When a child gets married, it’s usually a cause for celebration, but sometimes parents are not thrilled with their child’s choice of a wife. This is particularly true if they can see she is toxic and maybe even has a personality disorder like narcissism. It’s a delicate situation because if you alienate her, you risk alienating your own child and possibly your grandchildren as well. You might know that your child’s wife is not the best choice, but what can you do about it?
The first thing you have to realize is that you don’t get rid of a toxic daughter-in-law, your child does. But, there are things you can do to deal with her toxicity. You don’t have to accept her abusive behavior, and while you can’t control how she treats your child, you can set boundaries.
While you want to protect your child from a toxic spouse, the truth is that they have to make their own decisions, and they have to learn from their own mistakes. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything, but it’s not up to you to get rid of a toxic daughter-in-law. It’s critical, though, to know how to deal with her so that you don’t alienate your own child. Let’s take a look at some coping strategies you can use to minimize the toxicity.
Stay Calm When Dealing with a Toxic Daughter-in-Law
When you have a toxic person of any kind, such as a narcissist, in your life, the number one rule is to stay calm at all times. Most toxic people are looking to get an emotional reaction out of you.
It makes them feel powerful and gives them the illusion of control. If you can avoid giving them that emotional reaction, you’ll be able to maintain the upper hand. They won’t know how to get at you.
While your toxic daughter-in-law might say or do things that trigger you almost constantly, if you react emotionally, she’ll know what bothers you. She’ll use it, again and again, to get your goat and control you. Don’t give her that satisfaction.
If you find yourself annoyed, shocked, angered, or surprised by something she has said or done, notice you’re triggered. Before you respond in any way, try walking out of the room, even if you just excuse yourself to use the restroom.
Once you’re alone, take ten deep breaths that expand both your stomach and your chest. This will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts your fight or flight system. When you activate that, it floods your body with calming neurochemicals to help you relax.
Once you’ve relaxed, you can better assess the situation and formulate a response rather than a reaction. But what can you do if you can’t excuse yourself from the situation?
If you must respond immediately, count to ten while breathing deeply, and then take your time in responding. You don’t want to make a rash decision. If you’re being pressured into responding, you can always say something like, “Well, I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.” That buys you time to calm down so you can make the best decision for your situation.
Give Her Space
If your daughter-in-law is behaving in a toxic manner, it doesn’t necessarily mean she has a personality disorder like narcissism. It might simply mean she is uncomfortable making the adjustment to being part of your family.
You might approach her to welcome her into the family in a calm and loving way, but if she still behaves in a toxic manner, giving her space is the best option. Perhaps, she just needs a little time to make that adjustment.
If she truly is toxic, giving her space will, at least, spare you from having to endure the worst of her negative behavior. This is one of the best things you can do if she is a narcissist. They love to have everyone’s attention, and if you are denying her that, she will be disturbed by it.
By giving her space, you also give yourself some distance so that you can make better decisions about how to respond. You don’t have to feel obligated to be close to her in order to be close to your child. You also don’t have to be rude or aggressive about it either.
Simply give yourself space from her when you’re around one another. Focus on your child or other people, such as your grandchildren. When you do interact with her, be polite, but don’t give her any information she might use to trigger you.
Creating distance will give her any time she needs to adjust, and it will help you stay calm and centered when you must deal with her. It might also help you to know how and why she might have chosen your child as a spouse. The more you understand her, the more you can develop a healthy coping strategy.
Be Polite but Firm When Setting Limits
Just because she is your daughter-in-law does not mean you give up your right to set personal boundaries. If she is behaving in a selfish, aggressive, and toxic manner, you have a right to walk away and refuse to interact with her until she can treat you in a respectful manner.
If she questions you about it, you can always tell her politely but firmly that you won’t accept being treated in a disrespectful manner. You can state clearly what your boundaries are at this point.
For example, you might say something like, “I find it disrespectful when you talk to me in a condescending manner. I understand that you are an intelligent and capable woman, but I am also intelligent and capable. When you talk to me like that, I’m going to end our conversation.”
You don’t have to say this in an angry or aggressive way. You can just say it in a matter-of-fact manner without betraying any emotional undertones. While that might not be your style, remember that any emotion you show signals to her your true feelings.
By refusing to let her know she has gotten under your skin, you can stay in control of the situation. She will understand that you are not someone who can be pushed around. You will have also made your boundary clear to her, as well as the consequences for violating that boundary.
If she consistently violates your boundaries and uses multiple toxic tactics, you can even write out a list and give it to her. You can even frame it as a way to ensure your relationship stays mutually respectful.
Your House, Your Rules, but Her House, Her Rules
As part of respecting your child’s wishes and your own boundaries, you have a right to expect that when they are in your home, they will adhere to your rules. You also have to expect that when you’re in their home, you should adhere to their rules.
You might not like her rules, but you should respect them to avoid causing problems for your child. By following her rules in her house, you also give yourself the right to insist that she do the same when in your home.
