How can I save my bad relationship with my mother-in-law?

Our agony aunt, Mary Fenwick, offers a new perspective on whatever is troubling you


How can I save my bad relationship with my mother-in-law?

3 minute read

Q. I can’t stand my mother-in-law. She’s incredibly selfish. My husband doesn’t have the best relationship with her; when they speak, she always interrupts him and starts talking about her life. Being honest, I don’t like her, but I’m aware I mirror my husband’s behaviour towards her. I don’t want to drive a wider wedge between them, but it is hard to find anything positive to say about her. How can I get beyond this and be more tolerant? Name supplied

A. It is tempting to save our energy for people who are easier to like, so I admire you for even trying to improve this relationship. Being likeable is partly about skills that can be learned, such as being relaxed, smiling, the appropriate degree of eye contact and, above all, listening.  It sounds as if your mother-in-law is a textbook case of the opposite qualities, and that probably makes her life pretty difficult in general, not just with you.

I suggest looking at the work of the Centre for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC). This approach says we all have a longing to be understood and feel connected. It sounds as if your mother-in-law might have very poor skills in communicating her needs. You can’t change her, but you could expand your own emotional vocabulary to get more clarity about the problem areas.

When our needs are being met, we might feel peaceful, engaged or refreshed; when our needs are not satisfied, we may feel tense, disconnected or drained. If you get more clarity about the unspoken needs beneath your mother-in-law’s words, it could nudge the relationship towards something more satisfying for both of you.

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Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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