Mother and daughter-in-law relationships can be the stuff of any strong, loving mother-daughter relationship — if you’re really lucky. More often than not, there can be a divide between you. Even worse, some of these types of relationships resemble those that are depicted on TV, or in movies, with one woman hating the other, who’s trying desperately to win her over.
Mothers-in-law often have very high expectations for the women marrying into the family, and they’ve likely thought about the kinds of people these women should be: the values they’d have, and the way their lives would look — ever since their own children were young. All of that expectation can be really difficult to live up to.
If you suspect that your mother-in-law may not be your biggest fan, regardless of what your partner insists, you might not be concocting the scenario entirely in your head. Want to know for sure? There are some clear signs that she really doesn’t like you all that much. Here’s how to figure it out.
You get a weird feeling
You know that sense you get when you’re around someone who you think might not be your biggest fan? You can just tell that they’re not at ease or comfortable around you, that something’s wrong, and that they don’t think you’re good enough.
It can be extremely difficult to encounter this, particularly among family, but it happens. While it’s totally possible you’re over-thinking it, you might be right on track. “Intuition is a powerful tool that everyone carries, use and listen to it. Do you get the feeling that your mother in law tolerates you as opposed to embraces you? Especially for the sake of her child? You are probably right,” psychologist Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais told me in an email.
Reflecting on why she might be treating you this way — whether it’s due to the way she was raised, her personal beliefs, her culture, or something else entirely — can bring clarity. “This reflection can often provide clues that its often not really about you, but about conditioning and pre-conceived notions,” says Bais.
She insists on talking about your partner’s ex
It’s uncomfortable to hear over, and over again about how wonderful your partner’s ex is and how much the family (including your mother-in-law) loved them. It’s possible they don’t realize that they’re doing it, but even that knowledge isn’t likely going to make you feel much better.
According to psychologist Dr. Michele Leno, PhD, LP, if you notice this happening (and, worry not, chances are they didn’t actually love them as much as they’re saying), you should absolutely address it with your partner. If it makes you uncomfortable, speak up.
She’s overly critical
Some people really are exceptionally critical. That being said, if you notice your mother-in-law regularly criticizes your appearance, your ambition, your values, your family traditions, or other things that are important to who you are, it could be a big red flag that she doesn’t care for you.
“Talk to your partner first. They need to support you first and foremost — this is essential to happy in-law relationships,” Dr. Jess O’Reilly, PhD, Astroglide’s resident sexologist, told me in an email. “If your partner plays the ‘I don’t want to get in between you two’ card, call them out: they’re not in the middle — they’re your partner and need to act like it. You are a team. Even if they don’t always agree with you, they should act as your partner and stand united with you in public. If they want to take up an issue regarding your [behavior] or interaction with their mother, they should do so in private.”
She ignores you
Ah, the silent treatment. This tactic might seem a bit “high school,” but there’s no doubt that it’s effective at getting the message across. “If your mother-in-law isn’t your biggest fan, she’ll brush you off and ignore you,” April Davis, relationship expert and CEO of high end matchmaker LUMA, told me in an email.
Davis explained, “She won’t include you in family discussions about the future and she won’t invite you places. When referring to your household, she’ll only mention her child’s name. Most obnoxiously, she’ll constantly bring up the past.” It’s difficult, for sure, but her freezing you out may not last forever. Make a more conscious effort to build a relationship before giving up entirely.
She leaves you out
Sometimes the giveaway that your mother-in-law just doesn’t like you is that, to her, you’re forgettable.
“Oftentimes the dislike is passive-aggressive: exclusion from certain family events, or conveniently forgetting to mention a key aspect of an expectation,” licensed marriage and family therapist Michelene M. Wasil, MFT, told me via email. “[She’s] basically, setting you up to fail. Trust your gut: if it feels wrong, talk to your partner about it. They may not see it until it’s pointed out.”
She doesn’t ask about you or your life
Asking questions and taking an interest is a relatively simple and painless way to let another person know that you care about them. If your mother-in-law never makes the effort, it might be a sign that you’re not her cup of tea.
If she just won’t ask, “you can just share about what is going on with you without being prompted,” therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, told me. “Also, accepting that your mother-in-law may be jealous of your accomplishments — or even your relationship with her son — may give you perspective. If you are able to tell yourself how sad it is that she has to go through life so [negatively], it may help you feel better.”
She keeps you at arm’s length
If she stops talking when you come near, is friendly with everyone, but only sort of civil to you, or doesn’t tell you any more about her life than she asks about yours, it could be a sign that she doesn’t like you.
According to psychologist Dr. Patricia O’Gorman, PhD, much of this is about showing that she’s still relevant and powerful within the family and its relationships. That being said, of course it won’t make you feel any better that she doesn’t like you, or that things are tense or uncomfortable when the two of you get together. Respect needs to flow in both directions.
She apologizes with a non-apology
If the two of you argue and she says something along the lines of, “I’m sorry you thought I was insulting you,” she’s not really apologizing. She’s blaming you for misunderstanding, rather than faulting herself for hurting you.
“Real apologies where the offender takes responsibility for the part they played in the offense really works to help mend a slight or wrong,” counselor and relationship expert Julienne Derichs, LCPC, told me. A non-apology not only feels faked, it can be a sign that you’re not all that important to her.
So you have a feeling that your mother-in-law might not like you. It’s normal to feel upset or disappointed. You can try to win her over by making more of an effort, taking a more obvious interest in her, trying to find common ground, or going out of your way to include her, but it’s possible that a strong mother and daughter-in-law relationship just isn’t meant to be, for the two of you.
You can only do so much. Sometimes, at the end of the day, you just have to make the best of things, and let it go.