Of course, you can’t expect her to be a completely different person when she’s in your house, but you can expect that she will refrain from yelling at you, or perhaps, you don’t allow profanity in your home. You can expect her to adhere to those kinds of rules.
If she is not able to do so, you can end the gathering or ask her to leave, privately, of course. That undoubtedly won’t go over well, but it will set a clear boundary. If you must do that, explain that you are willing to follow her rules when in her house, but you expect her to do the same when in yours.
It’s also a good idea to let your child know that you are not banning her from your house forever, but you will ask her to leave if she is violating the house rules. Again, make it clear that you are not asking any more of her than what you are willing to give her in her own home.
Express Your Opinion Openly and Calmly
Just like you can’t expect your toxic daughter-in-law to completely change her personality, you shouldn’t have to change yours, either. You have a right to your opinion, and as long as you are respectful about how you express it, you should be able to state it in a calm manner.
If you feel as though you can’t do that without becoming emotional, then it might be best to avoid that topic. This can be a tricky thing to do, but if you can simply and calmly state what you believe, you’ll deny your narcissistic daughter-in-law any ammunition she can use to trigger you.
When you become emotional, on the other hand, she will know what she can use to manipulate and control you. Staying calm denies her that ammunition. This is true even for situations where your child asks your opinion about her.
It might be tempting in that situation to tell your child how toxic you think she is in a very emotional way, but it’s better to stay calm and open about your opinion without becoming emotionally invested in any particular outcome. If your child suspects that you want to get rid of her, that could make them defensive and drive the two even closer together.
It’s okay to say something like, “Well, I don’t like the way she talks to you, but I understand that you have to be the one to set that boundary. What do you think about it?” By coming back time and again to the idea that you are not trying to interfere in your child’s life, they will feel comfortable asking your advice.
Work with Your Child to Find Solutions
If you find you are just having too much trouble being around your toxic daughter-in-law, it might be worthwhile to sit down with your child and try to find solutions to the discord. You can express your concerns calmly and ask them if they have any insight into how the two of you can resolve the problems.
This expresses your willingness to find a solution while simultaneously letting your child know that you don’t like the way she behaves. There might not be any real solutions, but perhaps the two of you could agree on more limited contact between you and her without affecting your relationship with your child.
If you do this, you want to make clear that you respect your child’s right to make their own choices and that you love them unconditionally. Let them know that you accept any decision they make about who they live with and are married to and that it’s important to you to try to find a way to have a better relationship with the person they have chosen as a spouse.
You always want to make sure you don’t drive your child away when you’re trying to minimize contact with your toxic daughter-in-law. At the same time, it’s also important to honor your own right to be treated with respect.
By involving your child in finding solutions, you let them know how much you love and respect them. They may even have some helpful insight that could change the situation dramatically.
Don’t Sink to Her Level
Whatever you do, do not sink to her level. Don’t try to use her own tactics against her. That never works, and if you try it, you risk alienating your own child. They will see you playing games, and they may not be able to see her doing the same thing.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that she has your child’s ear and won’t hesitate to constantly talk badly about you. That kind of constant toxic talk can wear on your child.
You also don’t want to sink to her level because you’re not a toxic person. Don’t become something you don’t respect just to get back at her. Instead, stay calm, and respond without emotion. It’s a version of the ‘grey rock’ technique where you make yourself so boring (like a grey rock) that she is no longer interested in you.
Finally, sinking to her level won’t solve the problem; it will just exacerbate it. The situation will become ever more contentious and uncomfortable. You have to ask yourself if it’s worth it, particularly when you consider that she might keep your child and your grandchildren from you.
Don’t Change to Please Her
Just like you can’t expect her to change, you should not change your basic personality to try and please her. Just be yourself around her, and stay calm, polite, and in control of your emotions.
Doing so will cause her to be more annoyed than if you become more like her. If you change yourself to please her, you’re basically enabling her bad behavior. That’s the last thing you want to do with a toxic person.
If you enable a narcissist’s behavior, she will become even more abrasive and abusive. She will see your concession as a weakness, and she will not hesitate to exploit the situation.
She will learn that she can be nasty to you, and your response will be to change in the futile attempt to please her. It’s just not a viable strategy for someone who has a toxic personality disorder like narcissism.
Stay true to yourself, be polite but firm, assert your boundaries, and be open about your opinions. Don’t change a single aspect of your personality to try to please her. Changing yourself will not cause her to change her behavior.
You might not be able to avoid her if you want to be around your child, but that doesn’t mean you should change. You can employ the strategies we’re discussing to express yourself and retain your own identity while interacting with such a toxic person.
If you try to change, it puts you at risk of becoming codependent. Codependents ignore their own needs to try to please other people. It usually doesn’t work out very well for them, so it’s not a model you want to use.
Stay Above the Fray
Don’t get involved in your child’s relationship with your toxic daughter-in-law, even though, as the video below shows, there are toxic effects to living with a narcissistic wife. Though they may ask your advice, and you may want to tell your child to get rid of her, it’s better to try and stay above the fray.
