Signs of a Manipulative Mother-in-Law And How To Deal With Her

We meet manipulators everywhere – at our jobs, universities, neighborhood, and even in our own families. Dealing with a manipulative mother-in-law can be a nightmare.  Due to the fact that she is a member of a family, it is a sensitive matter that requires careful observation, diplomatic skills, and patience. While every individual is different, manipulative people share lots of common characteristics. I will explore the ones that are often associated with mothers-in-law who try to manipulate family members.

Quite often, unfortunately, mothers-in-law have a bad relationship with the spouses of their children. The ones who try to manipulate complicate everything. Not only it is a delicate situation, often it is extremely difficult to even detect the manipulative techniques they are using. Some of them are so natural that they do it without being aware. You will need useful information to comprehend the situation you are dealing with and to solve it. The first thing would be to detect the signs that your mother-in-law is a manipulator.

Signs Your Mother-in-Law Manipulates you

She wants to be involved with everything

Manipulative mothers-in-law do not recognize the difference between your and their lives. They think that simply because they are mothers of your spouse, you are a family and what you do is part of her life as well. Do you have a small dinner with friends? your mother-in-law has to be there. You are deciding what school will your child attend? Of course, she has to be involved in the decision process as well. She wants to have control and is afraid of losing it. She is using the being of a family member to avoid resistance from you.

How to deal with it

Start excluding her from small events to slowly bring her to the place where she belongs. If she is already used to being involved with everything and you cut her out completely, the relationship will immediately get tense. Make sure to stay fair and let her be involved when she actually deserves to be. However, slowly she needs to start perceiving the difference between her and your life.

She plays a victim card

Pretending that you are a victim is one of the most famous manipulative methods. Your mother-in-law could be doing the same to manipulate you and your spouse. She will do everything to describe the situation in a way that the person who suffers the most is her and not anybody else. For example, she will completely ignore everything wrong she has done and only concentrate on something you have said. “Am I to blame here when you said that?” or “You started yelling at me for no reason. I have not done anything major and you treat me like an enemy”. This way, she is trying to put the blame on you and avoid the responsibility. It is often effective. It will not always cover up what she has done, but by making her seem like a victim, she is making her part seem not as bad as it actually is.

What to do

Try to detect if she starts being a victim during the arguments. Avoid being emotional while arguing or she will use everything you say against you. Don’t make her have a reason to play a victim. If your goal is to win the argument, concentrate on something she has done and don’t let her sidetrack you from the topic. However, such arguments won’t help you to deal with her. It is important to avoid and use a different method.

She lies

Another sign of a manipulative mother-in-law is the constant lying that accompanies her presence around you. Compulsive liars are difficult people. It is almost impossible to tell when they are telling the truth and when they are lying. Sometimes you even doubt obvious things due to their reputation. Manipulators, however, use lies to influence the minds of others. Your mother-in-law can be lying to achieve what she desires. For example, imagine you are against her and she is telling lies about you to your spouse to make you seem as an aggressor. Keep in mind she can be very convincing. She can also tell lies to your children to destroy the relationship between you and them.

How to deal with lying mother-in-law

One of the biggest challenges in this situation would be to actually detect her lies. She could be lying constantly without your awareness. Try to analyze what she says and find contradictions. Gather the data for some time to make sure you have enough proof of her being a liar. Afterward, you can start confronting her or talk to your spouse about it.

She uses her contribution to influence you

In other words, she uses bribery techniques. Perhaps she is around to help you with the kids or contribute to your family financially. To be fair, mothers-in-law often do a lot for their children and grandchildren. The problem is when they start using it as leverage. By doing it, they make themselves needed. At least they will try to make themselves seem like it. Apart from actually being needed, the help is always appreciated and makes it difficult to confront her. It would, naturally, feel awkward to tell her not to do certain things you dislike after she babysat your kids all day or gave you money.

What to do

The first thing you must do in this situation is to stop accepting her help if not needed. Often manipulative mother-in-law has nothing else going on in their lives apart from family. So, they will try to help you out with everything to try to spend more time being around and later use the help to control you. So, unless you really need her help, simply refuse the offer. Does she want to babysit even though you are at home? Tell her it is not needed. Is she trying to give you or your spouse a little bit of money? Do not accept it. Less she does for you, less she will have to use against you.

She is scary

A manipulative mother-in-law can use her scarry appearance as a tool to influence others. No, I don’t mean a witch hat or fake (or real) fangs. I mean their cold looks, bitter words, humiliating comments, and strict approach. They can be intimidating and confronting them is difficult, because who wants to have an argument with somebody that scares the hell out of you? Even if this does not scare or bother you, it could be very controlling for your spouse who grew up with her.

How to deal with scary manipulative mother-in-law

If you are the one being afraid of her, try to understand that she is a human being and is actually doing something that harms you and your family. Start to disagreeing with her on small things and get used to arguing with her. Do not let her bully you and stand for yourself. If your spouse is afraid of her, then you need to have a talk with him or her to explain how your mother-in-law uses her influence to manipulate your family. Make sure you observe everything well for some time to have enough arguments. We are talking about your spouse’s mother here, so it will be difficult to have a meaningful talk without good arguments and some examples.

