How to Cope With a Narcissistic Daughter-in-Law?

How to deal with Your narcissistic daughter in law

Often, mothers-in-law are portrayed in a bad light, with suggestions that they are possessive and reluctant to let go of their sons or daughters. But what happens when it’s actually the other way round and you’re faced with a narcissistic daughter-in-law who seems to want to separate you from your children?

If you suspect that your daughter-in-law is a narcissist, it’s tough being on the outside looking in and not being able to help your son or daughter out. 

As suggested in previous blog posts, usually the best way to deal with a narcissist is to completely cut them out of your life by ignoring them with the ‘grey rock’ method. However, in this situation, that’s not really possible if you want to maintain a relationship with your son/daughter and possibly your grandchildren. 

Unfortunately, if your son/daughter cannot see that their wife is a narcissist, attempting to reveal her and cut her out may end badly for you. If you upset her, she may use manipulative strategies to distance you from your son/daughter and you may lose touch with them altogether, and your grandchildren if you have them. 

There is no way to ‘deal’ with a narcissistic daughter-in-law in most cases, as realistically it’s not possible to remove her from the picture. Instead, you have to find ways to  ‘cope’ with her and try to stay on her good side. In this article I will discuss why coping is your best option and include 13 strategies on how to cope with your Narcissistic Daughter in Law.

Why Coping is Really the Only Option

Narcissists are excellent at manipulating people (especially your child) and anything you say will be taken as criticism and held against you, as will any action you try to take to help your children. 

Narcissists are also excellent at triangulation, so try to avoid situations where you are alone with your narcissistic daughter-in-law. Triangulation is when a narcissist uses two people against each other to remain in control. There will be limited or no communication between the two triangulated individuals, except through the manipulator (the narcissist). It’s a tactic used to drive a wedge between two people and play them off against each other. You don’t want to let this happen with you and your son or daughter. 

It’s a highly effective strategy to gain an advantage over perceived rivals by manipulating them into conflicts with one another. Your son/daughter is already being manipulated by your daughter-in-law and will always believe her when she claims you said or did something to try and split them up. Narcissists are experts at manipulation and you will most likely lose if you try to go head to head with them, so it’s often not worth trying. 

It’s hard when you want to protect your children and your grandchildren and speak up, help out and make them see what your daughter-in-law is really like, but unfortunately doing so can alienate you further from your family and you do not want to risk losing contact with them. 

You need to focus on the long-term goals, which are:

  • Keeping the peace
  • Staying in touch with your child
  • Staying in touch with your grandchildren 

13 Coping Strategies for

Dealing With a Narcissistic Daughter-in-Law

Remember, you are doing what is necessary to stay in your children’s lives, not to please the narcissist. Here are some strategies you can use: 

1.Take a step back

as hard as it is when you can see how toxic the situation is, it’s important not to get involved in your daughter-in-law’s relationship as this would most likely lead to driving a bigger wedge between you and your child, and your child leaning more on the narcissist for support. 

2. Do not take sides

If your son/daughter or even your grandchildren come to you, complaining about your narcissistic daughter-in-law, listen, and only listen. Avoid taking sides as if you take your child’s side and they tell the narcissist what you said. This may cause the narcissist to go all-out to get rid of you, as they will see you as a threat (1).

As long as the narcissist does not see you as a threat, they will not try to remove you. Furthermore, if they see you as someone who can be useful in getting what they want, they will want to have you around more. 

3. Do not try to give the narcissist advice

Even if they ask for advice, do not give it to them! This never ends well as whatever you say, they will take it as criticism (2). Try to answer with general answers that can’t be taken critically.

For example, if they ask for advice about how to parent your grandchildren, a good answer could be, ‘you know your children best’. 

4. Don’t stop by unannounced

Narcissists are control freaks and will not appreciate you messing up their meticulous schedule by coming round without pre-planning it in advance. They will want to have their best face on when you do come round and will see you dropping by unannounced as trying to catch them out. 

5. Don’t try too hard to be friendly with them

If you overcompensate they will catch on to this and become suspicious of you. Keep your distance without being rude. 

6. Try to make everything seem like their idea

For example, if you want to see your grandchildren, try to make it seem like your daughter-in-law’s idea. You want her to believe she is in control, which is hard to do when you don’t want her to be, but you have to stay focused on your long-term goal of being a part of your son or daughter’s life.  

7. Respect your child’s choice

You have to understand that your son/daughter loves their partner, even though you can’t understand what they see in her. Even if you shared your true feelings about your daughter-in-law, they would probably not agree so it’s best to stay silent and respect their choice. 

