Setting Boundaries With Needy Mothers-in-Law

Your relationship with your in-laws can be an ongoing challenge after marriage. Prioritizing your relationship with your spouse can help you carefully educate your in-laws about what comes first -- your marriage. By setting boundaries – even with a needy mother-in-law – you can help your spouse’s mother eventually understand where and when she’s welcome.

The Intrusive Pattern

When a needy mother-in-law is trampling on your fledgling marriage, take note: The responsibility often rests with you and your spouse, who may be allowing her to trample, advises psychologist Lynn Margolies, a former faculty member at Harvard Medical School 1. The pattern of interference within the marriage may begin with the child of the mother-in-law becoming trapped in issues simmering between the spouse and the mother-in-law.

Communicate Within the Marriage

Discuss the mother-in-law issue within your marriage to take steps to resolve it, suggests the "Dr. Phil" website. Engage in open and constructive conversation about the issues, the mother-in-law’s behavior and solutions both spouses visualize to solve the problem. Devise marital boundaries that you can both accept and institute with the mother-in-law. They may include specific times when she can call, requiring her to call before visiting and setting a maximum frequency of visits. Boundaries may also include what she can purchase for grandchildren.

Instituting the Boundaries

Make a plan for the child of the mother-in-law to communicate with her about the new boundaries, recommends the "Dr. Phil" website. Once you communicate the new boundaries, directly ask the mother-in-law to respect the new boundaries, advises Phillip J. Swihart of Focus on the Family.

Be Patient but Firm

A needy mother-in-law may have difficulty respecting boundaries after you set them, but you can patiently and firmly teach her to abide by your new rules. Just as a child needs to learn that you will parent consistently, a mother-in-law may also need to learn this lesson. Insist that your mother-in-law follow your rules regarding telephone calls by only answering when she calls during the designated hours, for example. Schedule visits that fit within the frequency guidelines you instituted. If you receive pleas for leniency, use a kind and loving approach to tell her that you insist that she adhere to the boundaries.