Let’s talk about this important subject together, my precious sisters. God has wisdom, healing, and direction for us even as we deal with very tough relationships.
God’s design for families:
- Children are under the parents’ authority when they are young, but then they are no longer under their authority when they are grown adults.
- Children are always to honor their parents, but the relationship is supposed to change once they are adults. They don’t have to obey and submit to their parents anymore.
- Children are supposed to leave their parents and cleave to their new spouse.
- Parents are supposed to honor the child’s new marriage covenant and should support their children leaving them and focusing on the new marriage.
- Marriage is a life-long covenant. It is to be the first priority among all human relationships. It represents the gospel to the world.
Many people, unfortunately, don’t understand God’s order for family. Maybe they aren’t believers in Christ or maybe they are but they haven’t been properly taught. This creates many unbiblical expectations, dysfunctional relationships, and tension.
We also all have our own sinful natures with which we must contend. Sometimes there is competition, jealousy, and rivalry for the attention of the man both women love.
Sometimes the mother still wants control and highest allegiance from her son, expecting him to put her above his wife. Sometimes a daughter-in-law gets jealous if her son still loves his mom and gives her any attention, expecting her husband to cut his mom out of his life.
These can be tricky waters to navigate.
(How Do You Balance Leave and Cleave with Honoring Your Parents? by www.gotquestions.org – also has the scriptural references for the concepts I shared above about God’s design for families.)
What is a godly daughter-in-law to do?
You can’t control her – but you can control yourself. Here are a few steps that may be helpful.
Ask your husband how he thinks you should approach his mom.
God often leads us through our husbands in this area.
In fact, he may have been giving wise advice all along, you may just not have realized it. It may not make sense to you, because it is not how you relate to your parents.
But try listening to his counsel. He is the expert on his family. If he is not asking you to clearly sin, seek to honor his way. This is honoring to the Lord.
Sometimes, if a husband has a really controlling mom, he may be rather emotionally and spiritually wounded, himself. If he has always been passive toward her and he has never stood up for himself to her, he may not know how, yet, to stand up against her for you.
Even if he really should. The husband should, ideally, be the one to protect his wife from his family and to help navigate any contention between his wife and family. (Here’s a post about how you can help him with protecting you.)
If he does not help you, there are times a wife may have to respectfully and prayerfully seek to handle things herself, or seek appropriate outside counsel.
Some general suggestions about handling a difficult mother-in-law:
- Show your love for God by loving her – and all people – in a healthy way. (Mark 12:31, 1 Cor. 13:4-8)
- Don’t love in a people pleasing kind of way, but a way that puts God’s approval first. (Gal. 1:10)
- Do good things for her. God has put this woman in your life on purpose for you to share the love of Jesus with her. (Eph. 2:10)
FOCUS ON THE GOOD
- Give thanks to the Lord for the woman who raised the man you love. (1 Thess. 5:18)
- Focus on good things about her. (Phil. 4:8)
- Pray for her. (Matt. 5:43-48)
- Remember that people are not the real enemy. (Eph. 6:12)
- This is a spiritual battle and God has provided spiritual armor and weapons which you MUST use if you want to walk in the victory of Christ in tough relationships. (Eph. 6:10-20)
- Invite God into the situation to do miracles and to pour out His provision, His glory, and His will! (James 5:16)
- Pray God’s blessings and the truths of scripture over her. (1 Tim. 2:1)
- Invite God to use this to help you grow spiritually and to train you in godliness. (James 1:2-4, Heb. 12:7-11)
- Stay as close to the Lord as possible, spending time with Him in prayer, praise, thanksgiving, confession, and intercession. Rejoice in Him. (1 Thess. 5:15-17)
SET A GODLY EXAMPLE
- Seek to do no harm to her. (Rom. 13:10)
- Be patient with her and quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Respond with the self-control of the Spirit. (Gal. 5:22-23, James 1:19-20)
- Treat her as you would like to be treated. (Matt. 7:12)
- Respond gently, not harshly. (Prov. 15:1)
- Smile at her, be friendly, and purposely choose to be kind. Expect nothing in return from her – knowing you will have an eternal reward in heaven. (Luke 6:35)
- Don’t speak (or even think) hurtful words, or insults but let your thoughts and words be life-giving and edifying. (Prov. 18:21, Eph. 4:31-32)
- Don’t complain or argue so that you can shine for Christ in the family. (Phil. 2:14-16)
- Extend grace. (Matt. 5:7, Col. 4:6)
- Don’t try to control her – or your husband. Honor people’s free will like Jesus does. He doesn’t force his way on anyone. (Rev. 3:20)
- Don’t play the martyr and try to manipulate her or your husband. (Gal. 5:16-25)
- Don’t vent to her or about her. (Prov. 29:11)
- Don’t criticize her to your husband or anyone else. When we speak evil of someone, it is a big deal to the Lord. (James 4:11)
- Bless her, even if she curses you. (Rom. 12:14)
- Don’t take her hurtful words personally or react in the flesh. (Gal. 5:16-25, Eccl. 7:21-22)
- Examine what she says and reject anything that is not in line with God’s Word. Don’t absorb messages from the enemy that may be trying to reach you through her mouth. (2 Cor. 10:3-5)
- Do what is right in God’s eyes so that she have nothing bad to say about you and so that she will glorify God for your good example in the end. (Matt. 5:16)
DEAL WITH SIN RIGHTLY
- Carefully tear out any bitterness, hatred, contempt, self-righteousness, critical spirit, gossip, selfishness, and malice in your own heart. (Eph. 4:31, James 4:1-3)
- Allow God to completely change and transform your heart and mind to make you more like Jesus. (Rom. 12:1-2)
- Pour out your pain to the Lord for Him to help you hash through it rightly. (Ps. 109:2-5)
- If she is really sinning and needs to be confronted, it can be best for your husband to do the talking, if at all possible. He has the closer relationship with her. And he is the God-ordained leader in your family. (1 Cor. 11:3)
- If your husband can’t or won’t help and you need to approach her about sin, approach her sin God’s way – respectfully, gently, and humbly – after dealing with your own sin, first. Then you will be able to see what God desires you to do clearly about her sin. (Matt. 7:1-5, Matt. 18:15-17)
- Know the difference between a critical spirit and a godly rebuke.
