15 Clever Ways To Deal With A Manipulative, Scheming Mother-In-Law

In-Laws | |
Updated On: December 22, 2023
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Marriage brings about many changes and challenges for a woman. One of the bigger challenges is building a loving and cooperative relationship with the mother-in-law. Yes, you read that right. While it is easy to have a peaceful and cordial relationship with a generous and loving MIL, if, unfortunately, you get stuck with a scheming and controlling mother-in-law, you will have to plan your interaction with her with a lot of caution and smarts.

In fact, not just with her but even with people around her, including your husband, especially in matters concerning her and you. An emotionally manipulative mother-in-law can exercise control over your relationship with your spouse using myriad subtle and overt tactics. To make sure all of this doesn’t take a toll on your marital bond, it’s imperative to handle a passive-aggressive mother-in-law tactfully. We are here to help you identify the signs of an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law and fix the gaps for a peaceful co-existence.

Why Do Mothers-In-Law Tend To Control?

If you’re wondering why your mother-in-law is overbearing or asking yourself, “Why is my mother-in-law possessive of my husband”, allow us to help you figure out the reasons. You must understand why you are unable to get along with your emotionally manipulative mother-in-law and why she feels the need to control your married life so that you can come up with appropriate steps to handle that in a smart manner. Common reasons behind a controlling mother-in-law are:

  • Insecurity: A mother-in-law generally becomes controlling and cunning when she feels that she is being replaced as the primary woman in her son’s life. This happens when the son marries and the daughter-in-law comes into his life. She feels insecure and lashes out at the new entrant
  • Possessive attitude: In the past, the mother may have been the center of her son’s universe at home. But now he cannot wait to escape from family dinners to retire to his room with his new wife. This sharing of attention and time can irritate her deeply. The mother-in-law in such a situation feels the need to gain control over her son and his married life, which is why you might feel “my mother-in-law is too attached to my husband”. We have received many such queries, read one here
  • Dislike for son’s choice of a life partner: In some cases, the mother-in-law may not be happy with the choice her son has made in picking a wife. Dealing with a passive-aggressive mother-in-law is a tell-tale sign that she doesn’t approve of you. One person, let’s call her M, who was from lower economic strata than her husband faced the slack of her controlling mother-in-law day in and day out with words like “You did a good job catching him”, and “Your mother must have taught you this”. After a few months of constant sarcasm (she was a working woman too), she considered leaving her husband because of her mother-in-law. However, she gave him two choices, either they move out or she would leave him. She told us that she was at the end of her tether and couldn’t take the emotionally manipulative mother-in-law’s hatred toward her, which only seemed to get worse with time
  • Resistance to change: A mother-in-law can become controlling when she sees the daughter-in-law making changes in the way things are done at home. She feels insecure because she feels she has to compete with the new woman in the household, while earlier, she was the boss of the house. If the daughter-in-law is better at some things, she may feel jealous too!

Not only the daughter-in-law but the mother-in-law too must be open to changes that a new entrant would make in their home and life. If she is not prepared for it, she may react negatively to changing dynamics in the family. It is at this time that a smart daughter-in-law can read signs and make deductions on the reason behind the manipulation of her husband’s mother, and deal with it in a way that doesn’t adversely affect her relationship with her spouse.  

Trust us there are many ways to deal with a scheming or emotionally manipulative mother-in-law. You do not need to be a psychologist to do this. Remember she does it because she doesn’t want to lose her son to you. And this is something that you can use to get her on your side. First and foremost, value her place in your husband’s life, and take time and effort to bond with your mother-in-law. It may take time but she will turn as loving toward you as she is with her son. Let’s now take a look at the signs and ways to handle a manipulative mother-in-law.

Related Reading: 8 Effective Ways To Deal With A Jealous Daughter-In-Law

7 Signs Of A Controlling Mother-In-Law

It is very difficult to comprehend whether your mother-in-law is genuinely protective of her son or just interested in controlling and tormenting you. Manipulative and interfering mothers-in-law are good at scheming and they can give you mixed signals. This can make reading the signs your mother-in-law is manipulative that much trickier.

