PodcastHow to Improve Your Relationship with the In-Laws

May 26, 2013by Frank Love0

Podcast Episode:
I love the wonderful man in my life. I’m going to marry him. I am going to have his babies. But I can’t stand his mama. What do I do? You are going to find out on this episode of Frank Relationships.



Guests: Dr. Deanna Brann
Date: May 27, 2013

Frank: I love the wonderful man in my life. I’m going to marry him. I’m going to have his babies, but I can’t stand his mama. What do I do? You’re going to find out on this episode of Frank Relationships.

Welcome to Frank Relationships where we provide a candid, fresh and frank look into relationships with goals of acceptance, respect and flexibility. I’m Frank Love and you can find me, my blog and my various social media incarnations at franklove.com.

Once again, I’m joined by my super duper co-host. What’s up, Dr. Gayl?

Dr. Gayl: What’s up, Frank?

Frank: There are plenty of women that are planning to get married to the man in their lives. These ladies are smitten with love, of romance and hopes of a bright future, but there’s another woman lurking in the shadows.

She is the other woman. You might think I’m referring to that other vixen that’s looking to have sex with and steal your man, but nope, I’m talking about the other woman that’s even more common than that, his mama and she doesn’t like you.

She rolls her eyes at you, she makes snide comments about you and she doesn’t appreciate her son’s attention being turned towards you instead of her.

To give us the insight and experience to handle these issues, we are joined by a 25 year veteran of psychology and the author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-in-law or Daughter-in-law, and is recognized nationwide to helping women who struggle in the mother and daughter-in-law paradigm to get to a place of comfort and ease with one another. She is none other than, Dr. Deanna Brann. Welcome to Frank Relationships.

Dr. Brann: Hi Frank.

Frank: How are you?

Dr. Brann: I am doing great. Thanks so much.

Frank: Is there a difference between the relationships between women and their in-laws and men and their in-laws?

Dr. Brann: Absolutely, there is. I think probably the biggest difference is that men have different kinds of relationships than women do. Women are very personal in their relationships and they take everything personally. Men don’t do that. Men focus on doing things together. They don’t focus on what she said or what he said or that kind of stuff and so that makes it very different.

Men just don’t focus on the same kind of things and they don’t get all bent out of shape when things are said or done in a way that they don’t particularly like.

Frank: But don’t women go to the mall together and go get coffee and tea and to the grocery? You know, women stuff.

Dr. Gayl: What is that suppose to count for, Frank?

Frank: They do stuff together.

Dr. Brann: They do. They do if they get along with each other.

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Dr. Brann: Only if they get along with each other.

Dr. Gayl: It’s not a fun shopping trip if the mother-in-law doesn’t like you.

Frank: It sounds like you know. Alright, Dr. Gayl, you got something you want to add? You got something you want to say here?

Dr. Gayl: It’s just like any other friendship or relationship. If you don’t get along with the person and you go to the mall together, it’s like, “What am I here for,” and women want to make sure that their husbands or their boyfriends or significant other’s likes them and I don’t know if guys care so much.

Frank: I have had two father-in-laws and I cared about whether they liked me or not. My first father-in-law, we played golf together, or at least I went with him to the golf course and we talked. I don’t know whether he liked me or not, but we did do stuff together and I did care and I think he cared.

I don’t really understand the difference in terms of the male and female side and I got along with my mother-in-law. Now, we had our issues and they were constantly concerned- mind you of course me and my first wife are divorced, so we had our issues and they were constantly concerned about her and her well being and they thought almost by definition that there was a problem with me, because there was a problem between us.

Dr. Gayl: I’m sure there was a problem with you.

Frank: That felt like a cheap shot.

Dr. Gayl: You put it out there, so I had to take it.

Frank: Dr. Brann, I’m sitting on your couch right now. Can you help me out a little bit?

Dr. Brann: Okay, yeah. One of the big differences you say you and your father-in-law got along well, but you don’t focus on how he’s interacting with his daughter. That doesn’t bother you, whereas it bothers a wife, how her husband is interacting with his mom. “Is he interacting too much with her? Is he taking her suggestions instead of mine?” Those kinds of things come up between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law, that would never come up with a father-in-law and a son-in-law. It just wouldn’t happen, because that’s not that important.

Frank: You know I–

Dr. Brann: They want to spend time with–go ahead.

Frank: Oddly enough, I didn’t hear it the way I believe you meant it. What I heard was, the relationship between me and my mother-in-law, and I know I’m pretty sure that’s not what you said, but for some reason that’s how I processed it.

In my mind I was thinking about how I got along with my mother-in-law, not how I was dealing with my mom, I’m pretty clear as where you were going with it. Is that right?

Dr. Brann: Yeah, exactly, because it would be your wife and your mother’s relationship.

Dr. Gayl: Right. So how–

Dr. Brann: That’s the relationship I’m talking about.

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Dr. Brann: The two women are trying to get along.

Frank: Yes, and what about the third woman, my mother-in-law?

Dr. Brann: That’s a different relationship, because typically, the mother-in-law, she has a relationship with her daughter. That’s the main relationship and you may have a side relationship with her, but typically you’re not going to be the one going out to have lunch with her or go shopping with her, the girl stuff, right? And so you’re happy if your wife and her mom are getting along. You’re happy with that, that’s cool. But the relationship is really more between them than it is between you and her.

