3 Red Flags that Point to a Martyr Mother-In-Law

Do you suspect that you have a martyr mother-in-law? Want to know what to look for? Come by MM for 3 red flags and 3 ways to deal with this challenge. #marriage #inlaws #mother #boundaries #conflict #martyr #communication #validation #insecurity #anger

This is a revised republishing of a vintage and super popular post I did years ago. I’m bringing it out of the vault today revamped and hopefully a bit more robust in the ways it can help you if you’re facing this difficult situation.

You’ve probably seen her type. Outwardly, she’s as sacrificial and sweet as Mother Theresa, but inwardly, she can be as judgmental and downright mean as Mommy Dearest.

Do you suspect that you have a martyr mother-in-law? Want to know what to look for? Come by MM for 3 red flags and 3 ways to deal with this challenge. #marriage #inlaws #mother #boundaries #conflict #martyr #communication #validation #insecurity #angerI sure hope your mother-in-law does NOT resemble this roller-coaster extreme!

In my experience, my mother-in-law only resembles the positive side of this dichotomy. 🙂

And I sure hope this negative stereotype doesn’t capture how my daughter-in-law views me!

But what if this sounds eerily similar to your experience?

3 “Martyr” MIL Red Flags …

1. Manipulates you with guilt, trying to get you to do things her way—her “right” or “better” way.

One woman told me recently that she and her husband were planning a trip to the Bahamas for their anniversary. She was really excited about it until her mother-in-law (MIL) said, “Well, we never went on frivolous and far-away trips like that when our children were small!”

There typically is a pebble (or boulder) of judgment inserted in every guilt-induced statement a true martyr mother-in-law makes.

2. Her feelings easily and often get hurt over how you’ve treated her.

If your MIL is a true “martyr,” she won’t complain openly about this. That might blow her cover as the “martyr” she wants to be seen as!

Instead, she’ll withdraw, not speak to you &/or your husband, whine, mope or even “turn on the waterworks” when you fail to give her the respect that she feels she deserves.

She is, after all, the most maligned person in the whole family! 😉

3. Secretly complains about you to your husband, her son, trying to turn him against you.

If she’s taking outward efforts to enlist your husband’s sympathies, then she’s moved to a very destructive level of boundary violation.

Most likely this means the situation has gone on for far too long and your “husband” has in some way encouraged her to continue. Though he might not even recognize it as such.

[bctt tweet=”Discover 3 red flags that might indicate you have a martyr mother-in-law. Come by MM to find out what they are! #boundaries #communication #marriage” username=”BethSteffaniak”]

3 Ways to Improve How You Relate to Your “Martyr” MIL

1. Give her the acknowledgment that she’s seeking.

Maybe you’re thinking, Are you kidding me? Give her the satisfaction that she’s right? Never!

I’m not saying you must agree with her. Still, you can acknowledge the part that is true, without having to agree with all of her logic.

For example, the woman I mentioned above whose MIL criticized the trip she was taking could say …

“Mom, I know that you and dad never took those kinds of trips, and that must have been hard on you. But Kyle and I want to celebrate our marriage with this trip and believe our kids will be happy that we’ve strengthened our marriage by getting away together.”

Let’s say her MIL continued to counter—“Well, I don’t think they’ll be happy about it one bit. I think your children will feel neglected.”  

She could again follow the rule of acknowledging the truth without agreeing in total. For example …

“You may be right, mom. They may feel sad when we leave, but they’re probably going to have so much fun staying with you and dad that, I bet, they’ll quickly recover. In fact, I’m really excited that they are getting this chance to spend undivided time with you both, while we’re away.”

Can you see how this might disarm the MIL, as well as giving her the acknowledgment she’s longing for?

By doing it this way, you acknowledge that her concerns are legitimate, all the while not backing down on or apologizing for your decision. Your confidence and clarity will surely win at least a slice of her respect, even if she doesn’t yet admit it to you!

Remember, if you truly have a mother-in-law who’s acting like a martyr, she probably is doing this out of insecurity. So, affirming her for the important place she holds in your family can ease her defenses and strengthen her trust in you.

2. Present a united front with your husband.

Another way to neutralize a martyr MIL’s tactics is to encourage your husband to be the spokesperson for the two of you whenever possible.

He could respectfully remind his mother of your united front using phrases like—“we decided …” and “our belief is …” This could, in time, evoke respect for you because she loves, trusts and respects her son.

However, if you have a martyr mother-in-law, your husband likely has also been in an unhealthy relational pattern with her for some time. If so, he may resist joining you in this effort. He may even feel as if you’re dreaming up the whole problem!

If so, it might be time to seek the help of a counselor who can guide you in boundary-setting on your own. In the meantime, here’s a boundary-setting article that might help with that.

But if your husband is in agreement with this new approach, remember this will take lots of time and consistency. You and your husband must present the united front over and over and over again while your MIL develops a new attitude. By keeping this “front” in place, you essentially compel her to change her ways, not accepting her manipulations any longer.

3. Pray for your mother-in-law daily.

This can be your most potent of the three ways to win your MIL’s respect and bring healing to the relationship.