At one point, she may seem genuinely interested in your relationship with your husband, while at another, she may be poisoning his mind against you. This can leave you bewildered and confused, wondering if she is really manipulating things her way or you have mistaken her concerns for toxicity. Thus, we list down the signs of a controlling mother-in-law which will help recognize the true nature of your mother-in-law.

1. She spies on you

One of the reasons you might be feeling “my mother-in-law wants to control everything” could be that she spies on you. She keeps a track of all that you do during the day. She asks you questions on and about anything that you may be doing – even for something as trivial as talking to someone on the phone. It is like her spying eyes follow your every move and you can actually feel her watching you.

“Why do I find my mother-in-law so annoying?” If you’re struggling to find an answer to this question or why your mother-in-law is overbearing, her constant intrusion of your privacy could be the answer. Not having any breathing space to live your life would drive anyone up the wall, and you’re no exception.

2. Controlling mother-in-law will wear you down

First, she will engage you in discussion and eventually wear you down through words and actions. She will keep repeating her point of view even when you have stated your inclination otherwise, till you either get tired and give in or maybe tell her something in anger, which she then holds against you forever.

You will find yourself under attack while you think all you did was try to put your point across. She might also try to poison your husband’s mind against you and make him choose his family over you. It could drive you crazy to the extent that you consider leaving your husband because of your mother-in-law. This is a clever way to make you look mean, disrespectful, and rude. These are among the time-tested tactics of a passive-aggressive mother-in-law. It would be wise for you to fall into her trap.

3. She is great at manipulating her son

She plays the victim successfully and your husband tends to believe her manipulative stories about you. He then always chooses his family over you. She is always scheming against you. To get you to apologize, she will cry, refuse food and sulk for hours when her son is around. She will make you believe that she was trying to stop her son from creating a scene, but in reality, she has created one.

One of our readers shared with Bonobology how her mother-in-law, who suffered from asthma, would always fake an attack whenever she even used a shampoo that she did not approve of, saying it triggered her asthma. The son then blamed the wife for not being considerate enough toward his mother. This is one of the ways how mothers-in-law ruin marriages.

4. She seeks you to be perfect

No one can be perfect, but from you, she expects perfection in everything that you do – cooking, decorating, managing the house, or making pickles. She expects you to have inhuman energy and faults you for taking some time off for your recreation. For this, she may keep giving instructions, and instances of how things are done at ‘her’ house. She may also give you examples of her friend’s daughters-in-law, compare you to them and belittle you in the process.

You may start believing that you are not good enough as she sucks the life out of you. “I don’t want a relationship with my mother-in-law,” Revati found herself thinking more often than not when all her attempts of trying to win over her MIL fell short. Who can blame her for wanting to snap the chord when nothing she ever did was good enough for her mother-in-law to even consider her human, let alone be affectionate or respectful toward her.

controlling mother in law
An emotionally manipulative mother-in-law knows how to play the victim card

5. She thinks she knows best

From small things like home décor and dinner menu to what you should wear and how you should conduct yourself, she thinks she knows everything. She tends to take important decisions related to your married life without even asking for your opinion because she thinks she knows the best.

One woman wrote to us about how her mother-in-law would make her open her cupboard and show her whether things were kept in neat racks and piles. Dealing with such an overbearing presence in your life can truly be hard. It’s a clear sign of a controlling mother-in-law.

Related Reading: 8 Signs Of A Poisonous Mother-In-Law And 6 Ways to Beat Her at Her Game

6. She doesn’t leave space for privacy

Your controlling mother-in-law may always be around your husband and you. She’d make it a point to accompany you on vacations, interrupt you in quiet times, and even enter your bedroom at odd hours if you’re living under the same roof or close to each other. She will be the other woman in your relationship. This way, you will never get to spend alone time with your husband. The idea of privacy is unknown to her.

“My mother-in-law acts like she is married to my husband”, “My mother-in-law is too attached to my husband” – If this thought has ever crossed your mind, know that it’s her, not you. Don’t beat yourself up about entertaining these thoughts because we know, as well as you do, that an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law leaves you with no other choice.

7. She acts all-loving in public

In front of other people, she will shower you with love. She will praise you and show what a lovely relationship both of you have. You will believe this side of her and think maybe the other negative things were all in your head. But this may very well be a façade to manipulate her son and you even more.

