How to Make Room for a New Mother-in-Law

These 5 tips will help you redefine your family framework.

ByABC News
February 19, 2014, 6:22 PM
In this undated promotional photo released by New Line Productions, Jane Fonda, left, as Viola and Jennifer Lopez as Charlie appear in this scene from "Monster-in-Law."
In this undated promotional photo released by New Line Productions, Jane Fonda, left, as Viola and Jennifer Lopez as Charlie appear in this scene from "Monster-in-Law."
Melissa Moseley/New Line Productions/AP Photo

Feb. 19, 2014— -- Moviegoers have long watched tense dynamics between a new wife and her mother-in-law portrayed on screen, each vying for attention and validation. But are women really susceptible to such clichés? According to one relationship expert, yes.

Dr. Deanna Brann, author of "Reluctantly Related," has interviewed hundreds of in-laws during her 29-year tenure as a clinical psychologist and says that the daughter-in-law/mother-in-law relationship is innately prone to conflict.

"[Women's] relationships, in general, are more intimate and emotional in nature [than men]," Brann told ABC News. "They focus on whether they feel connected to their in-law. There is also a competitive aspect that comes into play. They are both competing for the influence they have over the husband/son. Although women are not really aware of this, it plays such a huge role in their ability to get along."

With that in mind--and wedding season on the way--Brann shared a handful of tips on how newlyweds can make room for a mother-in-law in their lives.

Address the Issue Early On

A husband and wife need to decide together how much they want their families involved in their lives, said Brann. "Once the couple has determined this, then they can compassionately, lovingly share with both sides how they will fit into their new family." This does not need to feel like an intervention, however. Keep things casual and conversations organic.

Recognize Your Mother-in-Law as an Individual

"The best way for either men or women to make room for their mother-in-law is to get to know her as a separate person - other than a mother-in-law," said Brann, who recommends developing a relationship independent of her family role. "When you get to know her as a person, you develop a friendship and this changes how you see her and how you experience her."

Don't Be Afraid To Set Boundaries

When it comes to issues of parenting, your living space, and talking about your spouse, Dr. Brann suggests defining boundaries and consequences with your partner then discussing them with in-laws.

"[Couples] need to state the boundary and let the in-law know what will happen if they don't follow the boundary set," said Dr. Brann. "They also need to make sure that they do this kindly and with compassion."

Don't Plead Your Case

Brann emphasized that the key is not to get into explaining why or trying to get one's in-laws to understand why the boundary exists. "The important thing is to establish the boundary," she said. "If the in-laws do not abide by it, then the couple must follow through with the consequences. This is the hardest part, but critical if they want results."

Check in With Your Spouse

"It is important to be able to sort out when something is a mother-in-law issue and when it is a marital issue because it is easy to mix these two together," said Brann. "Usually when a couple cannot work together when discussing what appears to be a mother-in-law issue, then there is probably a marital issue needing to be addressed."