How to Overcome In-Law Problems

By Deb DeArmond
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
Iakov Filimonov/iStock
The relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law can be painful, but it doesn't have to be. The issue often is a lack of trust. This article offers five practical tips for building trust.

Listen to a broadcast about relationships with in-laws featuring Deb DeArmond.

“I want to know your secret,” said the woman across the dinner table. A three-day retreat had brought us together, but her face was unfamiliar. I don’t share secrets with random strangers. And even though I was intrigued by her statement, I was silent because I didn’t know what she was talking about.

My blank expression prompted her to continue. “I’m sharing a cabin with your daughters-in-law. They love you. I mean big-time love. I can’t stand my daughter-in-law, and she feels the same about me. It’s been a war zone since she married my son.”

The problem is no joke.

The relationships between WIL (women-in-law) have long been among the most painful many women — even Christian women — will ever face.

The mother-in-law jokes and references on TV and in movies are legendary. Think of Marie Barone, the ever-present and always nosy mom-in-law on the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Her greatest achievement? Raising the “perfect” son, Ray. Beleaguered daughter-in-law, Debra, could have cooked the perfect lasagna while cartwheeling across the floor singing “That’s Amore,” and it would never impress her demanding mother-in-law.

From what I’ve seen, women are culturalized to believe this relationship will never be good. And when it isn’t, they aren’t surprised and do little to improve it.

It might be expected that women would bond over their mutual admiration for the man in the middle, but that’s not the way the story typically plays out. The problem is that two women love the same man: one as his mother, one as his wife. And sometimes these women feel the need to stake out their territory to rebuff all trespassers. Moms have spent years and tears in the process of raising a son. Then a mother’s tenure gives way to the benefits a wife can provide. Sometimes the mother-in-law has a critical attitude: “My daughter-in-law is not good enough for my son. She’s not the woman I would have ever chosen.” This creates a clash with “the other woman.” Other times, the wife comes to the relationship with preconceived ideas that she must fight for her place: “My mother-in-law needs to stay out of our lives and let us create our own family.”

The relationship problem often centers on a lack of trust, and trust must be built over time through consistent, observable behavior.

Five tips to build trust

Are you a wife or mother locked in an adversarial relationship with your WIL? Are you already living in a no-trust zone? Here are five practical tips to help you build trust with your WIL:

  • Treat your daughter- or mother-in-law as family. She is connected to someone you love deeply — try to understand how he feels about your WIL. Be sure you treat your daughter-in-law as your son would expect (or your mother-in-law as your husband would expect). Even if her behavior toward you is difficult or rude, you can choose to respond respectfully to her.
  • Forgive your mother- or daughter-in-law. Set aside grudges and past hurts. How is that possible? By following Christ’s example and forgiving her for the hurt in order to build the relationship. Jesus is there to help through His strength and love.
  • Speak kindly. The Bible reminds us in Ephesians 4:15 that we are to speak “the truth in love” and that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Truth spoken without love can be painful. Be candid but kind and use the truth to liberate, not annihilate.
  • Avoid manipulation. Manipulating and attempting to control others to serve yourself does not demonstrate the love of God. Ask Him what you can do to serve the best interest of the family, which includes your daughter- or mother-in-law.
  • Give trust. Believe that others are essentially honest. Be willing to disclose appropriately. If you want to be trusted, go first: Trust your in-law until given a reason not to. For inspiration, consider the book of Ruth. That story depicts a beautiful women-in-law relationship with a joyful ending.

So where does that leave my retreat dinner partner whom I referenced earlier? I shared the suggestions and Scripture verses above. But instead of embracing the ideas, she stomped off angrily. However, several months later she read my book on the subject and she called me afterward. She apologized and reported she had finally reached out to her daughter-in-law. “We’re not best friends,” she said. “But we’ve healed a lot of hurt. We’re on track to becoming family.”

How strong is your marriage? Find out today with the Focus on Marriage Assessment. This reliable assessment is based on the research and experience of Focus on the Family’s marriage experts Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley. Take this free assessment now.

© 2018 Deb DeArmond. All rights reserved. Originally published on

Learn How to Cherish your Spouse and Have a Deeper Connection

Do you cherish your spouse? Couples who cherish each other understand that God created everyone different, and as a result they treasure the unique characteristics in their spouse. We want to help you do just that. Start the free five-part video course called, “Cherish Your Spouse”, and gain a deeper level of connection with your spouse.

Book Cover: Aftershock A Plan for Recovery

Aftershock: Overcoming His Secret Life with Pornography: A Plan for Recovery

This book is for women who have discovered their husband’s struggle with pornography and other sexual infidelities. Based on biblical principles and psychologically sound advice, Aftershock is designed to help women heal, grow, and receive restoration for themselves, their husbands, and their marriages.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

How useful was this article?

Click or Tap on a star to rate it!

Average Rating: 2.3 / 5

We are sorry that this was not useful for you!

Help us to improve.

Tell us how we can improve this article.

About the Author

You May Also Like

Young couple moving a chair and extending grace
Conflict Resolution

Extend Grace When Your Spouse Behaves Badly

During those moments when your spouse is acting rude, can you extend grace in spite of how they’re showing up? Can you protect your marriage by not reacting or not engaging in an unkind way?

Child holding bowl repaired by kintsugi
Encourage Children

Beauty in the Brokenness: How God Restores Our Hearts

Kintsugi is the art of repairing something that has been broken with gold, with the understanding that the object is more beautiful because it has been broken. Like the art of kintsugi, God repairs the brokenness in our lives and makes us more beautiful through the process.