Jan. 6, 2011 -- Question from Susan in Illinois:
I am a new mother-in-law; it's going very badly. The new wife and I aren't speaking. I accepted her from day one. She has not accepted me. Christmas this year was a loss. Didn't get to visit. Car ready to go. Box of gifts sent. I'm out of what to do next. Please help.
Cooper Boone's Advice:
Something has transpired between the day you met your daughter-in-law and where you are now that has pushed her buttons. You may not have any idea what that is but the fact that you are willing to find out and work towards a better relationship is great news.
This will require a confrontation. Not talking through conflict is like ignoring an infection – it will get worse if left untreated. Most of us struggle with confrontation because we don't have the tools to work through it. Here is a process I've successfully taught people for the past 15 years. Remember that most meaningful change is difficult and comes with awkward feelings but it will pay off in the end.
The Invitation: Invite her to talk in a neutral place and don't ambush her with a bait-and-switch! Make it clear why you want to meet. Go into this with an open heart and true intention to heal your relationship.
The Conversation: Really listen to her and echo back what she says to be sure you really understand. When i''s your turn to talk, avoid the pitfalls of confrontation – blaming, shaming and lecturing. Focus on "I" and avoid "YOU." For instance: ""I'm feeling frustrated" instead of "You hurt me." When you set out to prove someone wrong, you'll never get to where you want to be.
The Resolution: Decide together what you're both willing to do moving forward. The common ground is that you both love your son. Focus on that and how a strong relationship between the two of you will benefit him too.
This is a new muscle but with practice, not only will it improve your relationship with your daughter-in-law, it will enhance every relationship in your life.
You can do this!
Liz Pryor's Advice:
Susan I want to thank you, on behalf of all daughters-in-law everywhere, thank you for making the effort to ask for help with this issue, it's brave and proactive. These relationship's can truly be some of the most complicated, misunderstood and debilitating in all existence. You are definitely not alone in your struggle. For many, these relationships can also become some of the most rewarding in life, so keep that in mind!
The good news for you is, you're a new mother-in-law, and have time to get this to the right place.
The challenge is, it will require some emotional muscles that are tough to call upon. Really good relationships require some really hard work, not fun, but true. How much do you want to be a part of your grand children's lives and your sons family? If the answer is, more than anything… My suggestion is, to take this huge heap of garbage that has become your history and relationship with your daughter-in-law put it behind you, and never look back. How do you do that? I suggest you write her a letter, a letter that is raw, honest and candid. Tell her everything that means something to you regarding your son and his family. Ask her what she would need from you in order for this to happen. The challenge with this letter will be leaving out any accusations, points of view, or judgments of your experience with her. It should be a covenant of your feelings and hopes only.
If she loves your son, and is even half a good person, she will be unable to ignore your plea for peace. This could be a new slate for you both.
Good Luck! Liz