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I've been dating my partner for almost 5 years and our relationship is very good! We're excellent at communicating our feelings and we figure out solutions when we have disagreements instead of fighting. We're young (I'm 22yo and my partner is 23yo) and they live with their mother and sister.

I want to improve my relationship and communication with their mother but this is where the problem begins. I believe she doesn't like me and we talk poorly.

I believe she doesn't like me

She treats me very well and has never insulted me or anything, but some of her actions made me stand-offish around her. Some examples of these actions:

  • When my partner was about to live in another country for 6 months, her advice to them was that they should break up with me so they would have more fun and "experience" more instead of having a long distance relationship.

  • When she greets one of my partner's friends (same gender as me) she is super hearty and excited and she treats this friend as if they were actually her son-in-law/daughter-in-law.

  • She says to my partner that they shoundn't "do much effort" to see me.

There are just a few of things I remember off the top of my head. There are other signals but they're minimal.

we talk poorly

She doesn't hear well and uses a hearing aid. I speak kind of low so that aggravates things. Sometimes, I talk a little louder but I never know when her hearing aid is on high or low so I'm afraid of loud talking when she's hearing fine. Most of our conversations are me listening to her speak because it's hard for me to respond (given my low voice and my apprehensive attitude).

I want some advice on speaking with her so I can improve my relationship with her, I like her very much and she raised the person I love with all my heart.

(I don't know if this sounds petty but I could really use some help)

  • are there any prejudices at play here? – ratchet freak Jan 29 at 13:21
  • @ratchetfreak I don't think that's the case! – Peacekeeper Jan 29 at 13:32
  • Do you have many interactions with your partner's mother, or is it mostly incidental (like, you chat for a few minutes when you come to pick up your partner for a date)? – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Jan 29 at 16:07
  • @Upper_Case we chat when Im at their house / eating together / family gatherings / traveling so I have plenty of interactions – Peacekeeper Jan 29 at 16:27
  • And are those interactions mostly shallow (small talk over a meal with the whole family, for example), or do you have many 1-on-1 conversations with her? Do you know much about her personally, do you have any common interests (other than her child) that you can talk about? I ask because it matters if you have a direct, personal relationship with the MIL versus if each of you views the other as an "accessory" to the relationship you care about (the SO/her child). – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Jan 29 at 16:35
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As a mother-in-law myself, I thank you for caring enough to ask this question. At the surface, I can tell you that it is more than likely not about you at all. It would probably not matter who your partner dated. Their mother would find fault with them.

To unpack this just a little bit: If the mother-in-law is the biological mother of your partner, there could be mother-child emotional bonds at play. It is possible, but one cannot know for sure, that she may actually believe that no one is "good enough" for her child. Although not very realistic, sadly this is a rather common line of thinking. Is your partner an only child? Then multiply this suggestion times a thousand. If not, how does the mother-in-law treat the other children's partners?

If the mother-in-law is the step-mother of your partner, then this is easier to deal with in that your partner can sit down and have a heart-to-heart with their step-mom and ask them to lighten up on you. This is a difficult conversation with a biological mother, but a healthy step-mother's attitude (especially with adult children rather than small children) is to get along, to not rock the boat. The conversation is still a good idea even with a biological mother. Perhaps she will open up and share from her heart what, if any, her thoughts are toward you. This gives your partner an opportunity to dispel any misunderstandings.

Also, do your own parents (or siblings) have any background with your partner's mother (or family)? Is there a history? Do they know each other from past experiences? Perhaps your mother-in-law formed a judgement against your parents (or other family member), not you, in which case that judgement extends to you by association.

In the meantime, I offer basic advice. I guarantee she knows that she makes you feel uncomfortable. Use this to your advantage. No longer allow yourself to feel uncomfortable around her. It's not that you don't respect her, because clearly you do, but it's that you are comfortable in your own skin, You don't need to prove anything to her other than one thing: You love and care for your partner very much, and bring joy into their life. You keep them safe to the extent that you can and enhance their quality of life. This makes your partner happy, which should make their parent(s) happy.

If she's snappy toward you, remember: it is not about you. Her behavior says a thousand times more about her, than it does you.

Finally, mothers-in-law are just like everyone else. Some people are just miserable, even in the best of circumstances. They choose to be negative in every situation. She may be one of those people.

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"The Mother-in-Law" is a well known trope for a reason. Meaning, what you're experiencing is in no way unique, special, or specific to you. MIL's have a widely known tendency to dislike their children's choice in mate.

Anyone who doesn't fit their vision of 'perfection' means their child can always 'do better'. Keep in mind, this has noting to do with your mate, they are an adult and make up their own mind, irrespective (hopefully) of their mother's opinion. It also means you didn't necessarily do anything wrong.

I've noticed that a really big/biggest factor in family accepting someone, including MIL, is how one's mate feels and how they express their feelings about the relationship. Meaning, how her child talks about you.

There is no specific Interpersonal Skill here, other than being a good mate. You can hope/expect that MIL thinks, or eventually will think, "well, my son is happy so he must be a good man".

Now, you can do some occasional & subtle things that reinforce this. Such as ask MIL for her opinion on a notable gift, or ask if there's a special place mate liked to go as a child that you can take them, etc. to demonstrate, subtly, your attentiveness and concern for their happiness.

For clarity, me, personally, my opinion and experience, I can't think of any scenario where merely 'speaking with her' has a high enough reward relative to the risk. It may come across as trying to force the relationship or telling her how she should feel. That will set you way back. Other members may be able to describe such scenarios that worked for them.

As for the hearing aid thing, all I can say is learn how to tell quickly if she's wearing it and adjust accordingly. Practice talking louder. Be aware that this might be a big factor in her perception of you. Judgemental maybe, but "low voice and my apprehensive attitude" may give her reason to not take you seriously.

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    Good answer! Another factor that might deepen the issues here is the ages of the couple. Sticking with someone their child started seeing at 17-18 (sort of a "the first one that came along" idea) can seem pretty unappealing, and opportunities like studying abroad are unlikely to come up again. It might have little to do with the OP at all, and simply revolve around their perceptions of their child's chances to try new things and have a wider array of experiences. She might love the OP, if they'd met the SO at 25 instead of 18. That's an intractable scenario, though :( – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Jan 29 at 16:08
  • @Upper_Case This is so true! I already felt that on our relationship. This made me extra aware and aways supportive of them into doing what they wanted to do – Peacekeeper Jan 29 at 16:52
  • If there are attachment issues then "ask if there's a special place mate liked to go as a child" could make things worse. Note that author follows this with, "my opinion and experience, I can't think of any scenario where merely 'speaking with her' has a high enough reward relative to the risk." – J. Chris Compton Feb 2 at 6:40

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