Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gentlemen, the Proper "Care and Feeding" of Your Mother-In-Law Is Critical to a Great Marriage

Your partner’s mother is also female, but the governing dynamics of your relationship with her require special handling.

We’re going to spend the next few days addressing the ways in which mothers can influence your relationship. Today, we’ll be talking about the woman’s mother, and tomorrow we’ll talk about the man’s, and then we’ll explore defending your wife from a meddlesome mother.

My mother-in-law has been in the spotlight in my own life over the last several days, and it has made me take a closer look at that relationship and what you might do to improve your relationship with your partner’s mother; whether you are married or not, her mother can be a significant influence on her life and yours, in either a positive or negative way; she can be a powerful ally or a formidable enemy, in which case, unless your partner is very young, rebellious, and impressionable (qualities you probably don’t want anyway), she could kill all attraction you could hope to create in your partner. Fortunately, you can have an influence on which way it goes. Think with me here for a few minutes, because understanding is requisite for success:

Your partner’s mother, to whom I will be referring as “MIL” (“Mother-In-Law) for brevity’s sake, is obviously and above all else, a woman. She therefore has “girly radar,” and picks up on all the nuances in your speech and behavior that any woman would. However, she is also, by definition, a mother, so she’s also equipped with “mama radar” (the eyes in the back of the head that can see through buildings and across space and time, the super hearing that lets her hear the cookie jar being opened in the next county, and an uncanny ability to identify the elusive “Mr. Nobody”), so she’s always on heightened alert with regard to any shenanigans that might affect her offspring, a.k.a., your partner. What does this mean to you?

For starters, with regard to B.S. (“bovine manure”) detection, she’s likely to be the equivalent of your partner on perception steroids. Hence, you cannot, under any circumstances, try to B.S. this woman. Aside from being more sensitive to it and naturally suspicious of you because you pose a potential threat to her daughter, she’s more experienced at spotting it than your partner and more jaded after having spotted more of it in her longer life, and since she’s not likely to be feeling attraction for you, has no reason whatsoever to overlook or forgive anything that feelings of attraction might mitigate.

Trying to impress her is also the kiss of death; the only real reason to try to impress someone is if you are so unsure of yourself that you don’t think it can happen naturally, and that is not a characteristic of any man that any woman wants her daughter mixed up with. Indeed, you can take any anti-attraction behavior I describe in this newsletter or in “THE Man’s Guide to Great Relationships and Marriage” and multiply the negative impact by ten or more if you exhibit it in your MIL’s presence. What happens then?

She switches into “protective mama mode” and starts telling her daughter all the bad things she’s seen in you to try to get her to see the same thing she sees “for her own good.” Even if your partner doesn’t accept it at first, it plants the seeds of worry, which stirs up emotional energy your partner will indulge to some degree just by virtue of being a woman and needing that emotional activity, which brings on more testing and more worry, which escalates until it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. How can this be avoided?

Actually, it’s pretty easy if you’re on the straight and narrow. It’s going to sound weird at first, but the answer is to treat your MIL just as you treat her daughter, just without the strong sexual overtones; responsibly adventurous, confident, fun and a bit flirtatious at times, but never seductive. You want her to see you as a strong, attractive man and good for her daughter, not feel like you’re coming on to her.

Be strong and playful with her. Showing her that you can be strong and playful will assure her that you will be able to protect her daughter from that most heinous of female enemies, the one that gets them in the most trouble the fastest, boredom.

Be of good character. Tell the truth at all times, and don’t be afraid to say the difficult things as long as you are factual without being mean or rude. She will have both her mama radar and girly radar engaged and sweeping on maximum sensitivity, and being a wuss or a liar is not an option. Remember that ANY woman’s first criteria for assessing a man is “If you can’t stand up TO me, you can’t stand up FOR me.” In the MIL’s case, it’s more like “If you can’t stand up TO ME, you can’t stand up FOR MY DAUGHTER.” And MIL’s enforce that standard even more rigidly than their daughters.

Communicate with her as if she is important to you, because she is. Create a little tension by flip-flopping from naughty boy to alpha male, but don’t make it overtly sexual tension by dropping in bits of sexual innuendo like you would with your partner; the privilege of that kind of intimacy is exclusively for your partner, and is one of the things that makes her feel special. Lead your MIL as you would lead your wife, just lead her to fun or results, not to the bedroom, acknowledging her position without granting her authority over your life or your partner’s.

The bottom line? Your MIL can have nearly as big an impact on your life as your partner, and you must give her the respect that this position commands. You will find that if you do, she will be making positive comments to your partner, which make your partner both feel better about you and appreciate that you are treating her mother as a special person as well.

If for some reason you can’t respect her, then benign avoidance until you can is the only good answer, because if you try to fake anything, you’re toast. And yes, it’s true that a very few MIL’s will detest their daughter’s partner simply because he is her daughter’s partner, maybe because she perceives him as having stolen her daughter and maybe because she’s just psychotic, but it is important that you try to find out what the problem is and fix it if you can.

If she really thinks you’ve stolen her daughter, it may require nothing more than encouraging your daughter to make a weekly or biweekly habit of having afternoon tea, a shopping trip, trip to the salon, or something distinctly and femininely social with her, or something else that gives them some regular time together to demonstrate that you’re not trying to come between them. Don’t worry about how she’ll find out; your wife will let her know in the proper way that it was your idea. She wants this to work out, too, you know.

Showing up on time for all visits to her home helps too. It shows that you are responsible, respectful of her time, and that you aren’t trying to avoid her. Indeed, most people in any part of your life will tend to judge you and your relationship with them based on how timely you are. Being a little early is perceived as being enthusiastic, well-prepared, and engaged, being on time is considered at least a sign of preparedness and respect, and being late carries all manner of negative connotations with it, including indifference, disrespect, disorganization, incompetence, avoidance and irresponsibility, to name a few.

If she’s just psychotic, we’re back to benign avoidance. What is that exactly? You accept invitations to her home, but avoid deeply personal and controversial subject matter. You still give her an input channel as you must give any woman when you want to get along with her, but you don’t give her a channel through which to exert undue and unwanted influence. Be cordial, diplomatic, and aware of her non-verbal communication at all times, but don’t let her have control of a conversation to the extent that she can get a fight started, which above all else, means don’t be defensive or suck up. When trouble starts looking imminent, it’s time to take charge by changing the subject or simply leave if she persists – don’t let a fight get started.

In short, if you treat your MIL right, she can help your partner to see you in the positive light that helps to amplify your attractiveness, and if you don’t, she can kill it dead for you. Either way it’s your choice, so choose wisely. Much of your success with her will also come from understanding how to accurately and effectively communicate with a woman and being able to project the image of a manly man by BEING a manly man, both of which are covered clearly and effectively in “THE Man’s Guide to Great Relationships and Marriage.”

Man, just think about that, one book that can bring you closer to your wife and your mother-in-law! (Through the understanding that you will gain of what women want and how they communicate, it will also improve your relationship you’re your daughters, sisters, mother, and all the other women in your life!) That’s a bargain at any price, but what you pay is less than the cost of a good meal for two at a good restaurant.

The question – and CHOICE – is whether you are going to go for it and make your wife and her mother – and thereby, YOURSELF – happy, or are you going to sit there thinking you already know all the answers, when in fact, you wouldn’t be reading this if you did and you know it. Quitters never win, and winners never quit, right? There’s your answer. Jump over to and download your copy today, because life’s too short to spend it with a pain in the neck (or the butt)!

In the meantime, live well, be well, and have a wonderful day!

David Cunningham

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