Dr. Gayl: And Dr. Brann–

Dr. Brann: That’s why it’s a little different.

Dr. Gayl: I once had a mother-in-law and I was expecting that relationship to be like me and my mom’s relationship is.

Frank: What? Throwing stuff at each other and–

Dr. Gayl: No, no nothing like that.

Frank: That was my cheap shot. Thank you.

Dr. Gayl: Right. However, you’re wrong. My mom and I get along well. We talk multiple times a day about whatever, whenever. And I have a very close-knit family and I was expecting the relationship with my ex-mother-in-law to be the same and it wasn’t. And of course that made me feel uneasy.

And I was skimming through your book about, a Thanksgiving dinner that you had written about in your book and I had a horrible Thanksgiving experience. I was expecting it to be, all the family members there and the women were going to cook and the men were going to sit and watch the football games or whatever they were going to do, but it was the opposite of that.

Frank: Mom was mad, because you couldn’t cook. Is that what happened?

Dr. Gayl: No, I was mad, because my mom didn’t cook. She ordered out and I was like, “Who orders out for Thanksgiving? Who does that?”

Frank: Was this your first Thanksgiving?

Dr. Gayl: That was the first that was the first and only Thanksgiving.

Frank: Oh, okay.

Dr. Brann: That was an eye opener.

Dr. Gayl: Right. I was like, “This isn’t suppose to happen,” so I was projecting my view of what I’m accustomed to with my family onto the mother-in-law. And without having a *(inaudible) 09:26.

Dr. Brann: And that’s very common.

Dr. Gayl: Yeah.

Dr. Brann: Yeah, that is so common, because of that’s our only reference point, is our own family. And so, you come to relationship with her based on what your family did and how they interacted and she does the same thing. So, here you’ve got two customs and two traditions coming together and no one ever really talks about it beforehand, so we’re just assuming it’s just going to fall into place, because we have our fantasies of what we want it to be–

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Dr. Brann: And rarely at that. You know, it rarely is, because family stuff just gets in the way.

Dr. Gayl: Right, you have your fantasy of, like I said, projecting your family view onto what you’re accustomed to and then you also have that fantasy of what you want it to be and what you thought it was going to be.

Dr. Brann: Exactly, and they usually don’t match.

Dr. Gayl: At all.

Dr. Brann: Of what it then becomes.

Frank: Now, I’ve got the–

Dr. Brann: Often it gets worse.

Frank: I’ve got the real fun in-law relationship and that’s the brother-in-law relationship with the husband. Now that was quite interesting for me.

Where do you weigh in on that? Me and my first brother-in-law, we were never really close. We just kind of saw each other in passing and we never really connected. He was very protective of his sister and I was very protective of me, meaning, “Mind your business.” That was pretty much my attitude and his attitude went they meshed.

We were never close. Can you weigh in on that at all? And whoa, we have not even really started to get into even your book. I mean there’s so many in-law things, but we’ll get there. We’ll get there.

Dr. Brann But yeah, let me talk a little bit about the brother-in-law situation that you described. I think the thing about that is, especially for men, you’ve got to have something in common, to kind of get that relationship going and his being protective of his sister wasn’t very helpful, obviously.

That’s nice, but she’s a grown woman and she should be able to take care of herself. The thing is he’s got to have something in common with them and I even say this with mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. You’ve got to figure out who this person is independent of the common bond, which in your case, it was your wife, but it could be the son or whoever. You’ve got to have something more than just that person in common.

You’ve got to have other things. Whether its hobbies or sports or something as a brother-in-law. You’ve got to have something other than her that’s in common. That’s going to create that relationship.

Frank: I’m loosely familiar with some research and that research says that, “People in the south are very friendly upfront.” They speak to each other, wave to each other, just perfect strangers. People in the north-meaning we’re talking about the U.S-don’t do that so much. But people in the south are much easier slighted and feel insulted if the slightest this and that occurs and people in the north don’t feel as slighted along the way. And so I’m getting at a difference in our culture and how we process things. What happens when a southerner marries a northerner?

Dr. Brann: Well, I think it’s the same as it is in any relationship. It is a challenge, because again, you’re bringing in your cultural backgrounds into your relationship and that’s going to color how you perceive things, how you interpret things, how you react to things. So, you really have to pay attention to yourself and sometimes not take yourself way so seriously, because that’s what we have a tendency of doing, especially women. We have a tendency of doing that.

So, what ends up happening is, we again, we personalize everything. We take it as, “This is the way it should be. This is the way it isn’t. Then, I’ve got a problem with it,” and that doesn’t always work.

Frank: I see a lot of that with men too, but–

Dr. Brann: Do you? Oh, okay.

Frank: Yeah. Men have their own way of saying, “This is how it should be and this is how I’m processing it and if it doesn’t go my way,” they may very well get upset. Some men and women get violent. I see it across the board quite a bit, but enough of that. What inspired you to write about the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationships?

Dr. Brann: Well, the thing that inspired me as you will read in my first chapter is, really my relationship with my own daughter-in-law. We initially got along really well for several years. Before they got married and even after they got married, but once they started having children, that’s when things changed and it was really hard. Things that seem to be okay beforehand, all of a sudden wasn’t okay.

Frank: Like?

Brann: Probably on both sides. I’m talking to my daughter-in-law now, it’s like didn’t realize that she was interpreting my behavior in certain ways and we went back and forth a lot. In fact, and this is embarrassing as a psychologist, you’d think I should know what to do, but it was too close to it. I didn’t know, I couldn’t figure it out, so that’s why I did the research and wrote the book.