Consider the example of Simon Peter bringing Jesus to heal his mother-in-law in Luke 4:38-39. Although his MIL had a physical fever, your martyr MIL could be just as sick in an emotional and relational sense.

Ask Jesus to bring healing to her heart, to calm her insecurities and to deepen her respect and bond with you. If you do this on a consistent basis, I can guarantee you two things will happen.

  1. God will work on softening her heart—even if you don’t see the outward evidence of it.
  2. Your heart will soften toward her.

That may be the way God wants to change her—by changing the way you view and respond to her.

[bctt tweet=”God always molds the most pliable of hearts into beautiful jars of clay that serve as lanterns for His bright love. Be that for your MIL! #inlaws #love #Christ” username=”BethSteffaniak”]

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.             2 Corinthians 4-6-7


 

What are some of the difficulties you’ve had with your mother-in-law?

 

What are some of the fears you have in trying some of these strategies with your MIL?

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29 responses to “3 Red Flags that Point to a Martyr Mother-In-Law”

  1. My MIL had so much to complain about as my husband and I were planning our wedding… she drove me a little nuts. She is a devout catholic, and we were not planning a catholic ceremony. We had chosen a non-traditional song as our recessional song and she asked about half of her relatives what they thought about the song because she didn’t like it. It really hurt me that she made such a big deal about it and gossiped about us behind our backs. She also did not like that we were taking our pictures before the ceremony because SHE needed more time to get ready… and I was the bride. lol. Even though I say these things about her… she really is a good woman. She raised my husband very well and I respect her and love her. She just gets under my skin sometimes because she can be a little high maintenance. But so can I. 🙂

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  2. Good advice Beth! I especially love the ‘united front’.. that’s one I really believe in myself. As you say.. it takes time and consistency.God bless!

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  3. Thanks for sharing some of your struggles to fit in with a clearly difficult in-law tribe, Cheri. I’m so glad that your husband finally woke up to the need to align with you, his wife. That can make all the difference!BTW, I stopped by your blog and read your post, but it wouldn’t let me leave a comment. But here’s what I would’ve said: You’ve certainly had your share of trials and tribulations with your in-laws. I’m sure it has left you feeling bruised and battered. I will pray for your wounded heart, Cheri! Hugs to you too!

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  4. Blending the personalities and interests of two families certainly can be challenging, as you’ve illustrated from real life here, Brandy. Thanks for sharing how you’ve been impacted. And I’m glad that you’ve not let those hurtful times keep you from loving and, ultimately, accepting your MIL. After all, humans, in general, can get under my skin! Oops, I guess that means I get on my own nerves too! haha!

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  5. Setting proper boundaries is so important. Advice given without being asked is such a common issue. I didn’t have a MIL that was like that. Our issues were different. Great post. Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. You’re sweet for saying! 🙂

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  7. Yeah, that united front is sooo important! Thanks for stopping by and weighing in – I appreciate it!

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  8. Awesome advice! So often we misread others’ remarks and take them as personal criticism, rather than as a plea for acknowlegement. MILs are human and need encouragement too. If we still think of ourselves as children, and treat her like all-powerful Mom figure she used to be, we will be disappointed. Your reprasing of her concerns in a positive way is terrific!Thanks for linking up for Marriage Monday today, Beth.Blessings, e-Mom ღ

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  9. Thanks so much, e-Mom! Your encouragement means a lot to me. And thanks so much for “Marriage Monday’s.” There’s no other blogger who loves “Marriage Monday” more than me! I’m so glad I found your site! 🙂

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  10. Thanks, Tonya, for stopping by my place too – and sharing your encouragement with me. 🙂

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  11. I’m fortunate not to have a martyr-in-law. I find your suggestion to give her the acknowledgment she’s seeking very interesting and helpful. Don’t we all want to know we’ve been heard and our opinion valued?

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  12. i’m so thankful that my MIL isn’t a Martyr one!! wow…..i’m blessed…in fact she was over the top thrilled for us when we went to paris…she thot that was a great way to celebrate my 50th bday and our 20th year of marriage…(yes we brought our daughters….)….we’ve been on numerous trips around new england and sometimes without the children…..she is all for that!! lol….Oh…your son was in C lifton Park?? awesome….that is pretty close to us….I lived there right after grad school….but we are a little south of that now….

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  13. I have to say it I have personally seen this with father inlaws as well. UNITED front is so important even for the inlaw, so no one is confused.

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  14. I really agree with the idea of “united front”. If this is done consistently by both spouses, the MIL (the rest of the in-laws) will pick up the signal they’re both sending. It has worked well with me and hubby in dealing with my in-laws so now they clearly know our stance as a couple. They know that we support each other. As any other human relationships, it’s also important to recognize the need for affirmation of our in-laws, as you point out here. Every human being reacts positively by words or acts of affirmation and recognition. Thank you for leaving a comment in my post.

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  15. I’m just thankful I don’t have to deal with Martyr MIL! Blessings!

