relationship with your MIL? What have you learned over the years, about handling disagreements and hurt feelings between you and your MIL? Please, share your insights in the comments, so we can learn from each other.
Deanna Brann, Ph.D. has over 30 years of experience in the mental health field as a clinical psychotherapist specializing in communication skills, family and interpersonal relationships, and conflict resolution. After running her own private practice for more than 20 years, she spent time later in her career providing business consultation to other private practice professionals in the health care and legal fields. As both a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, her own personal experiences led her to research the subject. Her first book, Reluctantly Related, began the discussion of examining and bettering the MIL/DIL relationship and is followed by her newest book, Reluctantly Related Revisited. Brann holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology, and a Ph.D. in Psychobiological Anthropology.
Connect with Dr. Brann at www.drdeannabrann.com.
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