But what ended up happening is, it took me eight years to finally get to a place of, “I’ve got to figure this out. This is my son, my grandkids. I got to figure this out.” And I loved my daughter-in-law. That’s the thing. I really loved her.

And after doing some research I figured it out. I can use some of the tools from things that I’ve done with clients and use it here and I was able to start changing the relationship.

As I changed my own behavior, it started to shift the relationship and that’s key. You don’t have to confront the person, you don’t have to challenge the person, you just start focusing on changing your own behavior and it will cause the other person to have to change their behavior and that’s what started to happen and we get along great now.

Frank: Isn’t it amazing how that works?

Dr. Brann: Yeah.

Dr. Gayl: What changed after the grand kids came?

Dr. Brann: I think, if I look at it from both sides and that’s only to be fair, I think I was being too helpful, number one, and maybe it wasn’t asked for. And I think on her part, she had fantasies and ideas, the way she wanted things to be and when they weren’t happening that way, it became a problem for her. So, I think it was both of us. It wasn’t just one side or the other. It was both of us.

Dr. Gayl: I think its funny, Dr. Brann, that you said helpful, because as an ex-daughter-in-law, I perceive that as intrusive.

Dr. Brann: Exactly, my point. That’s exactly how my daughter-in-law thought: controlling and intrusive.

Frank: I’m glad we have a translator in the house. Tell me where are you guys from? Are you northerners, southerners? Are you on the west coast? What are you?

Dr. Brann: Oh, that’s funny. Well, actually my daughter-in-law and myself, we are all really from the north. We’re originally from Michigan, but we now live in Tennessee.

Frank: Wow.

Dr. Brann: So, we’ve shifted. So, we’ve all started northern. We’ve moved southern. She’s been here actually longer than I have. They’ve been here probably 20 years and we’ve been here four years.

Frank: Oh, then lets play with that. Oh.

Dr. Gayl: Did you go there–

Frank: What happens when the mother-in-law follows the kids?

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Dr. Brann: Well, we waited several years.

Frank: Yeah, but you got there.

Dr. Brann: We got there. Well, actually by this time we were getting along and so it made it easier, but I learned a lot from the whole process. And I learned, one, I don’t want to live too close.

Frank: So you live how far?

Dr. Brann: We live probably about 20 minutes to a half hour away.

Frank: Okay.

Dr. Brann: So, its close enough where if they need help with something, we’re there, but no one’s knocking on each other’s door every time you turn around.

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Frank: Borrowing milk.

Dr. Brann: I’ve really gotten–yeah, exactly. And I’ve really gotten good at boundaries.

Dr. Gayl: Right. I have several friends who had kids recently and they want the mother-in-laws to come stay or the mother-in-laws wants to come stay and they’re like, “It’s great for them to be around, but I just don’t want them here in my house.”

Frank: Wow.

Dr. Gayl: That’s, yeah.

Frank: Okay, how–

Dr. Brann: And I totally can understand that.

Frank: How do you deal when the daughter who may have just had a baby, or may not, but the baby is always a reason for the mom-in-law to be around, even more–

Dr. Brann: Sure.

Frank: The daughter-in-law just had a baby, mom-in-law wants to be around, but the daughter really wants her mom around and not so much the mother-in-law. But the mother-in-law is the son’s mom and so she wants to be a part of the-baby-coming-home process, helping raise the baby. You’ve got two mother-in-laws/mothers and possibly competing or conflicting interests from one child, meaning the daughter or the other, meaning the son. Does that make sense?

Dr. Brann: Got it. It does make sense. Yeah, it does make sense.

Frank: Okay.

Dr. Brann: And it is a very common problem unfortunately. I think one of the things with the mother-in-law, and this may sound a little strange, but I really think the daughter-in-law has to appreciate the mother-in-law’s position to some extent. And the reason I say that is because she is now a mom herself and she’s going to be setting a tone for her children and she’s going to be a role model for her children. So her children are going to watch her as they grow up, how she deals with mom-in-law. And they’re going to watch that, so they’re going to learn what that relationship is all about.

So she may end up being on the other side of that at some point, so she needs to think about that down the road.

But in referring to at that moment, I think what she can do is–yes of course she wants her own mother there because that’s who she’s connected to. And so, her mom can be there if they have that kind of relationship. But the mother-in-law can come maybe at a later time.

So, she’s still respecting the mother-in-law, but she’s having her coming at a later time and maybe having some controls around it, like she stays at a hotel and she comes for certain times, that kind of thing. So, she can set some perimeters around it, but she should let her mother-in-law come at some point, because it is her grandchild. It is the husband’s mom; still family, but she can set perimeters around it.

That’ll make it easier for everybody, and she should set perimeters, so she’s not dealing with her frustration and anger at her mother-in-law.

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You’re listening to Frank Relationships and we’re talking with Dr. Deanna Brann, the author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-in-law or Daughter-in-law. Please tell our listeners how they find you and your book.

Dr. Brann: Well, the best way to find me would be to go to my website and you can go to inlawsos.com. You can also go to reluctantlyrelated.com. That will take you directly to my book page. You can get my book there. You can get it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble. You can really get it everywhere now. It’s now in bookstores as well as online.

Frank: Okay, how does the husband and son fit into the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship?

