Bless Your Marriage—Love Your Mother-in-law

This article first published in Reach Out Columbia Magazine
Bless Your Marriage—Love Your Mother-in-law - Practical and Spiritual Advice
I’m a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law.

I find it interesting that the term daughter-in-law is a neutral term, but mother-in-law carries all sorts of negative connotations. Google the term, and you’ll find a host of dark and disturbing adjectives like manipulative, difficult, passive-aggressive, and toxic. One writer even coined the term “monster-in-law.”

Ironically, I think daughters-in-law do more to strengthen or damage mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships than mothers-in-law.

We women are nurturers and homebuilders. We want to protect our own—mark our territory. We can easily fall prey to the lie that our relationship with our husband will be better if we’re the only woman in his life. 

Sometimes daughters-in-law even misuse Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” as an excuse to distance ourselves from our in-laws. We fail to realize this weakens our marriage, our family, and our relationship with God.

Scripture commands us to honor our parents. When we marry, this includes in-laws (Ephesians 6:2). Satan knows honoring our mothers-in-law will bring personal and marital blessings, so he works overtime to confuse us with lies, fill us with insecurities, and create barriers between us and our husband’s mother.

In this article, I’d like to address several challenging mother-in-law situations, spotlight two biblical examples of people who honored their difficult in-laws, and share several mistakes I made before I learned to honor my husband’s mother.

Challenging Scenario #1: The Mother-in-law Who Mocks Your Values

You may be thinking, "It’s easy to honor a godly mother-in-law, but my mother-in-law mocks my Christian values." Read on, dear friend and see how one woman addressed this problem:

“My mother-in-law disagreed with many of our Christian values. But the worst part is that she told our grade school and adolescent children what she thought about our values behind our back."

"I got to the point where I couldn’t think about her without bitterness. I knew I needed God’s help. As I prayed, God showed me several things that helped."

"First, I realized I was expecting her to behave like a Christian when she wasn't one. Second, I reminded myself that not all Christians agreed with our choices either. Third, I realized I was often self-righteous with my in-laws. Fourth, I realized my children would meet many people in life who disagreed with our values. I could use these situations to teach them how to respectfully speak up for the truth and honor their grandparents at the same time."

"As I applied these principles to our relationship, not everything changed, but things are much better. My mother-in-law has even begun asking about my faith.”

Challenging Scenario #2: The Interfering Mother-in-law

Perhaps your mother-in-law doesn't mock your values, but she often interferes in your life. How does a godly daughter-in-law handle this?

Transitions are messy for the best of us, and a mother-in-law must deal with a critical change in her relationship with her son. Daughters-in-law seldom understand this unless/until they have a son of their own who marries.

Here are some suggestions than can help:
1. Refuse feelings of jealousy.
2. Try to see your mother-in-law's perspective.
3. Refuse to build a wall.
4. Get your husband involved in "negotiations" about areas where your mother-in-law is overstepping her boundaries, but be sure to do it with honor and respect.

Challenging Scenario #3: The Disinterested Mother-in-law

Sometimes we favor our parents because we decide they are more interested in our lives or the lives of our children. If this is the case, we must ask ourselves if we may have knowingly or unknowingly marginalized our husband's parents.

Typically, people respond to the way they are treated. Their disinterested responses may be evidence that we have somehow left them out of important family dynamics. God expects us to treat others kindly, fairly, and respectfully (Philippians 2:3-4).

Having God's Heart for Your Mother-in-Law

There are a number of things that set King David apart from other men and women in history, but God summed it up by saying David was “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22).

It's worth noting that David always honored his father-in-law, Saul, even though Saul was not an honorable man. David understood something we need to understand as daughters-in-law: God's doesn’t base his commands to honor certain persons (parents, kings, authorities) on the worthiness of the recipient. He bases his commands on our honor for God's principles.

Saul was a terrible king. He deceived David, lied about him, turned others against him, threatened him, gave his wife Michal to another man, and tried to kill David.

But David knew God had given Saul his position as king, and David trusted God's purposes. When David had opportunities to discredit Saul, depose him, and even kill him, he refused. Even when his peers encouraged him to dishonor Saul, David refused out of respect for God (1 Samuel 24).

Our mothers-in-law were also chosen by God to mother our husbands. God's command to honor them is not based on their character, but on our obedience. Our friends and our culture may sympathize with us and encourage us to alienate our mothers-in-law, but we dishonor God if we give in to their peer pressure.

I want God to call me a woman after his own heart and I don’t want my attitudes toward my mother-in-law to disqualify me. How about you?

One Woman’s Godly Example

Even though the Book of Ruth has greater meaning than a simple narrative about a mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law relationship, it still contains a godly example for daughters-in-law. Naomi was going through a difficult stage of life where she, by her own admission, had become bitter (Ruth 1:20).

I encourage you to re-read the book of Ruth and see Naomi’s insensitivity, bitterness, and lack of gratitude for the sacrifices Ruth made for her. Note the way Ruth earned the respect of the people in Naomi's hometown (Ruth 4:13-17). They recognized her godly attitude. God recognized it as well, giving her the honor of being in the linage of Christ (Mat. 1:1-17).

God rarely asks us to leave our country or take a humble job to feed our mothers-in-law. But Ruth's example speaks to us across the centuries. She was a humble daughter-in-law who loved God enough to do the hard things.

My Story: 6 Things I Did that Hurt my Relationship with my Mother-in-law

1. I expected her to do things like my mother. We need to allow our husband’s mother to be different without being offended.
2. I shared my beliefs self-righteously. This can kill any relationship.
3. I handled conflict and differences defensively. Conflict is the truest test of honor.
4. I didn't encourage my husband's relationship with his mother. Jealousy causes many wives to encourage their husbands to treat their parents poorly. Shame on us, ladies. This hurts our husbands’ relationship with God.
5. I had a selfish perspective (Matthew 7:1-5). If you can never see your mother-in-law's side in a conflict, you have a log in your eye.
6. I was petty. We need to overlook the small stuff.

Dear daughter-in-law, I encourage you to do your best to honor your mother-in-law. God promises it will go well with you if you do (Ephesians 6:2). 

I can testify that my changed attitude and perspective have completely revolutionized my relationship with my mother-in-law. 

We would do ourselves and our families great good if we applied this passage to our relationship with our mothers-in-law:
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer . . . Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (Romans 12:12-14). 

If you liked this article, please sign up for a free subscription to Gail's blog, 1-Minute Bible Love Notes. It features a 1-minute devotion each weekday. These daily devotions do not deal specifically with marriage, but Gail also has these archives:
Marriage
Honoring Parents
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Bless Your Marriage—Love Your Mother-in-law - Practical and Spiritual Advice

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