Do you ever wonder where all of the mother-in-law jokes and all the mother-in-law stories come from? It's because people actually have these experiences. You know what, though? Most people don't want to be that person. That's going to be really important as we come back to how to handle it in just a little bit. First, let's review our 5 key relationships.
Now, this is Dr. Paul's opinion, okay? Over almost 3 decades of clinical experience working with people just like you I've come to this conclusion about relationships. There are 5 key relationships. In this order: Number 1, your Creator. I'm not here as your spiritual guide or as your ecclesiastical leader. I'm just acknowledging that it's really important for us as human beings to come to some sense of where we came from. Our source. Our Creator. Whatever that is for you, connect with that. That's your number 1 key relationship that gives purpose and meaning to the other 4.
Number 2 is yourself. Some people skip this one they forget that it's even a relationship. But it absolutely is. And honestly, if I treated you the way you treat you, would we still be friends? Pretty good question to be asking yourself. How do you treat the number one person in your life? After your Creator, it's you. You're next. It's important to keep that in context.
Number 3, family. You're glad that I went there, right? Because your family is so important to you. But there's a line up within family. Within the category of family, it goes first, spouse. That person that you're married to. That person that you have a permanent committed relationship with, number 1 family relationship bar none. Number 2 within family, children. As a parent, that's your next most important relationship. After your spouse is the relationship with your children. And third, extended family. Oh, that's where mother-in-law fits in. I'm not saying she's not important. She made the list. I'm just saying let's put it in order. Because she's not as important as your spouse or your children and your relationship with those people. Keep that in perspective.
After family, your fourth key relationship is other people, outside of your family. This includes people in your community, people in your church, people at school, people at work. Starving children in Africa, they all make the list. They are all important. They are just not as important to you as your family. Got it?
Number 5 is your relationship with things, stuff, property, money. All of the stuff in your life, you have a relationship with. When we look at it that way, we start to handle it differently. It's a word that I call stewardship. That's your relationship with things. Now, why did I spend the time going through the 5 key relationships. If we're going to figure out how to deal with an interfering mother-in-law, we need to know where she is on the hierarchy. Again, she made the list. She is in fact your extended family. And that makes her important. She's not as important as your spouse or your children and that's going to help to drive some of our decisions.
A few years ago, a movie came out that I got to watch with my daughter. And I love those daddy/daughter dates where Lyndi and I get to experience something together. This particular movie was Cinderella. Yes, it's a newer version of Cinderella, a live-action. It's well put-together, I really enjoyed the movie. There's one part in the movie right in the beginning where Cinderella's mother, not the wicked stepmother, that we all hate. Her mom who passed away told her this, “Have courage and be kind.” That was basically her dying wish for Cinderella that she would have courage and be kind. Can we implement both of those things? As we figure out how to deal with an interfering mother-in-law, I want you to have courage. That means you're going to have the conversations that you've been avoiding having. I'll give you a little formula for that in just a minute. But you're also going to be kind. You do not have to be mean about this. In fact, that would spoil the whole thing. So, be prepared to follow Cinderella's mother's advice. Have courage and be kind.
The next point is communication. We've got some other videos about that. Communication is the key. Remember, you are dealing with another human being who is also an adult, who also loves you. I know, you might have to swallow hard on that one and just wrap your head around it. They love a lot of people that you love. The fact that she's your mother-in-law suggests that she loves someone that you love and she probably loved them first. Well, I have some empathy around that. I talked about the influencer quadrant when coaching people on communication. Basically, the short version is making sure that your focus stays on how other people feel about themselves. When we focus on how we feel about ourselves, we tend to get anxious and insecure. When your focus is on that other person and how she feels about herself, that puts you in a position of influence and will allow you to have a different kind of a conversation. In that communication mode, there's a specific strategy that you can use that I think is going to forward this conversation. Let's go there next.
Identify, verify and accept. You're not even going to do this until you have wrapped your head around what I've already asked you to do –have courage and be kind. Put the focus on how someone else feels about themselves. You got to get out of your own way enough that you can actually effectively pull off this particular conversation. If someone is interfering… Let's say that in this case it's the mother-in-law, and maybe she's trying to tell you how to raise your kids. Okay. It happens, right? And maybe it's happening to you. So, if that's the scenario, you want to first identify. Put it in this format: When this happens, I feel this. So, it might sound like this, using her name or whatever title you have agreed to. “Carol, when I hear instructions from you about how to raise my kids, I feel devalued or untrusted.” Whatever it is that you are feeling, that's what you put into the phrase. When this happens, I feel this. Do not accuse. “Hey, you are…” “You keep bossing me around.” Whatever. No, don't go there because that will just trigger defensiveness. It's “When this happens… When I hear instructions about how to raise my kids, I feel devalued or untrusted.” That's the identify step.
Now, we're going to move immediately into the second step which is verify. You're going to give her a chance to own it or not. And it sounds like this: “Is that what you were going for?” I know this is a different way of communicating. Just roll with it for a minute, okay? Is that what you were going for? Was that your agenda? Was that your objective? Is that what you wanted to accomplish? Pick something that fits the way you might talk but put it in that format. To verify is what you are going for. Now, you pause briefly. So, you do steps 1 and 2 right on each other's heels. “When this happens I feel this. Is that what you were going for?” Now, you pause. 95% of the time Carol's going to backtrack right about now. Okay? “Oh, no sweetie. No, not at all. That's not what I intended to do.” Okay. And she's going to talk for a few minutes. Fine. Whatever she says is totally fine. She might turn it back on you. “Oh, you're so sensitive. See, this is why I told my son he should be careful about marrying you in the first place.” I don't know where Carol's going with this. It doesn't matter. You're just going to listen to whatever her response is. Maybe she's actually going to own it. “Yeah. Yeah, that's what I was going for.” Oh, who has that mother-in-law? Whatever she says, doesn't matter because you're going to step 3, accept.
Remember, identify, verify, accept. Accept sounds just like this: “Okay.” That's it. “Okay.” You simply say okay no matter what she said. This is really powerful because it puts her on notice that the way she's treating you is having an impact that she may not have intended. And honestly, I don't think that she wants to make things worse in the family. I know a lot of mother-in-laws. Some of you are mother-in-laws. You know that this is true. You want things to be good. This kind of a conversation can illuminate what the problems are in that relationship.
If it gets worse than that, I've got a video on my YouTube channel, Live On Purpose TV called how to deal with toxic family members that I will link to below. Sometimes, the videos aren't enough. That's why we've put together some other resources for you. If you need some one on one coaching, one of our coaching team would be happy to speak with you on a free breakthrough call to tell you about the services we offer. Go to www.drpauljenkins.com/breakthroughcall.