Dr. Brann: Well, he definitely plays his part. Most people might believe that they don’t play a part, but they definitely do. Oftentimes the husband is caught in the middle.

He loves his mom. He loves his wife. He doesn’t understand why the two of them cannot get along and sometimes what he’ll do-not all the time, but sometimes what he’ll do is he’ll try to mediate between the two and that is probably the worst thing he can do, because he’s never going to be right. He’s going to get in trouble one way or the other, by his mom or by his wife. So, he’s really better off not doing that.

The other thing he’ll have a tendency of doing is he’ll try to ignore it, like it doesn’t even exist, like there is no problem. So, when his wife tries to talk to him, he’ll act like he don’t know what she’s talking about or he’ll ignore her and that’s not going to work either. Trust me.

Frank: Okay.

Dr. Brann: I think we have someone here who–Dr. Gayl, do you relate to that?

Frank: Yes, she’s got something to say. Spill it.

Dr. Gayl: No, not personally, but it makes me think of–Dr. Brann, I don’t know if you’re familiar with this show, Love and Hip Hop Atlanta?

Frank: No, I doubt she’s familiar with that.

Dr. Gayl: And so on the show, one of the actor or characters, I don’t know what to call them, little Scrappy has this very overly intrusive mother. And he’s engaged to someone and the mom doesn’t like her. She tries to have this other girl that he was dating come onto him and the daughter or the future daughter-in-law called off the wedding.

She’s like, “You need to check your mom before we even move forward.” So initially, he tried ignore it like there was nothing wrong with it and then he tried to have them have a peaceful dinner, that didn’t work. And so then he was like, “Well, what am I supposed to do? This is my mom.”

Frank: What happened when it didn’t work? Did it just blow up or was–

Dr. Gayl: It was reality TV, so obviously they cursed each other out and got into a fight. I hope it wouldn’t happen to go to that extent in a normal family sit-down, but I’m certain that still the daughter-in-law would feel left out and like her future husband wasn’t very supportive of her.

So, it doesn’t work. Like Dr. Brann said, guys try to ignore it, like it’s not there or its not happening and then that makes the daughter-in-law feel like she’s not supported about her future husband. So, what do you do?

Dr. Brann: Exactly. At that point it becomes really a marital issue. The husband has to emotionally, psychologically he’s got to let go of his mom. To be able for men to become men, they have to let go of their mothers.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have a relationship with her, but they have to understand that once they’re married, their wife is their priority and she should be.

Not that his wife is always right, because she’s not going to be. Don’t tell her that, but she’s not always going to be right, but he needs to be supportive of what her feelings are, if nothing else. He can’t solve the problem. If she’s got a problem with his mother, it’s not his job to fix it. Alright, that is number one.

It is her job to fix it. Now, they can do it together, but she has to be the one to fix it. He can’t, because that’s just going to make more problems. And then, one, he’s not going to do it right and then he’s just the go-between and that just creates too many problems.

The first thing he needs to do is, to be supportive of his wife and appreciate the fact that she’s struggling. If she felt like she was number one with him, I think she would feel very differently and she would be able to settle down a little bit. So, what that message is saying is, “I don’t feel like I’m number one, I feel like your mom is number one,” and that doesn’t feel real good to a wife.

Frank: I think my father would disagree with you. My grandmother lived about three miles from him and my dad pretty much picked up my grandmother. Once she retired everyday, he picked her up in the morning and my father owns his own business, so she would come down–unless she had some errands to run, meaning she would get on the bus and go downtown and go shopping or whatever or go to the grocery store. He would come get her every day and she would be with him for much of the day until he took her home that evening. And that was the case for him. That was the kind of life that he had with her, even though he was married. And on top of that, it was that way when he was getting to know his wife.

My grandmother would cook dinner on Sundays and we’d all go over. He had a very close nurturing relationship with his mom. And she was very nurturing also. So after school many days, I might go over to her place. She lived down the street from my school, so I might go over to her place and she’d cook dinner and my dad would get there.

It was always whether he picked her up in the morning or he came by her place in the evening, it was always a very close relationship and he would be the first to say, “Mom is my hero.” She was a 50 year widower. Her husband, my grandfather died when my father was one and my father is 65 now. No, he’s 65+ and my grandmother just passed a year ago. And my grandmother even moved in with him up until it was just impossible, had a nurse that came in and that was up until like two years ago.

Dr. Gayl: But that sounds like a different relationship than what we were describing earlier–than what Dr. Brown was describing.

Dr. Brann: What I’m saying is, even though your dad had that close relationship with his mom, your mother still felt number one in his eyes, in many ways. And it doesn’t have to be that, he doesn’t spend time with his mother. He can do all those things and still it can be very clear, on maybe a different level, but it’s very clear to everybody that yes, he loves his mother and he’s going to take care of her. But his wife is also as important. His family is also important and that message came across somehow.

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Dr. Brann: So, he was excellent. People should seriously take lessons from him on how to do that, because that is, one, it’s pretty rare. But he was able to create that balance in a way that works for everybody and that’s phenomenal.

Dr. Gayl: And it sounds like he probably didn’t choose a wife that wouldn’t understand that and didn’t get along with–

Dr. Brann: Exactly.

Dr. Gayl: His mom.