8. Stay cordial at all times

Try your best to always be polite with the narcissist and avoid confrontation. No matter how manipulative she is, be cool, calm, poised and polite at all times.

9. Follow her rules

Whether you agree or disagree with her, show her you heard her and do as she wishes. Nothing will annoy her more than you disregarding her rules (3). And you do not want to annoy her. 

10. Set your boundaries

Don’t support the union any more than is absolutely necessary to maintain a relationship with your son/daughter. Set clear boundaries from the beginning.

Refuse to join in if she makes nasty remarks about other members of the family don’t allow her to get too close by stopping by unannounced and if you need to. Tell small white lies to get out of spending time alone with her – being careful not to upset her and keep it positive.  

11. Be appreciative when she does do something nice for you

This may not happen often, but when it does, make sure you show your appreciation. Definitely don’t suck up to her but if she does do something you approve of, tell her.

Whether it’s making your son/daughter their favorite meal or dressing the kids nicely, make her feel valued as narcissists crave this. 

12. Accept the reality of the situation

If your son/daughter has children with your daughter-in-law, no matter what you think of her, the children will need their mother (4). Trying to drive a wedge between her and her children or her and your son/daughter is not what’s best for anyone.

You need to accept that she will be in your life and choose to have whatever relationship is possible with her, for the sake of keeping contact with your son and grandchildren. 

13. Go with the flow

Learn to be laid back and accepting when it comes to your daughter-in-law. As long as you’re not saying yes to everything she asks of you and allowing her to run over you with unreasonable expectations for babysitting etc., just go with the flow.

Shrug off any nasty remarks and never say anything critical back – to anyone. Just get along and try to be a stable compassionate influence where you can. 

coping strategies to deal with narcissistic daughter in law

Ultimately, all of these coping strategies are about keeping the relationship with your narcissistic daughter-in-law cordial and amicable. Remember, she will have a firm grasp on your son/daughter so you are not likely to be rid of her unless this relationship breaks down.

She may even be the mother of your grandchildren in which case the best you can do is to understand that she has the ultimate say over what happens with her children. Courts do not tend to side with grandparents unless the mother and/or father are declared unfit or have been arrested. Just try as best you can to keep your relationship workable. The key is to understand who you’re dealing with. 

Some things to Consider Concerning

Your Narcissistic daughter-in-law

1. You are not the only target of her behaviour

Though it may feel like she hates you and is out to get you, the chances are she behaves this way with your son/daughter, her kids, her friends – in any situation where she feels powerless. But, in her mind, as the mother of her partner, you have power that she wants. Still, that doesn’t make this personal – remember it’s her way of coping with you. 

2. Her perception of your power is flawed

In this ‘power struggle’ she sees you as the ‘top dog’. After all, you knew her partner first so she sees you as a threat over her own power with your son/daughter. This perception is flawed, as you know, she is actually the one who has all the power when it comes to your son/daughter and your grandkids. 

3. Narcissists are very good at acting the victim

She will be extremely good at making your son/daughter believe she is the victim (5) if you ever actively try to expose her true colours, so this is not always the best action to take.

The more drama there is, the easier it will be for her to play the victim. Narcissists are manipulative so sometimes you have to be manipulative as well. No high emotions means no fuel for the narcissist to escalate the situation. 

4. Her behaviour will be predictable

Once you recognize that she’s a narcissist, it will be easy to predict how she will act. You will start to see patterns in her behavior and as you learn more about her it will be easier to know how to cope with her and stay on her good side.

Some examples may be:

She often ‘forgets’ things, like the plans she has agreed with you, to thank you for the nice birthday gift, to tell you about your grandchild’s latest achievement.

She will be able to give you good reasons for ‘forgetting’ but if this becomes a common theme, know that she is doing this on purpose to slight you. 

5. She shows up late or cancels/changes plans last minute.

For example, she might leave it to the last minute to tell you about a school play so that you won’t be able to make it. When this happens, act confused.

Ask if you got it wrong and express how terrible you feel about missing things. Don’t be accusative, just confused, and innocent. 

6. She will often disappear when you are around.

She may have to ‘work’ in another room or suddenly have to run errands to avoid spending time around you. This is probably because you intimate her and narcissists despise feeling vulnerable (6). 

Why your narcissistic daughter-in-law

will behave in Certain ways 

Narcissists never felt safe enough in childhood to stand up for themselves, so they learned to cope with feelings of powerlessness by saying what someone wants to hear and then doing everything to sabotage it (7). Unless narcissists learn a more constructive way to assert themself, this is the only behaviour they know. 

They act this way because they’re insecure, have low self-esteem and want to feel powerful and important (8). She wants you to know the importance of her place in the family. 