The aim of a manipulative and controlling mother-in-law is not to ruin your relationship but to end your domination and influence in her son’s life. She wants to control, and for her son to always prioritize her over you. Understanding her psyche will give you the way out of this tricky situation, you can turn the tables and use her cards to turn her into being amiable and positive toward you. Two can play the game, right?

15 Ways To Deal With A Manipulative Mother-In-Law

No matter how much you’re inclined to respect her or treat her well because of her place in your husband’s life, you cannot become a puppet in the hands of your manipulative and controlling mother-in-law. You cannot allow her to dictate your married life. You have to build up the courage to deal with her twisted ways, stand up for yourself and protect your married life. Here are 15 ways in which you can handle a manipulative mother-in-law.

1. Make an effort to understand her

“My mother-in-law manipulates my husband and turns him against me. This causes fights between us,” a reader wrote to us, asking for advice on how best to handle the situation. We’ll tell you what we told her: in order to have a good relationship with your mother-in-law as well as your husband, start by making an effort to understand where she is coming from.

Check whether her attitude toward you changes after meeting some people. There are people who love to spoil the peace of another household. You have to go to the source of her behavior toward you, where is it stemming from, and think of how to nip that in the bud. Remember a mother-in-law who is negative toward you can make your life hell, even when she is not in the same house. Make your life goal to work on your relationship with her.

2. Reassure her as much as possible

Your mother-in-law probably feels that you are replacing her as the primary woman in her son’s life. The insecurity can get worse if you are dealing with widowed mother-in-law problems, which is why it is essential that you reassure her otherwise. Encourage your husband to spend time with her, ask her opinion on certain things, and offer to take your in-laws out once in a while.

Let her know that her place and power in the house will not be altered because of your presence. In this way, your mother-in-law might even shut down other people who advise her to be manipulative against you. To deal with an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law, you have to extend an olive branch in the presence of your husband and other family members. This is the most effective way to counter her scheming ways.

3. Do not get your husband involved

Getting your husband involved in the conflict between your mother-in-law and you will just make things worse. Even if your mother-in-law tries to involve your husband, you must keep your cool and advise your husband to stay out of it. Your mother-in-law and you are mature enough to deal with the issues on your own. Or else, he may listen to his mother and keep you away or his being caught in the middle of this power struggle may cause strain on your relationship.

Whether you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive mother-in-law or one who is downright disrespectful, this is a battle best fought alone. Of course, you can turn to other loved ones – friends, and family – for advice and support, but keep your husband out of this troubled equation otherwise, it will do you more harm than good.

Related Reading: When Parents Can’t Let Go Of Their Adult Daughter

4. Communicate with your mother-in-law

The idea of communicating with her might seem disagreeable to you. When you’re convinced “I don’t want a relationship with my mother-in-law”, even the idea of involving her in your everyday life can make you edgy and restless. But this will ensure that you both are able to sort out issues by talking to each other honestly, instead of keeping the feelings pent up. Before you open the channels of communication, it’s vital to set boundaries with your in-laws so that everyone is on the same page.

5. Act in a mature manner

If she uses strategies to exploit you and bully you, you need to remain calm. Do not respond to her when you are angry or irritated because that is what she wants so she can use it against you to provoke her son against you. It is better to clear the room when you are in such a mood, think of what to do with a cool head, and then respond. If she is trying to provoke you, do not give in.

Remind yourself of the fact that the problem is with your controlling mother-in-law and not with you. Therefore, deal with the whole situation maturely. When the situation gets too overwhelming or toxic, it can begin to tamper with your peace of mind. To make sure that an already precarious situation doesn’t become more volatile – and more importantly, for the sake of your mental well-being – invest in self-care and self-love.

You can sign up for a meditation program. Or order some soothing tracks and spend 5 minutes each day calming your mind. Practice a hobby that gives you joy or read to keep all those negative and angry thoughts at bay. Being in the right headspace will help you deal with your manipulative and scheming MIL in a more healthy, calm, and mature manner.

6. Behave smartly when things fail to work out

When your controlling mother-in-law starts to intimidate you and make you feel uncomfortable, you have to be smart enough to change the subject altogether. If this approach doesn’t work and you both move from having a normal conversation to a proper fight, take a step back. Feign a phone call or some work and leave the space. This will allow the situation to be defused.

