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Difficult daughter-in-law? How do you build a positive relationship with her?

daughter in law

If you've yet to hear a story about a 'difficult' daughter-in-law from a friend, a family member or even a neighbour, then count yourself lucky.  Daughter-in-law issues are certainly in abundance, as our forums have proved, but they are by no means an inevitable part of being a mother-in-law. So how can you ensure that you get along? How can you build (or rebuild) a positive relationship with her? And how can you avoid or deal with any daughter-in-law problems? Here are six ways to connect with your child's partner, plus tips on how you can mend a relationship that's turned sour. 

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1. Treat her as you would a daughter

Whether or not your daughter-in-law is the person that you envisioned for your son, it is important that you welcome her into the family, try to get to know her on a personal level, be interested in who she is and her family background, and, above all, be respectful.


Be open-minded when you meet her for the first time

If you're meeting a prospective daughter-in-law, someone that your son may be very serious about, her first impression of you will be just as important as your first impression of her. The key is to be open-minded and disregard any initial judgements that you may have, which will ensure that you instantly get off on the right foot.

The likelihood of this running smoothly and without any forced effort on your part will, of course, also depend on the kind of person she is and whether or not she is willing to get to know you. This may not be apparent at first - she could be shy, reserved, holding back - but if feelings do eventually prove to be mutual and she shows interest, then be sure to approach the possibility of spending some time with her.


Be involved, be trustworthy and be approachable

The best relationships are built out of trust, openness and excellent communication. Being on hand to offer support and advice when needed (and without reservation) will ensure that your daughter-in-law views you as someone she can rely on. This is especially important when grandchildren are involved as, if you are a paternal grandmother, your role will, in part, be governed by your relationship with your future daughter-in-law. 


Gransnetters say:

"If your son is very happy with her, that should please you to see. Build from his happiness and try to see and appreciate the positives in her and let her know that you see them."

"Do things with her that you know she would enjoy. She is trying to find her feet in a different family than she is used to. Help her feel like she belongs in your family." 


2. Understand that strong relationships take time to build

mother in law and daughter in law

Building a positive relationship is something that you'll need to work on, however much you'd like it to blossom overnight. Your relationship with your daughter-in-law will depend on a multitude of factors such as:

  • Her own family situation (especially if she isn't close to her mother/has never had a mother figure).
  • Your willingness to open yourself up and to trust her, and vice versa.
  • The geographical distance between the two of you.
  • How close you are to your own child (her partner).
  • Whether or not you're a grandparent.
  • Any previous conflict.


Spend some quality time with her

This could be as simple as inviting her over for a coffee, going out for lunch, taking part in an activity together, going for an afternoon stroll or maybe even arranging a day trip for the two of you. 

Get her partner involved

Speak to your son or daughter if you think they could help you to strengthen your relationship with your daughter-in-law. It may seem daunting getting to know a person who means so much to your adult child, but involving them in helping to build your relationship with your daughter-in-law may make you more relaxed and prove to your daughter-in-law that you want to have a strong and positive relationship with her. This may be something that she's been worrying about.


Gransnetters say:

"I always treated my daughter-in-law, who was not always the easiest person to talk to in the beginning, the same as my own daughters. When they moved many miles away to live near her parents, I phoned my daughter-in-law every month to see how she was and to ask how they were. After a while, she began to phone me too.

I had also babysat my eldest grandson one day a week before they moved away. I also made sure before they moved away that I was supportive of my daughter-in-law. Her and I get on extremely well and have become close. I never thought I would find her easier to talk to than my daughters."

"Definitely talk to your son about it. Does he have days off? Could he see you with your daughter-in-law after work or during the weekend?"


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3. Accept her flaws and respect her opinions

No one is perfect, so there will undoubtedly be moments when your daughter-in-law presents herself in an unfavourable light or holds certain opinions that you may not agree with, whether it's to do with your adult child, your politics, your way of handling tricky situations or even your grandchildren. The important thing is to retain her trust and confidence and don't overstep the mark as it may damage your hopes of building a solid relationship.


Realise that you don't always have to see eye to eye

The probability of you and your daughter-in-law agreeing on everything is, unfortunately, pretty slim, but as long as you come to recognise this fact and deal with any frustrations in a calm and rational way, it'll help you to build a positive relationship based on love and acceptance. When grandchildren are involved, it may be difficult to hold back and to not interfere, especially if you're a new grandparent, but respecting her right as a parent is an important step in solidifying your relationship with her. 

If you are a grandparent, it is important for you to be there as much as you can for your grandchildren, but also important, as a mother-in-law, for you to be there for your daughter-in-law. Be supportive and let her know that you're there if ever she needs someone to talk to. This can be invaluable for new mums in particular. 


Remember that she must also be willing to respect you 

It works both ways, after all. Relationships take two, so it is vital that your daughter-in-law offers you the same level of respect that she would expect in return. If this looks unlikely or you find yourself struggling to break the ice or receive the respect that you deserve, approach her and try to resolve the issue first-hand or talk to your son or daughter to see if they have any insight into why she is behaving in this way and what you (or they) could do about it. Communication is the true measure of any relationship.


