My Mother-in-Law Intimidates Me // Is limiting contact the answer?

By Rabbi Shais Taub

Moderator: We received the following email. 

I am a daughter-in-law who, after some years of marriage, feels that she has to limit her interactions with her in-laws. This past year has been an extremely challenging one for me, and I felt that I received little to no understanding from my mother-in-law. In fact, I felt judged and felt like I should just forget about my feelings and pain and just do what I have to do and move on with life. I needed sympathy and care, and I didn’t get it. Every time I am around my mother-in-law, I feel judged. I feel insecure, and when I get home, I spiral downhill and things in my home aren’t in the best of shape. Because of this, my rav has advised my husband and me that we are not required to go there for Yom Tov, etc. and our primary focus should be our shalom bayis. 

I know people will comment that it’s not a mother-in-law’s job to make a daughter-in-law feel good, but it can be a stressful relationship from the onset. I have always felt disapproval from my mother-in-law and, this past year, I couldn’t handle that feeling.

I’d love some advice, if possible, on ways to deal with this.

Thank you.

Daughter-in-Law: I want to make it clear that I don’t want to stop, nor do I want my children to stop, seeing their grandparents. That’s the furthest thing from my mind. It is simply a matter of limiting my contact as it leads to friction in my own home. I get stressed and anxious and it triggers me, and therefore I am not always on my best behavior following gatherings with my mother-in-law.

So cutting off is not even in the plans.

No, and I hope it never is. 

That’s a relief to hear. So what’s this about? Why do you think you should have less contact?

I’ve been married for five years and have two children, baruch Hashem. From day one, I have always felt inferior to my mother-in-law. It might be because I’m not as career-driven as she is. She is a very successful businesswoman who is very focused on her business. I’m more focused on my home and my children. I don’t generally feel inferior; I consider myself a capable person and I’m proud of my accomplishments. But whenever I’m around my mother-in-law, I feel disapproved of. My husband is really close to his mother and values her opinions very much. That might also contribute to me thinking the way I do. 

I am an only child. My parents divorced, and I lost my mother shortly after my second child was born. My father remarried around the same time and moved away from us to Eretz Yisrael. When that all happened, my mother-in-law was not there for me and did not convey any sympathy. It made me feel that I just didn’t have the emotional capacity to deal with her as I did in the past, and things have gotten worse.

Does your husband agree with your need to minimize contact with his mother?

I don’t know if he agrees or not, but we did discuss it with a rav who felt that if I was so triggered, I should limit my contact, such as not visiting when it involves staying overnight, like for Shabbos or Yom Tov. My husband was understanding and backed me up.

Maybe you can tell me your vision of a moderate degree of contact that you would be able to tolerate. What would that look like?

Going for a couple of hours at a time, getting together on a Sunday, a Chanukah party, a melaveh malkah, an occasional supper, etc. Not moving in.

Great! I’m assuming that your rav already told you that that’s fine.


And emotionally you’re okay with maintaining that degree.

I am.

And your husband understands that that will be the level of contact.

It’s not his first choice, but he does understand. Meaning that if it’s either that or a problem in our own house, he would certainly prefer that.

You said earlier that your husband is very close with his mother and really values her opinion.

That’s probably the biggest trigger. I believe that my husband really thinks his mother does everything right or at least somehow excusable. That certainly has something to do with my feelings of inferiority, although I’m not sure if they came before or after her disapproval of me. 

In other words, he isn’t in awe of you to the same degree as he is of his mother.


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