Frank: That that was important

Dr. Brann: Exactly. And that makes the difference. Your mother was probably in many ways, very comfortable with who she was. She was confident in herself and in her relationship with her husband, so she wasn’t threatened by that at all and that speaks to who your mother was and who your grandmother was. They probably had a pretty good relationship.

Dr. Gayl: And although your grandmother was there, it doesn’t sound like she was very intrusive either.

Dr. Brann: Yeah, it doesn’t sound like she was intrusive at all. There are relationships–I call them Camelot’s–that do work well and it’s because everybody knows their place and everybody’s comfortable with themselves. They’re comfortable in their own skin and when someone’s comfortable in their own skin, those other kinds of things aren’t threatening.

Now, if your dad had picked somebody else, which obviously he wouldn’t have been able to, because it wouldn’t have worked, but if he picked someone else who was a little insecure or uncertain about themselves, that would have been a nightmare. But he picked a woman who was very comfortable in her own skin and who was not threatened by anything, because she knew that he loved her.

Dr. Gayl: And Dr. Brann, what do you think about in-laws or people that think that their parents have to accept or like their future mate? Or they need acceptance from their parents on their future mate?

Dr. Brann: That’s such an interesting thing, because on one hand they’re trying to be adults and yet then on the other hand they want approval and acceptance. And we all want approval and acceptance, don’t get me wrong. But when it comes to someone you love, there’s no formula for that. You know what I’m saying? We fall in love. We fall in love. And I think it would be in the best interest of parents to support your child and who they love, because you’re the one who’s going to pay the price in the end and if you’re going to be that controlling, it’s going to create problems.

What I would recommend is if that is so important, then you’re going to have to choose someone that your family approves of and you may not particularly want to be with that person, so what’s more important, your wife–

Frank: Wow.

Dr. Brann: And who you love or is it more important that you pick someone that your family approves of? You’ve got to figure out what matters to you most short-term, long-term.

Frank: Talk about the prices that the in-law might pay in the long term.

Dr. Brann: One of the biggest is that they won’t be included in their child’s life anymore.

Frank: Or the grandchildren’s.

Dr. Brann: Or the grandchildren’s, exactly. And I’ll tell you as a grandparent, that’s the worse thing that can happen, is to not only lose your child, but to lose your grandkids. There’s nothing worse than that, so you really have to think about that. And men, but particularly women, they don’t forget those things.

So, if you speak badly of them early on, they remember and they’re gong to have a tendency of wanting distance. And the husband will probably go along with his wife, because that’s what he does. He wants to make her happy. So, they have a lot to lose, and I think on either side, but particularly the son’s family has a lot to lose.

Frank: Got it. Tell me about your book. Let’s get into it.

Dr. Brann: Well, my book is obviously a self-help book, but it is a book that really deals with both sides of it. It deals with mothers-in-law and it deals with daughters-in-law.

And one of the things that I did when I wrote it is, I really wanted to make sure that I could give real practical hands-on tools that people can use. Women can use right out of the gate and they can change their relationship very easily. It’s not that hard if you just start to use the tools.

And I think the biggest thing is, that you don’t have to challenge or confront the other person, and that’s huge, because I hate confronting somebody. And you don’t want to make a big to-do about things, because people don’t want to deal with that. So, again by changing your own behavior, and I teach you how to do that. By changing your own behavior, you can then change your relationship and you can make it so much better.

Frank: But some people don’t have a problem with confrontations. Someone–

Dr. Brann: Some people don’t.

Frank: Yeah. What do you do then?

Dr. Brann: Some people don’t. Well, let’s say someone is confronting you and you don’t particularly like it, there are things that you can do too. And one is that you need to take a step back and you need to stop them in their tracks and say, “I can’t hear you when you’re screaming at me. I just can’t hear you.” And I think the biggest thing for people is, they have to be willing to be a little bit uncomfortable doing something different, so that they can then become comfortable with it.

If we knew how to do all these things, one, you wouldn’t need therapists and you wouldn’t need self-help book, if we all knew how to do things. We don’t. I didn’t. So, I had to learn how to do things differently, too. That’s probably the biggest thing.

Dr. Gayl: Right. And in your book you state that the mother-in-law, the daughter-in-law relationship is the artificial element. So, who do you suggest or who do you think is supposed to put themselves out first and initiate the relationship and initiate conversation, particularly if you don’t live in the same city or the same area? Who do you think should pick up the phone first and initiate that contact?

Dr. Brann: Actually, either side can do it. It really doesn’t matter. Someone needs to do it and you might start a little slow and work your way up to a little more. But either side can do it, because the mother-in-law’s very uncomfortable. She doesn’t know what to do or expect or she may be so intrusive. She may start off right out of the gate being very intrusive, so she doesn’t know what she’s doing.

The daughter-in-law’s trying to figure out her way, so both people are very tentative. So, if you don’t focus on, “Well, she should be the one starting this, initiating this,” if you don’t even focus on that and you just say, “Let me do it,” because if you’re the one who initiates it, then you’re the one who gets to kind of set the stage and that works better for you anyway, especially with the daughter-in-law.

Dr. Gayl: I remember when I was a daughter-in-law. I wanted so much for her to like me and to welcome me into the family. Do mother-in-laws feel that way?

Dr. Brann: Absolutely.

Dr. Gayl: Or do mother-in-laws think that you’re just to supposed to automatically like me, because you want my son?

