An emotionally manipulative mother-in-law can cause substantial damage to an otherwise healthy relationship. The good news is, there are signs you can look for and ways you can deal with this problem.

When it comes to relationships, there are many issues that arise. At one point or the other, there may be money problems, trust issues, or simple family disagreements. But one of the stickiest issues may be an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law.

Signs of an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law

You see, not all relationship problems happen within the home. Sometimes they are spawned within the extended family. Here are a few signs that your mother-in-law is being manipulative, so you can try to understand why and protect your family.

1. She’s passive-aggressive

One of the most insidious tactics used by emotionally manipulative in-laws is passive aggression. This treatment involves using heavy implications instead of obvious actions or statements. It’s an attitude or energy used to get some point across, and if you don’t get the point, your mother-in-law will get angry. She’s had plenty of time to show anger quietly and under most radars.

2. She is always right

Look, you won’t be able to argue with your mother-in-law when she acts this way. When she decides she wants to buy a new set of chairs for your dining room or change your children’s clothing, she won’t be happy until she gets her way. Now, I’m not saying you should just give in to her every whim, but it’s not going to be easy to disagree with her because she simply “knows best”. And don’t forget, she’s never wrong.

3. She doesn’t respect your boundaries

An emotionally manipulative mother-in-law will never respect the boundaries you set for your life. She will come over unannounced all the time. If you leave the door unlocked, she will just waltz right in. She will go inside, start cooking in your kitchen, and even make dinner plans without even consulting you first. There are absolutely no limits.

4. She’s competitive with you

If your mother-in-law is always competing with you, then that is also manipulation. That insecurity I spoke of before drives her to compete with the things you do for your significant other.

This may include cooking her child’s favorite meals, buying expensive gifts, and whatever else it takes to better you. All this is done out of the fear that she no longer has a place in her child’s life. And this competition can be ruthless.

5. She thinks you should be perfect

There’s nothing you can do to truly satisfy an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law. This is because she expects you to be perfect, and no one is perfect. But you see, no one will be good enough for her child, and the pressure she places on you will be immense. She will expect you to keep a spotless home and look ravishing at the same time. Her constant nitpicking will drain you.

6. She will remind your partner of past relationships

Some in-laws may innocently talk about girls from their son’s high school years or old friends from college. However, the manipulative ones will harp on past relationships over and over in an attempt to get a negative reaction from you. She wants to make you jealous, and with your jealousy, then say,

“Why are you being so jealous?”

In fact, it’s unwise to dominate the conversation with memories of past partners. They are in the past for a reason.

7. She plays the victim well

Beware of the mother-in-law that plays the victim. This is an emotionally manipulative individual. If your wife is gone out for a while and her mother comes by, be careful. This is a prime opportunity for your mother-in-law to stir up trouble and play the victim.

When she sees her daughter again, she can tell all sorts of lies about you and paint herself as innocent. When in truth, maybe nothing even happened, or worse yet, maybe she harassed you while her daughter was out. This behavior is clearly manipulative.

8. She’s an expert spy

Sometimes a toxic mother-in-law shows her true colors by spying on you. You may think she’s not paying attention, but look closer.

Yes! That was a fake smile she flashed when you caught her eye. But when you looked the other way, she calculatingly tried to find every crack and imperfection in your demeanor. It’s chilling. Oh, and not to mention, she will come by and look through the window too if you don’t answer her knock at the door.

9. She manipulates the children

If you have children, she will talk badly about you to them, either in private or when you’re around. She may also let them do things that you told them not to do. And if your children saw something happen between you and your mother-in-law, she will reframe the incident to make you look like the bad guy.

And, of course, this makes her appear like the victim. You’ll notice she uses the victim mentality quite a bit, and with both your partner and the kids.

10. She’s making you feel insecure

Since your emotionally manipulative mother-in-law has been using all these various tactics, you may have become insecure. And your insecurity, if you’re not careful, will also be used against you. She will notice every little doubt, as if she can read your mind. So, keep your mind well-guarded against her attacks. Your sudden insecurity is a big sign that she’s manipulating you.

11. She’s narcissistic

Sometimes manipulation is deeply ingrained in people. As for your mother-in-law, this could be the case as well. If she’s narcissistic, she will want to be the center of attention. She will interrupt you when you speak, and she will ruin your plans. If you made dinner reservations and she finds out, she will convince your partner to do something else at the same time.

And empathy will not be one of her strong suits. She probably doesn’t care how you feel.

12. She only publicly loves you

The thing about an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law is that she will show loads of love and affection for you… but only in public. That’s because she wants everyone outside of the family to see how kind and sweet she is, while behind closed doors, she’s something else entirely. The stark contrast in her behavior is astounding.

So, what can you do?

Well, here’s the thing, you can change this, but it won’t be easy. There are a few steps to put into place to protect yourself. Trust me, you will need to make sure your mental health is fortified when being attacked by an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law. Check this out:

1. Get your partner on board

You cannot change anything until you get your partner on board with what’s really going on. It seems like it should be obvious when manipulation is taking place, but it’s not, hence the word, “manipulation”. But if you can get your significant other to see some of the strange things that happen, maybe they can defend you.

2. Keep a record

Whenever you can, take pictures of important things, people, places, or situations that can rebuke any lies told about you. Secretly record your mother-in-law when she’s saying negative things about you and keep this record for “evidence”. Write down facts and keep a journal about the manipulative occurrences, so you can reference back to this information later on.

3. Set stronger boundaries

If your boundaries are being broken, set stronger ones. Make a rule that everyone needs to call before coming over to visit. I know this sounds harsh, but if your mother-in-law does not respect your personal time and your home, it’s time to change the rules. You can also designate a certain day of the week when you do not accept visitors.

4. Stay strong and guard your self-esteem

Most importantly, don’t let your mother-in-law affect your self-worth. You know who you are, so don’t let someone else change that. Although these manipulative actions can be draining, it’s important to do whatever you need to stay healthy. If you need to walk away, do it. If you need to take a drive, go. Please do if you need to get away from a toxic situation.

One last thought

If you have an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law, it’s common. Many of us do. The good news is that sometimes you can help her change. If the case is that your mother-in-law is feeling insecure and latching onto her child, you can soothe that pain. Sometimes, let her win. Sometimes, let her cook your partner’s favorite dish.

I think it’s about a healthy balance of compromise and assertiveness. But the bottom line is, you’re going to have to be the judge of that yourself. Ask yourself this,

“What am I dealing with here?”

So, I wish you happiness, educated discernment, and good mental health. Be blessed and good luck.

Featured image by benzoix on Freepik

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  1. Sofia Sylvia Logothetis


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