- Forgive her because this is a command of Jesus and it is life-giving and a powerful witness for Him. Let God take care of any vengeance that may be necessary. We can’t forgive in our power, but He can give us His power to do this as we yield to Him and let Him have control. (Matt. 6:14-15, Luke 17:3)
- Remember that forgiveness is NOT the same thing as trust. The only One we can trust unconditionally is the Lord. Trust of other people is conditional. We are not required to trust people who want to hurt us. (Jer. 17:5)
OUTDO ONE ANOTHER IN SHOWING HONOR – to our husbands and our in-laws
- Seek the wisdom and leadership of your husband. (Eph. 5:22-33, Col. 3:18)
- Always try to treat your MIL with the utmost respect – in your body language, tone of voice, word choices, actions, and even in your heart. (Rom. 12:10)
- Honor your husband’s parents as an extension of God’s command for your husband to honor his parents. (Exodus 20:12, 1 Pet. 5:5)
- Honor your in-laws because they are your elders. This honors the Lord. You don’t have to respect or honor sin, but you can respect and honor people because they are created in the image of God and dearly loved by Jesus. (1 Pet. 5:5)
- Show respect for the Lord, your husband, your in-laws, and yourself.
SEEK TO UNDERSTAND
- Try to understand your MIL’s different perspective, history, filters, paradigm, and concerns. She has a different way of looking at things, but that doesn’t automatically make her “wrong” or “evil.” There are probably reasons why she thinks and feels the way she does that make sense to her. (James 1:19)
- Give her the benefit of the doubt when possible, rather than assuming the worst. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
- Try to get to know her personality, her strengths, and her talents and appreciate them.
- Bear with her weaknesses. She may be older than you are, but she may not be as spiritually mature as expect her to be yet. (You may not be as spiritually mature as you would like to be yet, either.) She may have emotional and spiritual baggage, wounds, and scars that need God’s healing. She may be going through peri-menopause. She may have medical issues that are making things much worse that you don’t know about. You may not know how deep her pain is or what lies the enemy has used to ensnare and hurt her. (Rom. 15:1-2)
- Try to receive love the way she shows it to you, rather than being offended that it may be different from what you are used to. (Prov. 19:11)
SET APPROPRIATE BOUNDARIES IF NECESSARY
- It’s fine to respectfully verbalize when you feel hurt and to ask for what you need,
- “Those words really hurt me.”
- “I feel sad when you say things like…”
- If she is being controlling, you can say things like:
- “Thank you for caring about us and wanting to give us good advice. We will prayerfully consider what you suggested.” She can give advice. It would be ideal if the advice was asked for. But your decisions in your marriage are not her decisions to make.
- “You have raised your son very well. He has a lot of wisdom. We will try to make the best decision we can together. And we will be praying about this. I know it is hard when we make decisions that you may not agree with. Thanks for respecting our ability as adults to make our own decisions, even when we don’t always do what you would prefer.”
- “Thanks for loving us and caring about us. Thanks for praying for us.” But you don’t have to give her control that is not hers.
- If your MIL is often very hurtful to you verbally, and she won’t stop when you ask her to, it may be best to only visit her with your husband, not by yourself. You may need to have him there to be a witness and to be a buffer. (Eccl. 4:12)
- If things are extremely toxic, you may have to break contact to some degree or another, at least for a time. This should not be done from a spirit of malice, but with a heart of divine love, desiring to see repentance, eventual healing, and reconciliation.
- Ideally, this would be done with your husband’s help and leading. But there are times when a wife may have to set boundaries on her own if things are severe and her husband isn’t intervening. (Matt. 18:15-17, Gal. 6:1-2)
- If she is mentally ill or very spiritually oppressed, she may need medical help or counseling.
- There are times it can be necessary to call the police, sadly. Again, it would be ideal if your husband handles that. But if you or your children are not safe, you may have to call, depending on the situation. God puts various authorities in our lives to protect us from harm when we need it and to maintain order and safety.
- With a very emotionally toxic MIL situation, Leslie Vernick’s resources may be helpful about how to interact with destructive people.
KEEP AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE
- Remember that you will face many difficulties and even tragedies as a family. You may all need each other in the future. Seek to build unity and real peace as much as it depends on you. (1 Pet. 3:8)
- Some of the things that may upset you now really won’t matter much in light of eternity. Maybe you can let some things go. Not every conflict is necessary or beneficial. “Choose your battles wisely.” (Prov. 19:11)
- Remember that life is very short. Your MIL may not always be with you. Try to live without regrets and make the most of the time you have. (Ps. 90:12)
Your witness and godly example may be the instruments the Lord uses to win your MIL to Jesus or to help her find healing in Him!
- If things are extremely toxic with your MIL, Leslie Veronica’s website and free resources about emotionally destructive relationships may be helpful. www.leslievernick.com
- Or you may need to involve a godly, trusted counselor. Check out www.biblicalcounseling.com or Focus on the Family’s free one-time counseling service and referrals.