How can I deal with a difficult mother-in-law?

It is not uncommon to hear people complain about their relationship with their mother-in-law. Whether it is the son-in-law or daughter-in-law the principal complaint is that the mother-in-law is overstepping her boundaries. Regardless of whether her intentions are good or bad, her overbearing presence is unhealthy for the family.

In the Bible marriage is described as such: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Both a husband and a wife must leave their family units in order to create a new family. While they should continue to love and spend time with their families of origin, it is important that they put each other first. Their primary focus should be on loving and respecting one another. They need to act as one body and one mind making decisions together and affirming one another. A God-honoring husband is the head of his household putting his wife first and a God-honoring wife respects her husband.

When a mother-in-law, or any other relative for that matter, oversteps this new boundary, it is crucial that the couple address the issue. The couple should discuss the situation and agree on how to resolve it. Then they should talk with the mother-in-law and explain their concerns. It is important that they approach her with love and respect (Exodus 20:12). They should be ready to forgive her if she has treated them poorly and work to establish a foundation for a healthy relationship in the future.

If the mother-in-law does not step back and work on changing her behavior, the couple needs to firmly maintain appropriate boundaries. They may have to distance themselves a little and go against their mother-in-law's wishes. They need to give up their hurt feelings and resentment to God and pray that He can bring resolution to the situation. In addition, they need to examine their own actions for sinful reactions such as anger and continue to love and respect their mother-in-law through the process.

The Bible provides a beautiful example of how a daughter-in-law can have a strong and positive relationship with her mother-in-law. In the Old Testament Ruth's husband and father-in-law died. She chose to stay with her mother-in-law as she returned to her homeland. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, then helped her to remarry, but continued to be part of her life. Couples should strive to have a healthy and happy relationship with their in-laws. Boundaries need to be established, but love and respect for one another should guide all our actions.

Related Truth:

How can a Christian 'leave and cleave' and still honor their parents?

What does the command to honor my father and mother mean?

What is biblical advice for parents struggling with letting go of their adult children?

What are to be our top priorities in our family life?

In marriage how do the two become one flesh?

Return to:
Truth about Family

Subscribe to the Newsletter:

Preferred Bible Version: is part of Got Questions Ministries

For answers to your Bible questions, please visit