Although it may not seem like it, she acts this way because she is threatened by you and cares about your opinion. Maybe she thinks you will criticize her or that you don’t trust her methods as a parent.

She might actually feel overwhelmed and stressed out, but this the last thing she will show you. Try to remember that narcissists are actually extremely vulnerable and sensitive people when dealing with her. 

Wrapping it all Together

When dealing with a narcissistic daughter-in-law, you have to accept that they are going to be in your life if you want to maintain contact with your son/daughter and your grandchildren. As hard as it may be at times, your only real option is to use coping methods to stay on her good side and keep the peace. 

Of course, if you have reason to seriously fear for your family’s safety, call the authorities. But only do this in extreme cases. If you try to ‘out’ your daughter-in-law to your family, she will most likely retaliate with manipulative techniques to freeze you out of the family and stop you seeing them altogether. 

If you want to continue having a relationship with your son/daughter and grandchildren, your best weapon is to understand your narcissistic daughter-in-law and learn to cope with her effectively. 

References Used for this Article

  1. Cavaiola, A. A., & Lavender, N. J. (2000). Toxic coworkers: How to deal with dysfunctional people on the job. New Harbinger Publications Incorporated.
  2. Brown, N. W. (1996). The destructive narcissistic pattern. Social Behavior & Personality: an international journal24(3).
  3. Wesner, B. S. (2007). Responding to the workplace Narcissist (Doctoral dissertation).
  4. Kochanska, G. (1997). Mutually responsive orientation between mothers and their young children: Implications for early socialization. Child development68(1), 94-112.
  5. Lubit, R. (2004). The tyranny of toxic managers: Applying emotional intelligence to deal with difficult personalities. Ivey Business Journal68(4), 1-7.
  6. Orth, U., Robins, R. W., Meier, L. L., & Conger, R. D. (2016). Refining the vulnerability model of low self-esteem and depression: Disentangling the effects of genuine self-esteem and narcissism. Journal of personality and social psychology110(1), 133.
  7. Bushman, B. J., & Thomaes, S. (2011). When the narcissistic ego deflates, narcissistic aggression inflates. The handbook of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder: Theoretical approaches, empirical findings, and treatments, 319-329.
  8. Hart, W., Adams, J., Burton, K. A., & Tortoriello, G. K. (2017). Narcissism and self-presentation: Profiling grandiose and vulnerable Narcissists’ self-presentation tactic use. Personality and Individual Differences104, 48-57.
  • So… I am to devalue myself ? I am to change who I am, and kiss the narcissist’s butt at her every mood change?
    Do you know what I did wrong, I said the word “no” with a detailed explanation. If there is not immediate compliance to their demands then we are history. I refuse to tolerate disrespect to have a place in anyone’s world. I have to be able live with myself.

    • Hi Sydney, these tips are written to find a way to cope with a Narc daughter in law. Often when you fight the daughter in law and the son chooses the side of his wife, the parents are left in pain. You are not sucking up with the Narcissist but finding ways to keep the peace. Keep her at distance but remain close contact with a son or daughter.

      You can instead decide to fight it, but some battles can never be won and end in tears.

      • Hello Alexander, Keeping distance and being non- confrontational is ok. What do you suggest when the Narc DIL manipulates to get material goods or financial benefits?

        • Hi Brenda, that is a tough question. Is she manipulating you or your son? If she is manipulating you I would suggest strong boundaries but not trying to pick a fight. If she is manipulating your son it’s more complicated. You could try to start a conversation with your son about it without trying to be too judgmental about it But be careful that convincing him to pick a side and see how “evil” your DIL is might push you away from him and choose the side of his wife/your DIL. But if he is okay with her behavior it will be hard to convince him otherwise.

          Nonetheless, it is important to create your own boundaries with her AND him. Don’t let them force you to do things you don’t want to do (like paying stuff for them). Good luck with this situation.