Dr. Brann: No mothers-in-law want to be accepted too. They do. They want to be liked. Most mothers-in-law want their daughter-in-law to be like a daughter, which she can’t be, because she’s got a mom. But she can be close to being like a daughter, but you always have to respect the fact that she is your daughter-in-law. And I say respect, because she’s an adult woman in her own right and you have to respect that. So, I totally agree, she definitely wants to be accepted and she doesn’t know how to be.

On the one hand, she thinks she should automatically be, because she’s the mother-in-law, but she also knows that, that’s not going to necessarily happen. And she knows the daughter-in-law has a lot of power.

Dr. Gayl: And do you think there’s a difference between mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationships, where the mother-in-law has her own daughter verses the mother-in-law that just has sons?

Frank: That’s interesting.

Dr. Brann: That’s an interesting question. I think that it’s different in the sense that she has a daughter, so she can always turn to her daughter, but–

Frank: If they get along.

Dr. Brann: Her son’s still important to her. You’re right, if they get along. But she still wants a relationship with her son and his family. That’s still important. Mother and son, they typically have very strong bonds.

Frank: I suppose it comes as no surprise to you that some people get divorced. It happens.

Dr. Gayl: Life happens.

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Dr. Brann, my wife and my mother they get along great. It wasn’t always that way. My mother, in fact, at the beginning, she thought she would not be able to stand her, but they get along great.

In fact, they talk more than me and my mother do. When I’m talking to my wife, I call my mother, her mother-in-law, so I’ll say, “How’s your mother-in-law doing?” And she’ll update me. She generally knows better than I do. They got their own thing going on. Any comments on that, any thoughts? I pretty much like it.

Dr. Brann: I think that’s what we all want. That would be the ideal. And again, I think there are some relationships–and I found it in my research was, there are relationships where the women do get along and it is, because everyone is comfortable with who they are.

Everybody knows what there roles are, they’re comfortable with who the other person is. They’re comfortable with themselves and so it works. They’re able to put things in proper prospective.

And probably the biggest thing is, they have found things in common with each other–your wife and your mother, where they have formed their own friendship. And that’s something I highly recommend is that if you can forget that this is your son’s wife or your husband’s mother and develop a relationship with that woman, independent of the man, then you’re going to have, possibly, a great relationship.

And it sounds like that’s what your mother and your wife have done. They formed their own relationship that is separate from you. And it allows them to build on that and to create something that is very strong between the two of them.

Frank: I think it doesn’t hurt that I’m a knucklehead and it’s probably–

Dr. Brann: So, they can talk about you.

Frank: Yeah.

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Frank: It’s probably easier to talk–

Dr. Gayl: Your wife needs your mom.

Frank: And vice versa.

Dr. Gayl: To help her through this relationship with you.

Frank: My mother’s able to–

Dr. Brann: Commensurate about you.

Frank: Yes, it’s great and they both leave me alone when they’re around. When they’re around each other–

Dr. Brann: That works.

Frank: Oh man, talk about bliss.

Dr. Gayl: Oh, my goodness. I don’t know how many times I think this with you. I’m like, “Your poor wife.”

Frank: What can I say? You know. Are there any common problems that mother-in-laws in particular, encounter with their daughter-in-laws?

Dr. Brann: Probably the biggest one is the fear that they’re going to lose their grandkids and their sons, because it happens a lot. For a lot of different reasons, the daughter-in-law decides that his mother is not acceptable and so she pulls everybody away from her. And even when it doesn’t happen, that’s still the biggest fear for a mother-in-law that, that will happen.

Frank: I want to go back a second. Dr. Gayl asked a question and you answered it a little while ago about who goes first in terms of wanting to repair that relationship. And my thoughts on that are, I believe the person who goes first is the person who identifies that there is an issue. If you think that there’s a problem, that’s the person to go first, because if you wait, thinking that the other person is waiting, you may be the only person who has identified that there’s something wrong.

The other party might very well think, “Hey, this is just how it is.” It could be a cultural thing where they don’t even believe they should get along with their other in-law party. So, if you believe that it’s–

Dr. Brann: Excellent point.

Frank: If you believe that it’s a problem, address it. It’s whoever smelt it first.

Dr. Brann: I think that’s an excellent point, Frank, because our tendency is–most women on both sides will say, “You know, well I don’t want to make too big of a deal of this. Maybe it’s my imagination or I don’t really want to say anything.” And so then it just builds and builds and it gets worse and worse and worse and that can happen. And then things really get bad.

Frank: What are the most common problems that daughter-in-laws deal with in terms of their mother-in-laws?

Dr. Brann: I’m going to say, and Dr. Gayl can probably confirm this: feeling like you’re not respected, feeling like the mother-in-law’s taking over and not respecting you as an adult woman.

Frank: Did you ever watch, Everybody Loves Raymond?

Dr. Brann: Yeah. Yes, and that’s a good example of a mother-in-law right there.

Frank: Yes it is. Alright, so let’s talk about mom and Debra, the daughter. I think Debra’s the daughter-in-law. That was a funny show, and in many ways, it was built upon mom.

Mom was heavily the star of the show, because of her quirkiness and what I would even consider, intrusiveness. But it was also a lot of fun to watch. Please talk to me about Everybody Loves Raymond.

Dr. Brann: It was a great show, because it really did show what it’s like in a family and it was so realistic. It was so true to life, because that is how it is. It’s not necessarily the knockdown drag-out fights, it’s those little things and those little ways of behaving that can just be so annoying for a daughter-in-law. And here mom’s thinking she’s just being helpful in her way. But she gets her little digs in too, so it was a perfect example of what it can be like in a family and lots of families actually experience it that way.