Recognise your own flaws

Self-awareness is key to building and maintaining relationships of any kind, so be mindful of how you behave and express yourself, and what you may need to work on as an individual. This may be difficult if you find yourself disagreeing with your daughter-in-law, no matter the situation, but knowing yourself and knowing when to take a step back are important skills to possess. 


Gransnetters say:

"I have always taken my lead from the new mother, and just admired without necessarily getting many holds or cuddles. I think I spent most of the time washing up, ironing and generally helping."

"It's not your job to interfere."

"As a daughter-in-law, I have always encouraged my partner to have time with his family every weekend without me, so that his mother and father didn't feel I had taken him from them."

"I try to be a good mother-in-law and will always help but never interfere. I offer advice, but only if it's something I found worked for me in the past. I know that my daughter-in-law does not feel afraid to ask for help when she needs it."

"Just be wary of criticism and unsolicited advice. Nobody appreciates that."


4. Avoid any conflict where possible

daughter-in-law problems

A tricky one, admittedly, but do-able. Daughter-in-law conflict could stem from a variety of different sources including:


  • Sharing different ideas and opinions.
  • An urge to step in if you feel your adult child is being treated badly.
  • The idea that you will 'lose' your son or daughter to another person.
  • Your daughter-in-law not feeling part of the family, even if you make efforts to include her.
  • Miscommunication (especially perceiving something in a way that wasn't intended).
  • Nervousness and awkwardness on either side.
  • Feeling excluded.


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How can you avoid conflict with a difficult daughter-in-law? And why is it necessary? It turns out clear communication with your daughter-in-law can make a positive impact on your relationship with her.

If you feel like there has been some miscommunication between you and your daughter-in-law or you harbour some trust issues that you can't seem to shake (to name but a couple of potential scenarios), think carefully about what is bothering you and decide on the best way to approach your daughter-in-law about this, if necessary. 

Communication is important, but knowing what and how to say it is even more so. Planning what you want to say before you say it will ensure that you have a clear mind, approach the topic with ease and allow you to stay calm throughout.

Some may argue that steering clear altogether and making do is the best route to take, but only you can judge the situation at hand and make a decision that you're happy with.


Keep schtum when necessary

It's easy to get riled up over something you disagree with (it happens to everyone) and your instinct to shout the house down may trump your better judgement on more counts than you care to mention, but knowing when to take a step back and hold your tongue could be a life-saver when it comes to potential daughter-in-law conflict.

Take some time to reflect on what's bothering you and what you can do about it, rather than outwardly disagreeing or making an impromptu decision that may hinder your relationship with your daughter-in-law. This applies even when you know you're right - always try to be the bigger person, even if it means swallowing your pride. 


Respect their privacy

If you want to avoid daughter-in-law problems, take steps to ensure that you give your son and daughter-in-law space to prioritise their own relationship. Interfering and being too involved can be as much a hindrance as not being there at all. Tread the line carefully and don't harbour any feelings of jealousy towards your daughter-in-law - your son will always be your son.

Build up her confidence in you as a mother-in-law

It may not be wise to smother her with affection or, equally, be stand-offish, but letting her know that you're a non-judgemental, listening ear and around when needed will help her to build up trust in you as a mother-in-law and encourage her to return the favour.  

 daughter in law

Gransnetters say:

"Adult relationships can be difficult, but it's all about choosing the right moment if possible, and being honest, calm and listening, too. Then work out a compromise that everyone agrees with."

"All you can do is communicate and offer non-judgemental support."

"A light touch is best."

"I would avoid confrontation at all costs and if you're expected to apologise for something you feel you did not do, apologise anyway. You can do it in a way that does not compromise you."

"If you do say something negative to her, she may look at it as meddling, which could affect your relationship with any future grandchildren."

"I find the best thing to do is to say as little as possible. As my mum says, 'the least said, the soonest mended'. Some families thrive on drama and arguments - this is a way of life for them. I am good at keeping mouth zipped (it comes with a hell of a lot of practice). In fact, I have got certificates for tongue-holding."


5. If conflict is unavoidable, look at solutions

What should you do if it's not possible to avoid conflict and this ends up affecting your relationship with your daughter-in-law?

Dealing with daughter-in-law problems can be a minefield, especially if they are governed by stubbornness, insecurities, competitiveness or actions undertaken in the heat of the moment. But don't worry, conflict doesn't have to last forever, but you must look for solutions in order to resolve it. This will, of course, also depend on your daughter-in-law and her personality, but the likelihood of her coming round will be improved by you showing your willingness to make things better.

"My daughter-in-law hates me" or "I have the daughter-in-law from hell" are sentences often uttered, but, as one gransnetter muses, "If you see her as a daughter-in-law-from-hell, then she may see you as the mother-in-law-from-hell. Who knows, eh?"