    • I completely agree with you. I have been struggling for two years trying to keep the peace and the hurt and pain I have endured has cost me way too much. While the hurt of not being able to be a part of my Sons and Grandsons life is huge the disrespect, lies being told about me, manipulations and ugly things said to me hurt even worse and has caused me to harden my heart and that is something I cannot afford to do. Peace is a very valuable commodity and enduring pain to try and have a relationship with someone that doesn’t really want it is not worth my peace. I love my son but I feel just as hurt by him as her because he allows her to do these things to me. My heart cannot take anymore. The best thing for me is to let them live their life and pray for them but protect my own heart. The hurt is just more than I can bear when trying to appease a relationship with them. It’s impossible

  • Dear Alexander,
    I mentioned earlier that this article is so very helpful for me because you provide tools. I have been at a loss with how to remain a part of my son and his family’s life, when his wife displays narcissistic behavior–a lot.
    A bad pattern has developed and I could use your help on how best to handle. According to my daughter-in-law, I do something very hurtful or wrong or bothersome to her — often. She goes on and on about it to my son. He then has to defend her, so he can live in some sort of peace with her. I am then told that this will take some time to get over, if we can ever get back to normal. I am told that, “I need to be good and we will see.”
    This is where I get stuck. Do I go overboard to try and be nice so that I can have a relationship with my son and young grandsons? Do I step back and wait for them to make the first move? Right now they are not talking to me. They live 30 minutes away and I have not been allowed to see my grandsons for over a month. Would it work to send her a card to apologize? I truly did nothing wrong and have nothing to be sorry about. But, if it will help, I will apologize again. I did in person, but it is never enough. In other words, she constantly looks for me to do something wrong, capitalizes on it, and then am excluded from talking to my son or grandsons. With this constant shaming from my son, I believe he has lost respect for me. For five years she has degraded me and now, it seems that my son now sees me no longer as he used to. I am a strong, independent woman who raised 2 sons on my own, while working and going to college. My strength threatens her. You know the rest. It hurts so much having my son’s love turn into wrath.

    • Robin, you are wearing my shoes. My son has need so brainwashed by his wife that I hardly recognize him. She manipulates him and convinces him to bully me and lie to me. Sometimes even rage at me. Then my son will cut me out of their lives…2x …this last time was 1.5 years. I grieved so much I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to live. But not suicidal…just hopeless. I was going thru a nightmare divorce with my husband of 30 years, who had been cheating on me the whole time. He’s a covert narcissist, which I had never heard of. Anyway, now the granddaughters miss me so they want back into my life.

      Like you, I am torn about doing this destructive dance again. She sees me as an object to use and abuse. I am a very sensitive person, son she knows how to hurt and punish me. It does no good to talk to my son. Deep down, he sees it, but he is like a 6’3″ puppet. Such a waste of life.

      Like the author here says, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. There are no good options. I, too, live 20 min from them, and am close to my granddaughters.

      Maybe in a way, I finally have a say in how this goes. Maybe. I’ve worked with an excellent counselor who is an expert on bullying and narcissistic abuse. In know it’s time to let go of any unrealistic expectations, build my life with those I trust, and limit my time and exposure with and to them. I have to build a protective barrier around my heart and soul, and use my brain to have this relationship. It’s sad and takes a lot of grief work and acceptance. But I think a total break is more destructive and permanent. I have learned how to play by her rules:
      1. Then one that counts, don’t care. Just give a very little bit. She is most threatened by my heart, compassion, and empathy.

      I am determined to keep those traits to myself around her and HER family. Oh and be a sickly person who can’t go to her events…parties, etc.


  • This is the first article I found like this. I am a grandmother. The daughter-in-law is a step mom to my grandchildren. I helped raise my grandkids before the second marriage. I had quite a jolt and sudden loss. I wasn’t sure if she was narcissistic but time is showing such. Your article helped ground me in my sense of reality. It sure is painful especially as I can see my grandkids struggle with their coping, but your article helps me know what we are experiencing is real and not something I or my grandkids are doing. Thank you.

  • We have just had a Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone, while our daughter-in-law’s family celebrated with them. Because of the COVID-19 virus, and the fact that her sister’s children, who go to school, we did not want to be in contact with those children, it is a long complicated story, but to be short and sweet, no time was allotted for us over these days. Your website and information are a lifeline! Thank you! The s****t part is our son is an MFT and cannot see the situation for what it is…our daughter-in-law continually tells him that I am in competition with her…I am his mom, that’s it!

  • My situation is complicated. I met my husband 30 years ago, got together 10 years ago. My son and his daughter knew each other in high school and married in 2004. My DIL from day one always showed signs of narcissism. We got married in December of 2014 and John was in a very serious motorcycle accident in May 2015, he got a severe TBI and was in a coma for a month. I lost my father to cancer in March 2015. For years I kept my shut as to not make waves. I was exhausted and blew up one day in the hospital and all the frustration came out in a text where I told her exactly how I felt. There was not one thing in my text that was not true. Needless to say I have not seen my grandkids in 5 years and she has not visited her father. Every year I get a card for the holidays with pictures of the kids I can’t see. This year I told them not to send anymore cards. I miss my grandkids but feel I couldn’t take it anymore. How does someone deprive their children of their grandparents. We have 4 grandkids.

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