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How Not to Sweat the Small Stuff with Your DIL

This guest post is by Dr. Deanna Brann, an expert on the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law conflict. It is the third in a series of posts on the difficult daughter-in-law from Barbara Greenleaf, creator of Parents of Grown Offspring, which offers constructive, supportive strategies for family issues.

How many times has your daughter-in-law done something or said something that just makes your blood boil and you can’t seem to let it go? You keep replaying it over and over in your head, and the more you think about it the angrier or more hurt you feel. In fact, you find you can’t stop thinking about it. We all have experienced this at one time or another. Even if you don’t say anything to your daughter-in-law at the time, her actions affect your relationship because the bad feelings you think you are covering up end up coming out through your behavior. Trust me, even if you are sure this isn’t true, it probably is. As much as you want to believe you can hide those bad feelings, you really can’t.

Hanging onto Feelings

Let me give you an example. Let’s say your daughter-in-law says something to you that really hurts your feelings. You don’t want to say anything because you don’t want to make waves and you don’t think it is worth the time to talk about it. You think to yourself, Wow, that hurt, but I’m just going to let it go, even though you’re really hurt by what was said. So what do you do? The typical reaction is to withdraw emotionally. You get quiet, a bit reserved. Pulling back feels natural because if you don’t, you’re afraid you might say something, which is what you’re trying to avoid—not to mention the fact that you feel the need to protect yourself from being hurt again. Your daughter-in-law, sensing a change in your actions and feeling tension that didn’t exist before, may ask you if something is wrong, or she may say nothing at all. Either way you choose to stay quiet as an attempt to “let it go.” But now your jaw is tight, you don’t make eye contact, and your tone of voice is abrupt. Regardless of what you actually say, she can feel that something is up because of the way you say it (including not just your tone but also your body language). And of course, this then affects the relationship.

Hanging onto those feelings and stewing about them also affects you. After all, you’re the one who keeps the anger, frustration, and hurt (or whatever you’re feeling) alive, churning away. Whether or not she meant to be hurtful you’re the one who gets stuck in these negative feelings—not your daughter-in-law.

Tips to Help Resolve Tension

You may think I’m going to encourage you to speak your peace, but realistically speaking, that isn’t always the answer. Sometimes that can make the situation worse. So when you decide saying something isn’t going to help, how can you stop sweating the small stuff for the sake of the relationship? Here are some tips that will help:

  1. Take an emotional step backward. Create some distance for yourself so you can look at the situation more objectively.
  2. Don’t assume what your daughter-in-law said or did was a personal attack against you. It is very possible that it has nothing to do with you at all—maybe you just happened to be in the line of fire at the time.
  3. Look at the feelings you are having and ask yourself how they are serving you. For example, does the fact that you feel hurt or angry help you justify how you feel towards your daughter-in-law? Does it allow you to feel better about yourself, feel that you are right (and so she is wrong), or feel justified in some other way? If so, how does this help the relationship?
    If these feelings, instead, leave you feeling bad about yourself, is that particular feeling familiar in some way—have you felt this way with other people who have mattered to you? If so, then your daughter-in-law’s actions may have less to do with how you feel than you think (after all you’ve experienced this very same feeling with other important people in your life).
  4. What is one thing you can do for yourself that can shift your painful feelings? You only have to do one thing to get your feelings to start shifting in a new direction—just one thing! You don’t have to have all the answers, just figure out one thing to do differently to start this shift. Take that first small step and then you’ll feel better able to take another small step. And on it goes until you’ve moved passed the bad feelings. But, remember, you have to start somewhere and that’s with one small step.

So the next time you are in an awkward or unpleasant situation with your daughter-in-law, don’t stew about it. If you decide it’s best to deal with the situation yourself by moving beyond your feelings, use these four tips and stop sweating the small stuff!

And beyond this…
* One of the key things you can do to make your relationship with your daughter-in-law better and less likely to get into these tense situations is to develop a relationship with her that is independent of your son and grandchildren. As you get to know her and she gets to know you a personal connection develops. You are not just – “My husband’s mother,” but instead a person who matters.

Dr. Deanna Brann is the author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets To Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law and its sequel, Reluctantly Related Revisited: Breaking Free of the Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Conflict. You can find her at www.drdeannabrann.com

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