She is guilt-tripping you

Guilt-tripping is another very famous manipulation technique. It is about making someone feel bad about themselves to influence their behavior. Your mother-in-law could try to manipulate you by making you feel guilty about your attitude and behavior. For example, imagine you are angry at her and she starts having a super sweet relationship with your spouse. After some time you notice how happy your spouse is around her, so you start feeling guilty being angry at someone that makes your soulmate feel good. It is his/her mother, after all, right? The thing is, however, she does that only for a short period of time to diffuse your angry attitude. Soon she will stop being nice and go back to being to her usual self.

What to do against guilt-tripping

The first thing you should ask yourself is if the guilt is caused by deliberate conduct. Next time she guilt-trips you, observe how she acts for some time. This is crucial for detecting her manipulative behavior. You also need to analyze the points that trigger the guilt inside you. Does she use the same things to make you feel bad for going against her? Is it always through your spouse and children? After discovering her guilt-tripping tactics, you should try to resist the influence and comprehend the malicious attempt behind. Next time you start feeling guilty, remember what is she trying to cover up by making you feel this way. Do not forget her usual toxic attitude and reject the temptation of going easy on her. Once again, if you are sure she does this for manipulation, her only goal is to bend your mind and selfishly get what she wants.


Gathering information is crucial for mental manipulation. If your mother-in-law is trying to learn all your activities and know everything that is going on in your life, she is doing it to have control over you. More she knows, easier it is for her to manipulate you. Is she looking at you all the time? Does she pick up your phone randomly without permission? Has she made a comment about your online activity such as facebook status or Instagram post? These are the signs that she is spying on you.

How to deal with spying mother-in-law

Keep in mind that there is a difference between an overly curious person and somebody who manipulates. It is about what you do with the information you gather. For some, it is just to entertain themselves. For others, it is about gathering material to strike you later with it. So, be sure she does it with malicious intent. It is difficult, however, to directly confront her. What would you do, announce to her and your spouse that she is spying on you? You will sound ridiculous and it will be easy for her to deny it. Instead, your best choice here would be to force her to quit the behavior. When she picks up your phone without permission, either tell her not to or put a password on it. You can’t do much about online stalking, but you can avoid her presence while doing private activities.

Dealing With Manipulative Mother-in-Law

Your Mother-in-Law and a Spouse

I almost guarantee you that dealing with manipulative mother-in-law will be impossible without the involvement of your spouse. The relationship between mother and a child is for a lifetime and it can easily outweigh the selfish behavior. If your spouse and his/her mother have a close relationship, she will always be around your presence. So, the beginning of the fix for this situation is with your spouse. It is important for him or her to understand the manipulative characteristics of your mother-in-law. You need to explain very well why it is a problem and how it affects your family negatively.

Think of it this way – how easily would you go against your own mother? Even if she does many unacceptable things, it is still difficult to go against somebody you love and who raised you. Your spouse is in the same situation and without good arguments, he/she will not go against mother. Even when it happens, be sure to stay supportive and not demand too much too fast. It is better for everybody to take it slow and implement changes gradually.

Your Mother-in-Law and Children

The same thing could be said about your children. If they love grandma and have a wonderful time with her, do not influence their minds and set them against her. Do not become a person you dislike so much. Many mothers-in-law are terrible to others but actually adore their grandchildren. It is better to keep the children out of the situation and try to solve the problem without involving them.

Understand her

You do not have to like her or accept the behavior, but you have to understand her character. Is she narcissistic? Has she had a traumatic childhood? Is she overly protective because your spouse is her only child? Does she have a mental illness? The more you learn about her, the easier it will get to deal with her manipulative behavior.

It is better for your family if you treat the situation as a common problem and not a war between you and her. Don’t try to defeat her, but instead try to make her stop acting this way.

Few more tips to help you with manipulative mother-in-law

Don’t let her destroy your life – Some people change and some simply refuse to do so. No matter what the situation is between you and her, don’t let a toxic person destroy your emotional well-being. You can try to fight her or ignore her, but whatever you do, it is important to stay calm and not stress about it too much. Your health and nerves are more important than any conflict.

Don’t give up simply because of your spouse – Do not accept the abuse and manipulation to avoid going against your spouse. It is nice to be understanding and consider their relationship, but if you are being ignored, then everything has its limits. If you are absolutely sure that the behavior of your mother-in-law has a negative impact on you and your family, then don’t raise a white flag simply to protect your husband or a wife.

Avoid her presence if you have to – If other things do not work and dealing with her continues to be stressful, simply try not to be around her. Is she coming over? Go have dinner with your friends. Does she invite the family over? Send your spouse and kids and stay home to have some alone time.


It can be tough dealing with a manipulative family member. Make sure you stay calm, be reasonable, stay fair and use the information above. Sooner or later you will be able to free yourself from the stress and continue living a happy life with your family – with or without your mother-in-law.

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