Keep reminding yourself that an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law may not be equipped to treat you with kindness and compassion and that’s on her. It has nothing to do with you. You are not to blame because it’s not your fault. Don’t let her get into your head and mess with your peace of mind. This is one of the most effective solutions to your “my mother-in-law is overbearing” dilemma.

7. Ask for your mother-in-law’s advice

This step will help you build a good and cooperative relationship with your mother-in-law. By asking for her advice and factoring her opinion into your decisions, you will show her the importance she has in your life. She has many more years of experience in managing and running a household and there must be things you can learn from her.

Take the opportunity. We are not saying that you do exactly what she asks you to. Do your own thing but, if you ask her for advice, it’ll make her feel important and also diffuse the tension between you. Sangita wrote to us about how her mother-in-law was great with home remedies and that became the platform on which they bonded. Sangita also became quite sought after in her own circle for her home remedies tactics.

8. Always show appreciation toward her

Remember that your mother-in-law is just a normal person who has flaws like all of us. If it is easy for you to understand your own mother’s misgivings, then why not your mother-in-law’s? Try to extend the same courtesy to your mother-in-law. When you clearly see signs your mother-in-law is manipulative, you can disarm her by being appreciative of her.

This way you can break the toxic chain. Genuine appreciation from you will reach her, make sure you acknowledge her efforts. In fact, make it a point to mention this in front of your husband.

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9. Celebrate her special days with all your heart

Whether it is her birthday or Mother’s Day, you must celebrate these days and make her feel loved. Even if she is never nice to you, she will surely change her behavior after seeing you make such efforts for her. You can make her a special dish or get her a present. You could make your father-in-law do something for her.

It is a nice way to make your way into your controlling mother-in-law’s heart. If you know that she has been eyeing something special for a while, you could buy it for her to let her know that you care. Or if you come across a cool gadget or equipment that you think will come in handy, order it as a gift to make the occasion even more special.

For instance, if you know she suffers from knee pain, you could order a massager for her. Or if she listens to hymns or music every morning, you can get her an Amazon Echo speaker. The idea is to extend an olive branch and hope that she begins to see the error of her ways, and comes around.

Related Reading: Husband Walked Out On Children And Me Under The Influence Of My In-Laws

10. Understand your husband as well

Instead of fixating on how mothers-in-law ruin marriages, try this. Do not let your frustration against your mother-in-law spoil your relationship with your husband, where he feels stuck between his mother and wife. Understand why your husband is acting up and make sure that the bitter relationship with your mother-in-law does not affect your married life.

By being happy in your relationship, you might be able to deal with your manipulative mother-in-law with a smile on your face. Even if the relationship dynamics are so skewed that you feel “my mother-in-law acts like she is married to my husband” or ask yourself “why is my mother-in-law possessive of my husband”, cut your man some slack. Once again, the fault lies with her, not him. So, he shouldn’t be the one bearing the brunt of your strained relationship with your MIL.

11. Evaluate your own behavior

It is important that you sit back and evaluate the way you behave with your mother-in-law. Honestly, if you find any flaws in the way you behave, you must try to improve them. Probably, the change in your behavior will instill a change in her behavior as well. If your in-laws are disrespectful, deal with them tactfully.

It’s easy to declare, “I don’t want a relationship with my mother-in-law” or “my mother-in-law is overbearing” or “my mother in law wants to control everything”. Working at building a relationship with her and the rest of your husband’s family is what takes hard work and effort. So, look within and assess what you can do differently to change your equation with your mother-in-law.

12. Take advice from trusted people in your life

The people you trust the most, like your mother or your close friends, are the ones who can help you figure out how to handle a manipulative mother-in-law or deal with widowed mother-in-law problems. They will be able to give you valuable advice. By discussing things with them, you might just feel light and less worried as well.

Candidly share with them all the tell-tale signs your mother-in-law is manipulative. Tell them about the controlling attitude of your mother-in-law and how it has been stirring discord in your married life and your equation with your husband. Perhaps, one of them has been in a similar situation and could offer you actionable tips on how to best diffuse the tension.

13. Distance yourself from your mother-in-law

Distancing yourself from in-laws is one of the most effective solutions to deal with a controlling mother-in-law. If things seem totally unresolvable, convince your husband to move to a new place away from your mother-in-law. The joint family setup does not work for everyone and that is fine. This will allow you to have your personal space and time with your husband. You can invite your mother-in-law from time to time to make her feel important and cherished as well.

