15 Signs You Have a Toxic Mother-in-Law and How to Deal with Her

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When you get married, you not only marry your spouse, but you marry into their family, for better or worse.

Unfortunately, this can mean inheriting a toxic mother-in-law. This can be tricky territory because your husband loves you, but he also loves his mother. 

Some show their true colors from the start, others don’t start falling into the toxic category until years later. Whatever the case, dealing with a toxic mother-in-law can be draining and can put a strain on your marriage.

We’re going to take a look at how to know if you have a toxic mother-in-law and how to deal with the situation.

How do I know I have a toxic mother-in-law?

By definition, someone or something that is toxic is “poisonous or very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way”. If you find your mother-in-law unpleasant in an “insidious way”, you may have a toxic relationship.

While everyone may show it in different ways, here are some questions to ask yourself when thinking about your relationship with your mother-in-law:

  • Do you feel like you can’t be yourself around her?
  • Do you feel drained after spending time with her?
  • Do you feel like you’re never good enough for her?

If you answered yes to any of these questions,  you may have a toxic mother-in-law on your hands.  Here are 15 signs to keep an eye out for:

15 Signs You Have a Toxic Mother-in-Law

1. She Thinks She’s Always Right

The word wrong doesn’t exist in her vocabulary because she’s always right (even when she isn’t). If your mother-in-law argues with you about every little thing because she thinks she’s always right, keep your eyes open.

2. The Word Boundaries is Not in Her Vocabulary

Boundaries? What are boundaries? A mother-in-law with no boundaries may invade your personal space, constantly come over uninvited, make decisions for you and your children, and basically take the reins wherever and whenever.

For these women, there is nothing that doesn’t “feel right” because there are no boundaries in place.

3. She puts the “C” in control

Even if you disagree with what she’s doing, your toxic mother-in-law is going to try to control everything you and your family do.

From where you go to what you wear, maybe even where your kids go to school…your mother-in-law may try to exert her authority in any way possible.

4. She Constantly Gives Unsolicited Advice

If you ask for an opinion, that’s one thing. But, if your mother-in-law constantly puts in her two cents to the point that it infuriates you (and she knows it), there may be a toxic relationship brewing.

5. You Don’t Exist in Her World

While some mothers-in-law constantly give advice or overstep, others won’t even acknowledge your existence.

While she certainly knows you’re there, she doesn’t bother with you at all. She may even give excuses as to why she’s not acknowledging you.

6. She Acts Differently When Your Spouse is Present

Since she would never want her son to know she’s been less than nice to you, she may put on an act in front of him.

This won’t set off any alarms, and she’ll still look perfect in his eyes. But, when it’s just you and her, her demeanor and everything else changes.

7. She Gossips About You

It’s sad to think that your mother-in-law may gossip about you, but it happens. While some women may not find out, others discover what’s going on and are less than pleased about it.

It not only portrays them in a bad light in front of family and friends but also causes major trust issues. While strangers may gossip, you shouldn’t have to worry about your mother-in-law talking behind your back.

8. She Plays Emotional Games

If your mother-in-law puts the guilt trip on you and your husband or constantly plays the name game, she may fall into the emotionally manipulative mother-in-law category.

She may even try to manipulate you and your family or start playing favorites with other family members.

9. She Can’t Let it Go

Your mother-in-law may hold grudges and not be able to just let things go. She remembers everything and won’t think twice about holding it over your head.

10. She Sets You Up for Failure

Her ways may seem innocent at face value, but as you dig deeper, you realize she has ulterior motives and is setting you up to fail. 

11. She Constantly Makes You Doubt Yourself

Your mother-in-law may be quick to judge you, so you may doubt yourself easily because she’s so judgmental. Her constant criticism can make you feel bad about yourself and that you can’t do anything right.

12. She Buys Inappropriate Gifts For Your Spouse

Sexy underwear, expensive gifts…these are things that you want to buy for your spouse, not things you want to see your mother-in-law buy for him.

But, if you have a toxic mother-in-law she’s not going to think twice about buying these kinds of gifts. 

13. You Can Never Please Her

Don’t try to impress or please her, because you never will. If you invite her for dinner, she’s going to find fault in what you made or how you set the table.

She’ll also give you advice on your food and what you can do to improve it next time. Your toxic mother-in-law may also make comments about how you can improve your house.

14. She Gives Backhanded Apologies

Although the word “sorry” may be in the sentence, she doesn’t really mean it. Her “apologies” may go something like this, “Sorry you feel this way”. Although it sounds like she’s apologizing, she’s really pinning the guilt on you.

15. She Looks Down on Your Family

Every gathering, she “forgets” to invite your family. When you’re around, she talks about your family like she’s better than them.

If any of these sound familiar, you may have a toxic mother-in-law on your hands. She most likely does this because tearing other people down makes her feel better about herself.

How to deal with a toxic-mother-in-law

If you have a toxic mother-in-law, dealing with her isn’t going to be easy. Here are some tips to help you navigate through this slippery slope.

Talk to Your Spouse

Your spouse may not be aware of what is happening or is aware and has his blinders on. Whatever the case, it’s important to have a conversation with your spouse so you can get on the same page.

Explain what bothers you. He may try to talk to his mother or prefer to stay away and have you talk to her.

Talk to Your Mother-in-Law

This may be a tough one, but you’re going to have to go to the source of your angst. Talk to your mother-in-law and tell her what behaviors bother you. Calmly tell her how you feel. There’s no telling how she’ll react.

She may be defensive or send out more toxic vibes by pretending she has no idea what you’re talking about when she certainly does. The important thing is to know you did everything you could to talk out your issues.

Stay Away

If you’ve tried to talk to her and feel like you’ve gotten nowhere, the next thing to do is to limit your interactions. Only see or talk to her when it’s absolutely necessary. This will help you feel better about yourself. 

She’ll likely notice that you’re not around as much. If this happens, you can simply explain to her why you don’t want to be around her. 

Remember It’s Not You

It’s hard not to take it personally when you give 110% and get nothing in return. In these situations, it’s important to remember not to take things personally and that you didn’t do anything wrong.

Try to live your life and go about your business. Maybe once your mother-in-law realizes that she’s not the center of attention, she’ll change her ways.

Having a toxic mother-in-law can be trying on everyone in the family. Do your best to stay focused and live your life. You can’t change people, but you can change the way their words and actions impact you. 

Kristina is a freelance writer and children's book author. She's the mother of two girls who keep her very busy! When she's not spending time with her family, she enjoys taking a spin class and reading a good book.

Kristina is a freelance writer and children's book author. She's the mother of two girls who keep her very busy! When she's not spending time with her family, she enjoys taking a spin class and reading a good book.