Deal with any conflict effectively

Try to get along with your daughter-in-law, even if past situations and upset makes this more difficult than you'd like. Try to talk things over with her so that you can let her know where you stand, and discuss how best to move forward. This is particularly important if you have grandchildren as a bad relationship with your daughter-in-law could mean a lack of contact when it comes to your grandchildren.


Be willing to re-build your relationship with her

If your relationship has dissipated altogether, you may want to think about attempting to re-build it. But how can you successfully re-build a relationship?

  1. Let her know that you'd like to move forward.
  2. Give her time - she'll need to think about whether she wants to do the same.
  3. Start off slowly - don't jump the gun and move faster than appropriate.
  4. Communicate and keep in touch regularly - it's important to show that you care. 


What happens if you really don't get on?

Keep conversation civil and brief, be there for any grandchildren when needed, be there for your son or daughter (and expect them to be there for you) when needed, don't criticise, and be ready to pick up the pieces if necessary.


Gransnetters say:

"Family work is never a quick fix but takes time."

"You can either leave things to stew over or try to sort things out before they become too difficult to tackle."

"Daughter-in-law issues just seem to be commonplace, unless one is very lucky. Just keep being nice and know that you have done your best. Things may change and as long as you are always there you know you have done the right thing."

"You do need to give her time - she will come round eventually."

"I just accept my daughter-in-law the way she is. I know my son loves me very much, but he has to put her and his son first and sometimes he has to let me down to keep her happy!"

"Avoid one-to-one conversations if possible - try to make sure someone else is present when talking to her. I've found this invaluable when dealing with my daughter-in-law. She has a tendency to tell it how it isn't, if you know what I mean, and this has caused problems. I try to keep conversations on a small talk level and sympathise and agree with her as much as possible."

"I think that you can only refuse to get drawn in."

"Try complimenting her on anything, from clothes to how she decorates her house. Just try to find nice things to say to her and ignore any negativity."

"If you don't get along with your daughter-in-law then what is stopping your son paying you a visit? It's not just daughter-in-laws that are at fault. When it comes to this sort of thing, many sons could do more to make sure their children see as much of both sets of grandparents, and I'm sure that many of the daughter-in-laws would appreciate a little bit of free time to themselves."


6. "My daughter-in-law excludes me" - how can you get round this?

daughter-in-law relationship

It's especially difficult to avoid conflict and to not be upset when you feel like your daughter-in-law is excluding you. This can be especially common for paternal grandparents (daughter-in-laws will often have a natural, closer connection to their own mothers) and long-distance grandparents who can't spend as much time with their grandchildren as they'd like.


Overprotective daughter-in-law

This is usually the case if a daughter-in-law has children, and particularly if she is a first-time mum. (Grand)mother doesn't always know best, so it's important for you to put yourself in her shoes and try to understand why she is feeling this way. Taking a step back could be the answer here as well as assuring her that you aren't trying to take over.

But don't excuse any unwarranted behaviour. As one gransnetter says, "A gran is entitled to the normal respect and politeness one would give to anyone."


Ask 'why' and 'what'

Try to figure out why she might be excluding you (what could be influencing her decision?) and what you can do about it. Communicating one-on-one with your daughter-in-law could be the first step, but if you feel uncomfortable doing this, talk with your child to see if they can help shed some light on the situation.

Above all, try not to let feelings of exclusion take over completely. Do what you can, be measured and understanding wherever possible, and don't forget to look after yourself.


Gransnetters say:

"A daughter-in-law may find it easier to ask their own parents for help and may prefer spending time with them rather than her in-laws."

"I think we will always be second best to their mums. It is something we have to understand and except. I have an okay relationship with my daughter-in-law and a wonderful relationship with the two granddaughters as I often look after them when her mum is still working. When it comes to weekends, I have learnt that they will be at her mum's for dinner or she will be with them. It can sometimes be lonely as I would like to see more of my son (I am a widow and alone), but I just need to make a life for myself as well. Early days yet, but I am learning."

"Have you asked your daughter-in-law if there is a problem? Or your son? In a very non-accusatory way?"

"Just keep supporting and helping. Some grandparents automatically see a lot more of their grandchildren because of close proximity."

"I don't think it's unusual for first time mums to be overly cautious with their baby."

"Have you tried telling your daughter-in-law that you're missing her? Perhaps a direct appeal might make her realise how you feel."

"Perhaps mention to your son how much you miss the time with your grandchild and that you'd like to arrange something that fits in with their plans. Maybe even suggest that he and your daughter-in-law might like a date night, or a free day to go to the cinema or to have lunch. That way it's to their benefit also."

"Try to keep some kind of dialogue going with your daughter-in-law."

"Don't be afraid to stand back a little - whatever you do, do not act hurt or needy."

"Many of us grans don't see our families very often for many differing reasons and we have to learn to live with that."

"We just have to accept it and be grateful for the wonderful memories we hold."

"I'd back off completely and wait to be invited back into her life."


For more advice on daughters-in-law and more, visit our relationships forum. 

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