It’s okay to tell your child your opinion about the situation but do so in a way that neither minimizes your own child’s responsibility nor maximizes hers. For example, you might say something like, “Well, I can understand that she might be frustrated with how you behaved, but I don’t like the way she talks to you. I think you both need to show respect for one another if your relationship is going to survive.”
You can see in that example that you’re not condemning her as being completely wrong, nor are you advising your child to leave her. You’re simply sharing your own wisdom about what you believe makes a relationship strong.
If you do that, no matter what decision your child makes, they will not blame you for pushing them one way or the other. That’s important for the relationship between the two of you going forward. It’s also important for helping your child feel as though they can trust you to be objective and honest even when you don’t like someone.
Question, Don’t Confront
When you feel like you have to say something to your toxic daughter-in-law, you want to do it in a non-confrontational manner. You might approach her by asking her about the behavior.
For example, you might say something like, “I notice that you sometimes feel like you need to be aggressive when you talk to me. I was wondering if I am making you feel intimidated?” You can even add that’s not your intent, and you want her to feel comfortable around you.
You can try to use inclusive statements like “You’re part of our family now, and I want you to feel welcomed.” While this may not cause her to stop her toxic behavior, it will call attention to the fact that you notice it and are willing to call her out on it.
That may, at least, make her more reticent to be openly aggressive. Most toxic people, like narcissists, are concerned about their image. They don’t want to be seen as the aggressor. Instead, they want to be seen as your innocent victim.
When you call attention to their toxic behavior, that highlights the wrong kind of image, and it will make them more careful about how they approach you. It doesn’t solve anything, but it can make the situation more manageable.
Don’t Argue, Explain, or Justify Your Actions
When dealing with a toxic narcissist, you should never argue, explain, or justify. Arguing with them is a useless tactic because they simply argue in circles. They also lie and gaslight their victims. They are likely to accuse you of being too sensitive or say that they were just joking.
If you try to explain yourself or justify your actions, they will see that as a weakness. They will know they have gotten to you because you feel you need to defend yourself. If they accuse you of something and put a toxic twist on it, as they often do, simply state that you thought it was the right thing to do and leave it at that.
Don’t continue to talk about why or what made you feel that way. Instead, just end the conversation. You can distract them with another topic or simply walk away. If they persist, simply say something like, “I did what I thought was right. I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but I really don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
That sets a firm boundary and lets them know you won’t back down. If nothing else, it will make them more cautious when calling you out in the future.
Don’t Put Your Child in the Middle
The last thing you want to do is put your child in the middle of any dispute you have with your toxic daughter-in-law. You should never give them an ultimatum or make them choose between you and her.
Your child needs to know that no matter what else, you are on their side, and you respect them. If you have a dispute with your daughter-in-law, keep it between you and her. If she tries to put your child in the middle, simply refuse to talk about the situation anymore.
Tell her that this is between you and her, and you don’t want to involve your child. If she feels the need to do so, that only shows that she is not confident in her position in the argument. That will hit her egoic sense of superiority and likely make her back down.
If your child asks about the argument, simply say something like, “I know you love her very much, and I don’t want to put you in the middle. This is between her and me, and I don’t expect you to have to take a side. I’m not upset with you. I love you as always.”
Putting your child in the middle will only make them feel as though they have to make a choice, and it’s a very difficult situation to be in. In time, they will likely see her toxic behavior, but you don’t want to be the reason for that.
Be a Willing and Compassionate Listener
The last coping strategy you need to use is that of being a willing and compassionate listener. This means listening to your child if they come to you to talk about her toxic behavior. You shouldn’t advise them to leave her, but it’s fine to listen and support them as they struggle with their relationship. If they do decide to leave her, the following video about how to leave a narcissistic spouse can help.
You should also be a willing and compassionate listener to your daughter-in-law. You might not like her, but you’ll learn a great deal about what has caused her behavior if you listen closely. Listening to her in a compassionate manner will also help to ease the tension, which will be helpful to your child, too.
Listening in a compassionate manner to your child will also help you understand what attracted them to a toxic spouse. It will be something that you’ll want to understand. It will also help you to be more open to their decision. Ultimately, it will help the two of you become closer.
Having a toxic daughter-in-law puts you in a delicate situation because you don’t want to alienate your child. While you can’t get rid of her yourself – your child has to make that decision – you can set firm boundaries and refuse to be abused. You can do that in a way that is firm but polite, and in doing so, you set a great example for your child. You teach them that they have a right to be treated with respect and that they should stand up for their values. One of the keys to keeping your toxic daughter-in-law from getting under your skin is staying in control of your emotions.
A toxic narcissist will try to use their victim’s emotions against them. They will trigger them as much as you allow them to do so, and that gives them control over you. You can stop that kind of emotional abuse, however, with my 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers. This handy, free guide to recognizing, defusing, and healing your emotional triggers can stop narcissistic abuse in its tracks. Just click here and I’ll send it directly to your inbox.
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