Q Dear Miss Abigail:
How do I deal with my evil mother-in-law without ruining my marriage?
A Dear Lovely:
Honey! Sweetie! Darling! Don’t fret. Miss Abigail is here to help.
1954: Try a Little Empathy
Empathy, which is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place, is of tremendous value in resolving a conflict with another person. To understand why he behaves the way he does is the only sound approach to improving your relations with him.
In attempting to apply this method to the friction between you and your mother-in-law, it is logical to wonder how you can understand a person who assaults you without apparent justification. You may even be ready, by now, to concede defeat. But that defeatist attitude is highly insidious. The only means you have of getting along with her ~ aside from moving to a South Sea island ~ is to perceive what lies behind her enmity. She may never develop enough insight to comprehend these motivations herself. But you are in a better position to evaluate her actions, since it is always easier to be objective about anyone but yourself.
If she were being reasonable and logical, she wouldn’t behave as she does. But she is being swept by powerful, unconscious feelings over which her conscious mind has no control. . . .
It helps to know that, if you are under attack, it is not for any reason personally induced by you. You needn’t feel hurt, for instance, if you are criticized for your figure, your cooking, the furniture your parents bought you, the color of your hair, the way you bring up the baby, the amount of money you spend ~ and all the other things a mother-in-law may pounce upon during her mud-slinging campaign. Few or perhaps none of her slurs are justified; it’s just that she has to find something wrong with you that her boy is “too blinded by love to see.”
When you fathom these criticisms as a pitiful effort on her part to coax her son away from you, you will be able to smile indulgently ~ in fact, feel sorry for her. It’s as if she were trying to tell him, “Look how much better I can take care of you than she can. Why don’t you come home to me? What is so marvelous about her?”
You should understand that these insinuations have no effect upon your husband. If anything, they may drive him closer to you because they impel him to defend you. His mother commits a strategical error in impugning your worth. But yours would be the greater error if you took seriously what she said.
Source: Graham, Lee. If You Are a Woman. New York: Popular Library, 1954.
~ pp. 102-104 ~