Toxic Mother-in-Law: 10 Key Signs You’re Dealing with One

Dealing with a toxic mother-in-law can be very daunting. Read on to know the signs of a discontent mother-in-law and ways to deal with them.

Anubhuti Mishra
Written by Anubhuti Mishra , Relationship Expert
Updated on May 10, 2024 | 06:10 PM IST | 114.5K
Signs You Are Dealing with a Toxic Mother-in-Law
Signs You Are Dealing with a Toxic Mother-in-Law

When the mothers have the ‘in-law’ suffix added to their titles, the dynamics switch up. She is either a trophy mother-in-law or a toxic one. A toxic mother-in-law transcends her negative and stressful traits beyond cultures and generations. Dealing with toxic in-laws can be very disconcerting for the daughter or son-in-law in question. Their mean behavior generally stems from their perspective of viewing the spouse as a potential competitor in intimate family relationships. If you are having a hard time pleasing your mother-in-law or trying to fit in, it might be because of her negative disposition towards you. Read on to find the signs of a toxic mother-in-law and how to deal with them. 

Who Is a Toxic Mother-in-Law?

Toxic Mother-in-Law

Like any other toxic relationship, a toxic mother-in-law is a task to handle. Her sole mission is to spew drama and beef with her DIL. The incapability of lovingly accepting and adoring their child’s spouse is what makes the mother-in-law toxic. She will use various typical tools to spread negativity and control the marriage. From being highly critical and manipulative to interfering in the couple’s life, she intentionally causes distress and disharmony in the family. There are quite a few signs of a toxic MIL and ways to deal with her. 


10 Signs You Have a Toxic Mother-in-Law

Read on to find ten key traits of a bad mother-in-law and how they imply their tactics for getting something out of your relationship. Sometimes the not-so-obvious tricks seem fine until they become too negative to deal with. Tap on her negative traits and their effects on your relationship: 


1. She Is Critical of Your Choices

If your mother-in-law constantly comments negatively about your ideas, beliefs, how you dress, and your familial habits, it indicates that she does not wholeheartedly approve of you or accept you as a part of the family and is trying to control your life. She might also criticize your parenting style and interfere in your family affairs. 

2. She Intrudes In Your Decision Making

A negative mother-in-law’s favorite play is to intrude in your personal family matters. Your parenting skills, your house management, or any lifestyle-related topic can be her question of matter. There are also times when she comments on your profession and deems you unworthy of their son or daughter. Not only will she constantly disapprove of them but also give you suggestive lessons on how to do them correctly. When not succumbing to her whims, she would also make you feel guilty about it. 

3. She Shows Resentment Towards You

Toxic Mother-in-Law

If her toxic trait is not intruding, then it is extremely unapproachable and cold. Unlike a good-natured mother-in-law, a mean one would keep her distance from you and remain ignorant. She would always be unwelcoming, would never call or bother to check up on you and keep a cold aura around her. If you request her for something and simply seek advice, she might not respond or sound uninterested. She might also directly or indirectly state her dislike towards you and never miss any opportunity to bring up your past mistakes and hold grudges. Such behaviors make it nearly impossible to become a part of the family and create a happy household relationship. 

4. She Belittles Your Race Or Culture

Does your mother-in-law make poor jokes about your race or culture? If yes, it is a big sign she is toxic and doesn’t approve of you.  When two different races, cultures, ethnicities, or religions unite, it is understandable for not everyone to blend in easily or show relatability. However, if one goes on to make fun of them or sound superior and nonchalant, it gets toxic. Rather than being inclusive, a mother-in-law who’s toxic would give you a hard time for being different from them. She might criticize your habits or food and sometimes even your appearance. There are also, instances when her toxic behavior is directed toward your family members, which further restrains the marriage. 


5.  She is Competitive with Your Relationship with the Spouse

If your mother-in-law constantly tries to interfere in your family or sabotages your marital bond, it shows that she may be jealous of your togetherness. It is hard for a few moms to cut their umbilical cord and let their sons start a fresh life with their spouses. To generate issues, she might constantly compare herself to you. For instance, she might comment on how her son likes her food better or how she knows his preferences better than you. She would also not shy away from saying things like, “My son was healthier and happier before you came in." She would always find faults with you and point out your flaws to her son. 

6. She Is Passive-aggressive 

Oftentimes, it is tricky to notice the behavioral patterns of a passive-aggressive mother-in-law. Being passive-aggressive and indirectly addressing negative feelings is a hallmark of a bad mother-in-law. She may also use passive-aggressive behavioral tools like avoiding you and not speaking to you directly. Creating communication barriers, getting sarcastic, and weaponizing kindness are the classic traits of a negative mother-in-law. 

7.  She Manipulates Your Spouse

From complaining about you to convincing your spouse to be secretive with you, a controlling mother-in-law has her savvy ways of manipulation. She might spice up the narrative or play a victim card and represent you in the wrong light. It is not too hard for a mother to persuade or brainwash her child. She would crib about your spouse’s changing priorities and make them feel guilty., making them think that you are creating distance between the family. Manipulating the spouse is the ace trick of isolating you.

