What Underpins Your Relationship with Your Mother-In-Law?

An opinion piece.

Many stories and tales portray the relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law as an eternal war, when in reality this disagreement is more due to differences in personality and behaviour. 

Statistics from the School of Social Sciences at Fundação Getulio Vargas in Brazil, electronically collected from around 1800 women worldwide, show that the relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law significantly improves by 72% after 10-15 years of marriage. This result suggests that these relationships improve with this understanding of each others' personalities and learning how to deal with their differences. Controversy results from a general, and natural difference in people’s personalities. People also differ in their physiology, behaviour, talents, colours, languages, thought and intellectual abilities; as clarified by the Quran verse: “of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colours. Verily, there are signs in this for the learned”.

In my first year of marriage, I was very weary of my relationship with my mother-in-law as a result of what I heard  from my brother-in-law's wife.She characterised my mother-in-law as someone who is controlling, extremely intrusive and inquisitive. However, pleasing my mother-in-law was my primary concern when I got married, so I decided to treat her well from the beginning in the hope that I would be treated the same way in return. 

After hearing the experiences of a few friends, I was aware that loving the same “man” was actually the main reason for disputes between a mother and her daughter-in-law. So I decided to use tactics to maintain the close relationship between my mother-in-law and her son. Accordingly, I encouraged my husband to regularly check on her, call her, and run her chores. The closer my husband’s relationship to his mother became, the more she tried to improve my relationship with him and alleviate our disputes. I also ensured to remember her on every occassion, never without a gift or a gesture to which she would respond with great adulation saying ’thank you my daughter’.

The only problem I had was my mother-in-law’s interference in housekeeping.  I was upset with her constant references to its importance. Regardless, I listened to her comments without argument, until I remembered a friend’s advice: “communication and dialogue is the key for success of relationships”.  I attempted to discuss this topic with my mother-in-law by highlighting how difficult it is to accommodate my professional and domestic responsibilities in parallel with my  husband’s needs. The conversation ended there, with my mother-in-law’s stern expression her only response.

When I returned back home after a hectic day in work the next day, I headed to kitchen as usual to cook but found dinner prepared on a tray.  I was perplexed and went to see my mother-in-law to ask why have she has troubled herself.  She whispered in my ears saying “dinner is a gift to my daughter after a long day, and this will be your gift every night so that you don’t have an excuse to organise your house”.  I laughed and hugged her like a mother.  Afterwards, I went to my room and told my husband what happened.  He laughed and said: “Congratulations, you have won my mother’s heart”.Many women complained to me about either their mother or daughter in law. I always remained silent and refrained from joining these discussions.  Until one time, a friend asked me why I never talk about my mother-in-law. I explained that there really aren’t bad mothers- or daughters-in-law. There are ways, means and a certain conduct that win the hearts of others. Offending others breaks everything that is beautiful and success of relationships depends on how much we actually want them to succeed. My goal from the beginning was to win my mother in law’s heart and not enter into endless arguments and disputes. 

One of my friends said that her mother-in-law constantly seeks to get between her and her husband, enforcing her opinions and decisions, oppressing my friend’s freedom and suppressing her personality, which upsets her and has resulted in a whirlwind of eternal arguments. I interrupted my friend while she was talking and asked if she has ever tried to ask for advice from her mother in law. She responded: “never, how can I ask for her advice when I know what’s best for me and my husband?”. I clarified that the controversy between them is a result of personality disparities, for there would be no harm in attempting to understand and communicate with your mother-in-law. After all, she is older and more experienced, and the success of your relationship depends on the way you treat her. Perhaps, you could allow her to make decisions about mundane and simple things that won’t interfere with your married life. How about you try giving her some space and freedom to make decisions? You don’t need to disagree or argue with her, because the actual final decision will be the one agreed between you and your husband. Moreover, keep in mind that a mother-in-law’s goal is not necessarily to dominate or command; but rather her feeling that she is more capable of overseeing matters may stem from her belief that "age breeds wisdom".

The success of the relationship with your mother in law relies on listening and understanding Your mother in law is your husband’s mother, the one  who has dedicated her life to raise him to be her main support in old age. It is painful for a mother to find herself distant from her son. Try to understand and learn from the profound experiences of your husband's mother, and know that the secret to peace may lie in good conduct and harmony.

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