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Unhappy Daughter-In-Law

CD Knowles 10 months ago

Dear Knowles,

I’d like some advice on a very tricky situation. Here’s what it is. My mother-in-law, Barbara, is extremely difficult. Nothing is ever good enough for her. If I cook a dinner in her honor, for sure she’ll complain that the plates should have been warmed up in advance or the cake was too heavy. If she visits me at our house, there are always comments about my sloppiness and poor housekeeping. I am used to her behavior and can take it with a grain of salt. What I have trouble with is the way she treats her daughter, my sister-in-law, Louise. To put it bluntly, Barbara can’t stand her. There isn’t a single thing Louise can do right. Barbara has made it clear she prefers me to her daughter and believe me, she doesn’t know how to hide her feelings. This is difficult for many reasons, foremost that I love my sister-in-law and don’t want to see her hurt. Can you tell me what to do, please? Barbara is a strong personality with many friends. The only person she’s really mean to is my sister-in-law, and Barbara’s ugliness toward her is cringe-worthy. I have known my sister-in-law for over ten years and can say without the shadow of a doubt that she’s a sweet and kind-hearted woman who doesn’t deserve nasty slights and put downs from her mother. According to my husband, the two have never gotten along. Both women are successful, one as a realtor and the other, my sister-in-law, as an interior designer. I look forward to hearing from you.


Unhappy Daughter-in-law


Dear Unhappy Daughter-in-law,

Ah yes, the bad mother-in-law story, always a tricky problem. I’m going to fly by the seat of my pants a little on this one, as you’ve given me a picture of the dynamics of the situation, but not a true picture of the personalities involved. Sounds like your mother-in-law, Barbara, is a lint-picking bitch, but what is it about your sister-in-law, Louise, that constantly draws her mother’s ire? What is it about you that makes Barbara prefer you? What is your husband’s role in this messy sounding family system? And what about your father-in-law, if he’s still around — what’s his role in all this? I could do a lot of guesswork, but without really knowing the personalities involved my best bet is to give you a few suggestions. The first is to talk directly to your mother-in-law. Tell her how uncomfortable you are with her behavior. Give her examples of what you mean (as gently as possible), and ask what you, as a family member, can do to help her in her relationship with Louise. I suggest you do this alone, and then perhaps have another meeting with her together with your husband. Think of this almost as an intervention. In fact, it would be wise for the family to consult a therapist before any talks with Barbara. Don’t expect drastic changes.This may be way out of your ken, but I always feel Al-Anon meetings give the ultimate perspective on relationships and family problems. I suggest you go there a few times as you begin to deal with your difficult mother-in-law. In the end, the most you might hope for is clarity, but hey — that’s better than nothing.

I wish you luck.

CD Knowles



Dear Target,

My mother used to always say, “if there’s a doubt, there’s no doubt,” meaning if there’s a question mark about your husband, it’s probably true, so open your eyes and get out of there. Got to be realistic and not lie to yourself. That’s my advice. 

Josephina L., Houston


Dear Target,

You need to get to the bottom of the story to see what happened or you’ll never have peace. Maybe your husband did act inappropriately. Or maybe someone at his place of employment was jealous of him and decided to take him down with a false accusation. Hire an investigator. If your husband’s guilty, do you really want to stand beside him? There are always answers if only you seek them. Good luck.

Jenny C., Mountain Lakes, NJ


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Disclaimer: CD Knowles is not a doctor or psychotherapist. Any opinions expressed on Knowles Knows are just that — opinions.