Dr. Gayl: And also I think men–

Frank: I disagree.

Dr. Gayl: You probably do, Frank. But as we stated earlier, either you ignore it or in your mind, it’s like, “This is how my mom’s always been.” So, you don’t even think about addressing it until you have that other party or that other person in your life, that’s like, “This isn’t how I was raised. This isn’t how, ‘normal’ people act,” or how you envision it to be.

Dr. Brann: Exactly.

Dr. Gayl: So, you have that imbalance of, “What do we do? How can I live with this person? I want to be with this man, but I can’t live with his crazy mother.”

Frank: You have anything to say there, Dr. Brann?

Dr. Brann: Well, she’s pretty accurate and about the men and how they can be in these relationships. And what has happened is then it creates marital issues.

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Dr. Brann: And not only do we have mother-in-law, daughter-in-law issues, but now you’ve got marriage problems on top of it. So, that adds another layer to the problem and oftentimes the mother-in-law is the catalyst, the one who kind of initiates it all, but the problems really can get to the point in the marriage, where a lot of marriages break up.

Frank: I disagree.

Dr. Brann: They want to blame it on the mother-in-law, but it’s not her so much.

Frank: Right. I disa–

Dr. Gayl: It’s the man.

Frank: Well, actually that’s the perfect intro to what I was about to say. Okay, I don’t agree that the man should sit on the sidelines around the relationship. I think in actuality the man is the one that has to set the tone, to tell his mom, “Mom, that’s not going to work. You can’t come over here doing that.” And to tell his wife, “Hey look, she’s going to be here. You wanted your mom here. She’s going to be here between 3:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. or between 3:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. Suck it up, deal with it. It’s a reasonable request.” I think that he has a serious role in this dynamic.

Dr. Gayl: I agree with you until you said, “You tell the wife to suck it up and deal with it.”

Frank: Oh, my goodness, so you’re okay with the part where he’s talking to mom, but you’re not okay with where he’s talking to the wife.

Dr. Gayl: Absolutely, because they are in a relationship together, so I think that the husband and wife need to come together to have their discussion about how they want the mom or how they want the relationships with the mom to be, “Well, what time is she going to come over and how long,” whatever you guys are going to talk about.
But at the same token, I will slightly agree with you. I think that the husband absolutely needs to set that tone for the mom and let the mom know, because coming from the daughter-in-law, I don’t think the mom will be able to receive it as well.

Frank: You’re not slightly agreeing with me, you’re disagreeing with me.

Dr. Brann: I actually agree and disagree too. Where I come from is, I agree that husband and wife need to be on the same page. They need to figure out what this is going to look like and that is something that they decide. And I think the husband can be the one to say something to his mother, but I think he needs to say it with his wife present.

Dr. Gayl: I like that.

Dr. Brann: And the reason for that is, one, because you want his mother to know that this is a unified front.

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Dr. Brann: Alright? That they’re doing this together. And you also want the husband to feel supported and you want the wife to feel like she is a part of things and that she has a responsibility in this too. Alright, they’re together there as a team. So, I don’t disagree, but I would add this other thing is that, the couple has to figure it out, but there are certain things that are just things between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law that has nothing to do with the son.

Dr. Gayl: Right. And the son could walk away–

Dr. Brann: And those are the things–

Dr. Gayl: The son could walk away being really easily persuaded by the mom too–

Frank: Oh, gracious.

Dr. Gayl: If the daughter-in-law or the wife isn’t there.

Frank: What a biased–

Dr. Brann: What will end up happening is–I won’t say always happens, but if the son is the only one that goes to his mother and says something, then what ends up happening is, then she blames the daughter-in-law anyway. But if they’re a unified front–and the son can get sucked up into that, let me say, because mom can make a little snide comment and he can role his eyes or whatever and then all of a sudden she’s interpreting that as, “He doesn’t really believe this, he’s just saying this because of her.”

Well, if the daughter-in-law is there too, then she’s going to see it differently and that’s what we want. We don’t want this adversarial relationship. We want mom to see, this is a unified front. They can do it in a loving way. They do it in a mean way. So, I think that part is important, but there are times when the issues are really just between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and really have nothing to do with the son.

Frank: Some daughters-in-laws–

Dr. Brann: And–

Frank: Go on. Go on.

Dr. Brann: I was going to finish with, so those are the times when it’s really important for the daughter-in-law to deal with the mom. There are times when they both need to do it and there are times when she needs to. Now, she can still have support with her husband in doing it, but there are times when she needs to do it, too.

Frank: Okay. Some daughters-in-laws don’t want to deal with their mother-in-laws at all. Why should they?

Dr. Brann: That’s true. As I said before, I think probably the main reason is, one, if the shoe was on the other foot, how would she feel if her husband refused to have anything to do with her family?

Frank: That’s powerful right there.

Dr. Brann: She needs to understand there are two families going on here. That’s probably number one. She needs to appreciate that this is also family. But the other thing too is that she is a role model for her children and she is setting the tone for how her children are going to treat family in the future. And behavior is much more powerful than words.

Frank: Isn’t it? Okay.

