How to Cope With a 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? How to cope with a narcissistic daughter-in-law?

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.

How to cope with a 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. 

Question from one of our readers: My son’s wife is a Narcissist; How do I let him know?

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 narcissistic 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 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. How to cope with a Narcissistic daughter in law? 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.

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 will not likely 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 behavior

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 her partner’s mother, you have the power 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 like 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 colors, 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 mean no fuel for the narcissist to escalate the situation. 

4. Her behavior 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 are intimate her and narcissists despise feeling vulnerable (6). 

Why your narcissistic daughter-in-law will behave in Certain ways

Narcissists never felt safe enough to stand up for themselves in childhood.

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 behavior 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. Remember that narcissists are extremely vulnerable and sensitive people when dealing with her. 

Wrapping it all Together

When dealing with a manipulative narcissistic daughter-in-law, you have to accept that they will 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, call the authorities if you have reason to fear for your family’s safety seriously.

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 from seeing them all together. 

Suppose you want to continue having a relationship with your son/daughter and grandchildren. In that case, your best weapon is understanding your narcissistic daughter-in-law and learning 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.

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