8. She Is a Narcissist 

A typical trait of a manipulative mother-in-law is her narcissism, which is quite nerve-wracking to deal with. She will always behave like she is the best and you are nothing in front of her. Plus, a narcissistic mother-in-law might also always make you feel guarded by pricking on your daily life. A narcissist’s constant need for self-admiration leads to others’ emotional abuse. If your mother-in-law overshadows you and treats you as an inferior, remember that is a projection of her own insecurities. 

9. She Gossips About You

As part of her manipulation scheme, a controlling mother-in-law will gossip about you to everyone, including friends and family during family gatherings. This is her sly manner of propagating a negative version of you, which leaves you isolated and unhappy. 


10. She Cannot be Pleased

Toxic mother-in-law

Nothing can make a toxic person happy, and a mother-in-law is no exception. No matter how much effort you put in, she will never be happy, and will also make sure to show her disregard for everything you do for her. This is because she doesn’t have room for love and warmth for you. She will always have bones to pick and a mighty air around her. She’ll also remain judgemental and cause disrupting drama around you — if these are the signs you deal with, know that your mother-in-law is toxic. 

How to Deal with Toxic Mother-in-Law? 5 Tips That’ll Help You Feel at Ease

If you relate to any of the signs of toxicity displayed by your mother-in-law, you must be looking for ways to resolve it. Even though there are low chances of your mother-in-law switching her personality, you can use the following tips to cope and create a better environment for yourself: 

Discuss with Your Partner

Toxic mother-in-law

The most essential and foremost step is to have an honest communicate with your partner. Without sounding too condescending, discuss the issues with your spouse. Once you understand their take on the issue, it will be easier to handle the situations in the future and avoid emotional stress and unwanted drama. A willing partner would be ready to stand up and have a conversation with their mother or help create healthy boundaries around the mother-in-law to protect your integrity. 

Lower Your Expectations

If after a lot of efforts gone in vain, you have no luck in seeking better treatment from your mother-in-law, it’s high time to believe and accept that she won’t change. For your own benefit make peace with her habits and tantrums without letting them affect you, since it’s only verbal and avoidable. Lowering your expectations will save you a lot of effort and heartbreak. In case you can shift to another place, that would be a win-win situation — you can stay away from her toxicity while also keeping in touch through calls so as not to create a barrier between her and your spouse. 

Resort to Self-care Practices

Toxic mother-in-law

Dealing with a mother-in-law who is hell-bent on making your life miserable can cost you your mental well-being. Due to their manipulation and abusive behavior, you may feel stressed, anxious, and extremely disappointed. It is essential to hold your peace and protect your mental health. Self-care practices are proven helpful by experts and you can follow them too. Journaling, therapy, meditation, etc., are some ways of coping. 


Don’t Overthink

After dealing with taxing interactions with your mother-in-law, it is highly plausible to enter a guilt trip. You might overanalyze a situation or read between the lines to extract deranged meanings and thoughts. The best way to deal with this is not to take everything seriously or personally. Leave the occurrences unhinged and don’t fall for the victim card. Acting as a victim is a toxic person’s A-game, don’t let the off-times hit you or bother you in some way. 


Take a Stand for Yourself

Remember that no one should have the power to ruin you or your married life. If your mother-in-law is creating issues to an extent where it’s wreaking havoc on your mental health or sabotaging your married life, it’s best to talk to your partner directly as mentioned above, and take a firm stand. If things don’t get sorted, get help from a family therapist, and don’t let anything or anyone come in your way of happiness. 

Can a Toxic Mother-in-Law Ruin a Relationship?

A toxic mother-in-law and other in-laws, in general, can cause a lot of distress to a person’s mental health and strain the couple’s relationship significantly. The manipulation schemes, disrespect, and other toxic behaviors can raise trust issues and adversely affect the family dynamics. If the partner is unsupportive or there are no resolutions to the consistent issues, there are high chances of fights and arguments that can ruin the relationship. 

If you are dealing with a toxic mother-in-law, know that you are not alone. It is pretty common for mothers-in-law to feel insecure about their children and end up hurting their partners. There are many warning signs of recognizing an overbearing mother-in-law and her distorted ways. However, there are also ways of dealing with the toxicity and preserving your peace and family. Always make sure to reach out for professional help when things turn for worse.


Can we avoid our mother-in-law?
If your mother-in-law displays signs of toxicity and causes a lot of distress to your relationship and mental health, it is best to confront them to try to resolve the matter. However, when nothing seems to work, it is acceptable to avoid them.

Why are mother-in-laws so toxic?
Not every mother-in-law is toxic. Reasons, why a few are dominating, is because they could have insecurities about themselves or past trauma that’s not resolved. They might also create competition in the relationship dynamics with your partner. Some cultural differences could also be the reason for their behavior.

Is it normal to not like your mother-in-law?
A lot of people tend to dislike their in-laws due to the differences between them. When in-laws show negativity toward DIL or SIL, it is common to not like them.

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About The Author
Anubhuti Mishra
Anubhuti Mishra
Relationship Expert

A marked inclination toward understanding human emotions and relationships led Anubhuti to become a certified Relationship Expert. With dual



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