Because every living situation is different, there is no single answer to making any type of interpersonal relationship work. If you are living in the same household as your mother-in-law, you’re likely not in an ideal situation, but there are some things you can do to make the situation livable.
Set a time limit on the amount of time you will be staying with your mother-in-law (or that she will be staying with you) if the understanding involves the living arrangement being a temporary situation.
The mother-in-law has to deal with many issues you might not have encountered yet in your life. She may have lost a spouse or child or face declining health. These new situations can present new difficulties for her. You can offer to take her to the grocery store or to see her physician.
Keep in touch with each other’s needs. If you feel that your mother-in-law is encroaching on your space, it’s up to you to relay that information directly to your spouse and it’s important that your spouse is clear and direct with her or his mother regarding the situation.
Aside from setting time limits, set other limits. If you are expected to pay for your mother-in-law and she lives in your house, she needs to follow your rules. If you are living in her house, you need to set limits for yourself and your family to give her the privacy she needs and deserves.
If your mother-in-law is having trouble with bills or proves to be a financial burden, ask her to pursue public assistance options such as welfare and disability. If her husband has passed away, she should be eligible to receive his social security benefits.
Define your living space clearly. Which space belongs to your mother-in-law and which areas are your domains? Women in particular often find conflict in areas such as the kitchen and laundry room. While the mother-in-law might want to pitch in to help the mom on the go, her daughter-in-law might feel that her duties as wife and mom are being encroached upon. This is a particularly difficult thing for most men to understand, so discussions about the topic must remain delicate and calm.
Truthfully, the mother-in-law living arrangement isn’t ideal. Some families purchase new homes (with in-law suites) or renovate their existing homes to accommodate the situation. If you’ve seen shows like “Family Matters,” “George Lopez” or “The Nanny,” you can understand why the topic of in-laws is frequently addressed in sitcoms: Because it’s a real issue for many families.