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Meddling mother-in-law! - Living with your spouse's controlling parent

Published:Saturday | July 9, 2016 | 12:00 AMCecelia Campbell-Livingston


"For this reason ,a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." Matthew 19:5

Marriage is a beautiful thing and many couples entering into that union do so with excitement and great anticipation. Of course, in all that preparation and bliss, much thought is rarely given regarding how your spouse's mother will affect your "happily ever after"... that is, until you find that you are stuck with a "mother-in-law that just won't quit"!

It doesn't help that some daughters or sons are so close to their mothers that they just can't see a problem, so much so that they make light of their spouse's bitter complaints when she gets too much into their affairs.

Many marriages see tension creeping in as the spouse starts to feel resentment for both the mother-in-law and their partner, who refuses to control the situation.

Family and Religion reached out to Dr Edina Bayne, associate pastor and member of the American Association of Christian Counselors, for some insights to deal with this sensitive yet problematic issue that affects far too many marriages.

Bayne stressed that the basic premise in making a relationship work with an active mother-in-law is to acknowledge that a mother will always be a mother as long as her children are alive. On the other hand, mothers need to understand that when their children get married, they don't stop being a mother, but their roles must change.

"It's not healthy when able-bodied mothers-in-law are living with the couple, especially in the early stages, because you cannot have two women running the house," Bayne pointed out.

According to her, women are established to run the house and, in this scenario, you will now have the new wife trying to establish a relationship with her new family, and with the mother-in-law right in the middle of it, there will be a problem.

"She might have suggestions, but it cannot be a directive," she said.

The solution, according to Bayne, is for the son ordaughter to understand that although the mother was their main adviser or confidant before marriage, it is now time to sit with their spouse and make some decisions.


Establish ground rules


She said that if the situation, for some reason, merits that the spouse's mother has to live in the house, then ground rules must be established.

"It is wonderful to know that there is a good relationship with your mother, but that relationship should not supersede the one that is being established with your spouse. You have to have a discussion with your husband or wife before your mother comes to live with you," she noted.

For instances, where mothers-in-law are "all up in your coffee" trying to get you to do things the way they do it, or telling you how to treat your child, Bayne said you should not be the one to address the situation.

"If she is in your business, it is not your responsibility, but rather the son or daughter of that mother who should address the problem," she pointed out.

"They should set the situation straight. Let the mother know you love her a lot, but there are boundaries she should not cross with your spouse."

For those mothers who may not live with the couple, but sees nothing wrong with turning up at the house on a whim, sometimes catching them off guard, Bayne said a gentle reprimand should be exercised.

"Tell her you love her, but she just can't show up anytime as there are times you will need to be alone or do stuff together," she advised.

A problematic area in the marriage, though, and one that might require counselling, is when your partner is blind to the mother's manipulation and interference.

"That's the hardest part. A mother-in-law whois manipulative, manipulates her child as well. You will find her presenting a different face to the spouse, but when her child comes home, it's a different reaction," pointed out Bayne, noting that some marriages have been known to crumble in this kind of a situation.

"You are fighting to tell your spouse to let their mother leave, as she is doing things to upset you. This is where trust is important and where counselling will be needed. as the person might not believe their mother could be doing anything wrong."

Bayne said she has seen cases where some husbands leave their wives and go back to their mother's house because he did not believe the wife that his mother was a troublemaker.

In closing, the counsellor stressed that in the final analysis, when one gets married, it means he or she has to "leave and cleave".