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  16. haha! You and me both! 😀

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  17. Thanks to you too for stopping by and weighing in!

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  18. You’re probably right. Having a “martyr mentality” knows no gender. Although, unfortunately, women tend to fall into this trap more than men. Thanks for stopping by!

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  19. That’s great that your MIL is so supportive. I think I’d be jealous of your trip to “PARIS”! Wow! I’m trying to talk my hubby in to taking me to the UK for our 25th. But then, we have three boys to put through college too! Yikes!Thanks for stopping by and replying to my comment too! 🙂

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  20. You’re right, Tami. Being acknowledged seems to help any conflicted situation. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  21. I love the advice you’ve given to acknowledge her feelings too. And I must admit, I probably haven’t done this enough in my dealing w/my own mother-in-law, who is great. So thanks for sharing! And please forgive me for not returning the MM visit sooner. It’s been a crazy week! Blessings to you!

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  22. My MIL lived with us for a while (the tenth circle of hell) and was jealous of any kindness I would extend to my PETS! I’m not a wierd, PETA-type animal worshipper or anything, and she never really acknowledges her deep seeded hatred of animals (as they get the house “dirty”. But whenever I was talking to, or caring for, one of our pets, she would watch for a minute in silence before uttering this gem: “Someone in your life must have hurt you deeply.”

    WTF???

    The translation, once I had time to reflect, was something like, “I am terribly jealous of any attention you give to your animals, but since I can’t acknowledge that truth without seeming psychotically insecure, I’m going to assume you’ve turned to loving animals more than people. What I really suspect is you prefer them to ME, but since I’m a perfect and loveable human being, I’m going to project that imagined slight onto every other human alive. Disregard the fact that you are well-liked by others and I’m an over-sensitive, melancholy drag who keeps a running total of real or perceived slights against me. You must just hate people in general.”

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  23. My MIL lived with us for a while (the tenth circle of hell) and was jealous of any kindness I would extend to my PETS! I’m not a wierd, PETA-type animal worshipper or anything, and she never really acknowledges her deep seeded hatred of animals (as they get the house “dirty”. But whenever I was talking to, or caring for, one of our pets, she would watch for a minute in silence before uttering this gem: “Someone in your life must have hurt you deeply.” WTF??? The translation, once I had time to reflect, was something like, “I am terribly jealous of any attention you give to your animals, but since I can’t acknowledge that truth without seeming psychotically insecure, I’m going to assume you’ve turned to loving animals more than people. What I really suspect is you prefer them to ME, but since I’m a perfect and loveable human being, I’m going to project that imagined slight onto every other human alive. Disregard the fact that you are well-liked by others and I’m an over-sensitive, melancholy drag who keeps a running total of real or perceived slights against me. You must just hate people in general.”

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  24. My MIL totally changed when my baby was born in May 2012. She became demanding in doing things for the baby without asking me or my husband. She would always stare at me when I would breastfeed my baby. I finally told her to her face in a crowded cafe while trying to breastfeed my screaming baby, “YOU’RE the one staring!” She bolted out for few minutes and came back with tears in her eyes. My husband was totally disgusted with me. Fast forward to a year later, and I finally confronted her at her home. She denied me the chance to talk to her about her interfering several months before, and I was bottling up all this resentment inside. She accused me of verbally abusing her, and she walked out of her own home. She kept saying how she failed in my eyes, and that all she ever did was give me love and support.

    This is what she emailed and texted to me after our confrontation:

    Jessica

    It saddens me to say that after careful consideration I am no longer
    prepared to listen to your unfounded verbal abuse. I am deeply upset it
    has come to this and I think you should seek immediate professional
    medical help on your return to Manchester as the carnage you are
    creating within this family is unsustainable. I hope that we can invite
    you back to our house once your behavioural issues are addressed and you
    discover how precious the gift of love is.

    Once you have come to terms with your emotional issues, and they are resolved, you are most welcome to visit us again.

    Jayne and Paul

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  25. My MIL lived with us for a year, and when we moved out of the home we rented, she left us cleaning the bathroom she shared with her cats! Imagine how fun that was for me! Oh then I get a call from my sister who owns the house saying the room smells like cat pee and the carpet will have to be torn out! Told husband about it, and what do ya know?? It was NOT a big deal, he’ll take care of it! Can’t stand irresponsible adults! So glad we’re in our own home now and my contact with her is next to none! But she plays the part as if she really likes me when I know she’s jealous of the fact that her son is no longer hers to impose on! I don’t let that crap happen if I can help it!

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  26. Beth, I can’t focus to comment; had a bad concussion, and have been bleeding pretty much too much.

    But I am here and reading, and thank God for your consistency of Godly message.

    You embody Isaiah 6; “Here am I: send me.”

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    1. Oh wow, Andrew! I’m so sorry to hear this! I’ve started republishing old articles because I’m taking a blogging break this summer. But I should have checked in on you at your place this past week! I’ll be praying that things improve for your injury and that you stay strong and fight back death valiantly, as always! Hugs and prayers!

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  27. […] This is an updated edition of a post originally published on messymarriage.com. […]

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