Skip to main content

The Other Woman in Your Marriage

It's normal to feel like you're in a competitive relationship with your mother-in-law. Here's help with working through the tensions.

The Other Woman in Your Marriage

Here's Ashley's story:

It was the eve of the wedding. The rehearsal had gone off without a hitch, and the dinner was about to start. But first, Charles' mother grabbed him by the arm and pulled him off to the side. "Charles, you're my son, the light of my life, my reason for being. I've given the best years of my life for you; my youth, my health, my money. But believe me, it was worth every sacrifice. Please remember that the woman you're marrying will never be able to take care of you as I did. She will never love you as I do. No woman could. Just remember your poor old mother."

Flash forward 15 years:

"I feel like an outsider when I'm around my mother-in-law," says Ashley. "Even though my husband and I have been married 15 years, she still treats me as though I'm a threat, someone who wants to take her son away from her. I'm not usually a competitive person, but when I'm with my mother-in-law, I find myself comparing, keeping score, and being unsure of my status in the family."

Family Matters

When dealing with your in-laws has you feeling like you've walked through the metal detector at the airport once too often, remind yourself that having a good relationship with your mother-in-law is part of having a strong family. And you want a strong family, so don't give up.

Unfortunately, there's a built-in sense of rivalry in every daughter-in-law/mother-in-law relationship. A woman and her mother-in-law are in a triangular relationship with the same man. The daughter-in-law's gain is frequently the mother-in-law's loss. And when another woman has caused you a loss, no matter how intellectually understandable it is, it's hard to take. Try these ideas for solving this situation with your mother-in-law.

  1. An effective strategy for dealing with competitive feelings is to realize that part of your mother- in-law's possessiveness is natural aspect of being a mother. Your mother-in-law may never stop feeling it's her job to be a caretaker to your husband. Asking her to give up control completely and let you be the only influential woman in your husband's life is asking the impossible.

  2. Do you feel as though you're not measuring up to your (sainted) mother-in-law? If so, you're not alone. Many wives feel this way. Don't. Stop comparing yourself to your mother-in-law. First off, you're not your mother-in-law. Second, you don't have to live your life according to her terms. The earlier you establish this as a framework for your marriage, the happier you will be.

Subscribe to Family Education

Your partner in parenting from baby name inspiration to college planning.