Dr. Brann: So, if they watch her treat mother-in-law or that side of the family badly, the same thing can happen when they’re adults and she could be on the receiving end. Or she could see that her kids are treating friends badly or something like that. It trickles down. I think they have to understand that they’re role models.

Dr. Gayl: If there’s no children involved, do you think that the relationship between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are just as important. Like, if there’s no grandchildren involved?

Dr. Brann: Yes, I do, because again, it’s still family. It’s part of the extended family and if you have a relationship with your side of the family, why wouldn’t you have one with his side of the family? It’s fair. Why should he have to give up his family and only spend time with your family? That just seems so unfair.

Dr. Gayl: Right. And it’s also unfair if you guys don’t come together as a family, if you don’t integrate the families. Like he just goes to do his family thing and you stay home and vice versa. You might as well not be together, right?

Dr. Brann: Exactly, exactly.

Dr. Gayl: Just date.

Dr. Brann: There are times when you may spend time with your family and vice versa, but for the holidays and most of the time, you should do it as a couple, because you are a couple.

Frank: You’re listening to Frank Relationships and we’re talking with Dr. Deanna Brann, the author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-in-law or Daughter-in-law. Again, please tell our listening audience how they can find you and your book.

Dr. Brann: Well they can find on inlawsos.com and reluctantly related.com. My book is there, my book is on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and all the bookstores

Frank: You say that the mother and daughter-in-law relationship can have a positive effect, if it’s positive, on other female relationships also. How does that work?

Dr. Brann: One of the things, if you’ve learned how to get along with your mother-in-law or your daughter-in-law and you understand who this person is and you understand what they’re about, you can take that same knowledge and use that in your other female relationships, because women have a tendency to relate pretty much the same.

We take things personally, we tend to store things, we do all kinds of things, so if you’ve learned some things from your in-law relationships, use that stuff in your other relationships, so that you can make those relationships better. If there’s a particular tool that worked really well with your mother-in-law and you have a friend who acts like your mother-in-law, then you can use that same tool with her and it’ll start to change that relationship.

Frank: So, coping skills are simply transferable between people?

Dr. Brann: Absolutely. Yep, absolutely.

Frank: Sons and fathers-in-laws. Let’s go back to that. We chatted about it the beginning of the show. Let’s round out with that.

Dr. Brann: Okay.

Frank: How do you see them relating–and you did mention this, but how do you see them relating and how do you see them with pairing bumps in the road, when x, y and z happens?

Dr. Brann: I think for men, again, I view the relationships really different, because their relationships are usually based on doing things and activities of some sort. They may have watch sports together or they may do sports together. They may have a hobby that they enjoy and so, that’s what really bonds males in relationships.

If they start to have a rift, they’re not typically going to be the ones sitting down and talking about it. I think the best thing for a man to do, which probably, I will say isn’t easy for men, but to apologize. Take the higher road and if you’ve messed up, apologize to this other person, because, the other man wants to feel respected and that just shows respect.

Frank: But that brings up such a powerful concept around right and wrong and whether you believe you messed up. One of the rifts that people go through all the time is just feeling that they were wronged and that if you feel you’re wrong, you’re not going to apologize, particularly if you feel you’re right. How do you deal when you won’t apologize, because you didn’t do anything wrong in your eyes?

Dr. Brann: Unfortunately, I think what happens, and this is for men and women both, I think what ends up happening is we all thing we’re right.

Frank: Yeah.

Dr. Brann: And if we could just get the other person to see our side, “They’ll see I’m right too.” And so, one of the biggest things we need to do is to really break that stalemate and the best way to do that is to really start asking, when you talk to this person–first off, you need to take an emotional step back and realize, “Look, what’s really more important here? Is being right the most important thing or is being in a relationship with this person more important?” So, you have to really look at what is more important.

Frank: That sounds like a transferable skill to all relationships right there.

Dr. Brann: Exactly, absolutely. And once you’ve done that, then you’re in a position to start to change things, because it doesn’t matter if you’re right and the best thing to do at that point is to ask questions to this other person. Say, “I really want to understand your side of things.”

Now when you ask that, you’re not saying, “I want to understand you, because I think, then I’ll know you’re right,” or whatever. You’re not getting into right or wrong, you want to stay away from right and wrong, because it’s not about that.

It’s about perception. Their perception of the situation verses your perception of the situation. That’s all you’re really talking about. Once you understand their perception the way they view it, that’s what matters. They’re going to feel heard and if someone feels heard, it changes everything.

You don’t have to go any further. Once they feel like you get it, they’re may assume that you’re saying they’re right, but you’re not. You’re just saying, “I understand it. I understand from your side what you’re saying.” You can understand their perception. That’s all that matters. It’s not about right and wrong. You’ve got to stay away from that, because that’s what gets you stuck, is the right and wrong.

Frank: That’s powerful. Along today’s journey we’ve discussed mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships, brother-in-law and brother-in-law relationships and the role of the husband in the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship.

I hope you’ve had as much fun as I’ve had talking with Dr. Deanna Brann about the female in-law relationship. At least that’s what we really, really focused on. I’m certainly grateful for the opportunity and the information.

As always it’s my wish for you to walk away from this conversation with a heaping helping of useful information that’ll help you create a relationship that’s as loving and accepting as possible. Let us know what you thought of today’s show at facebook/relationshipflove, on Twitter at @mrfranklove or at franklove.com. On behalf of my producer, Phileta Legette, keep rising. This is Frank Love.


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