Sometimes, a little distance can be the best antidote to the scheming ways of an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law. Since she’s not around all the time and you’re not sharing your personal space with her, she’ll have less wiggle room to exercise influence over your life or control your relationship with your husband.

14. Set clear boundaries

You need to set clear-cut boundaries with your mother-in-law. Let her know when she crosses boundaries and becomes too inquisitive. In this way, you both will know how to react to a particular situation and how to restore balance in the deteriorating relationship.

For instance, if she has a habit of walking into your room at ungodly hours or goes through your things, tell her politely and firmly that you would appreciate some privacy in this new home of yours. Say it with a sense of finality, so that she doesn’t have any room to respond or counter your stance.

15. Give her the silent and cold treatment

If none of the above-mentioned tactics works, then you can opt for the cold, silent treatment. When she notices that you are not affected by the way she behaves, she will probably back off and change herself. Take away her capability to manipulate and twist your married life. Mind games and manipulative behavior are toxic to anyone. Therefore, you have to take appropriate steps to remain emotionally and mentally strong and healthy.

Thanks to pop culture, a mother-in-law is always portrayed as a judgmental, controlling, and irritating woman. But this is not always true. Some mothers-in-law love their daughters-in-law to bits and put them on a pedestal. It is only in some unlucky situations when a daughter-in-law has to deal with an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law. If you are stuck in such a situation, then the above tips should help you find peace in your life.

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Readers Comments On “15 Clever Ways To Deal With A Manipulative, Scheming Mother-In-Law”

  1. Cheron Butler-Thomas

    I am a licensed clinical therapist who also has a toxic mother-in-law. I found that doing most of the things in this article only served to empower my mother-in-law more. The more involved she was, the more communicating I did with her the more embracing and emboldened she became. Thus, I absolutely do not recommend these tactics. As of recently, I tried the last tactic listed, to cut off communication, I found this to be the only effective technique in dealing with her. Anyone who is toxic or emotionally unhealthy for you does not deserve space in your head. Anybody who takes away from you and who you are does not deserve that power and control. I don’t agree with his list because it suggests to allow these people to continue to be in your life and continue to hurt you emotionally and I do not agree with that.

  2. This list is insane. This article is essentially telling DILs to shut up and make their MIL happy and even reward the bad behavior. This list will never work for any Western marriage.

  3. Sounds more like a how to suck up to your MONSTER IN LAW LIST. The only one good advice was silent treatment.

    Don’t waste time trying to play nice, it doesn’t work. Stay away from toxic MIL and do things you enjoy with people you care about. Do what you enjoy.

    Whatever the MIL says if it’s rude stand up for yourself. If she hates what you are wearing, you can tell her “well your son picked out this dress.”

    Time is too precious to waste on someone that will poison the air with their toxic aura.

    Don’t waste your breath trying to argue with a toxic, overbearing, rude, insecure, manipulative, emotional, conniving, two faced, fake and crazy MIL. They won’t change, the only thing you can do is love yourself and be proud of who you are.

    Any women looking down or treating their daughter in laws like crap is stupid. They lack EQ and are just plain selfish.

    Avoid them when possible. Why would any daughter in law wanna spend time with negative vibes around them and their children. No human needs that in their lives.

    Also you SHOULD talk about it with your spouse. They have every right to know what a nightmare their mother is. If they have any logic you plan ways to make it less stressful.

    Be cautious when speaking with your spouse. As some think their mother is an angel. When she’s the devil in disguise.

    You don’t have to get along with your MIL to love your man!

    1. Totally agree with your post. If a MIL is manipulating/controlling and deliberly scheming then she’s nothing but a BULLY. The silent treatment and distancing is the only way I would handle this type of behavior from anyone particularly a MIL. What’s wrong with a husband growing some nuts and setting the bounderies with his own mother??

  4. These don’t seem like “clever tips,” but rather complete capitulation. While I understand empathy and kindness – for any relationship – it seems like you’re suggesting the daughter in law not set any boundaries or defend her marriage, family, sanity? Surely we can be respectful and not feed the mean tendencies?

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