Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

Jealous of Mother-in-law's Relationship to Former Girlfriend

QUESTION: My mother-in-law is very close to my husbands ex-girlfriend (who he has a child with). They are always doing things together and I feel betrayed and hurt because I am her daughter-in-law not his ex. My mother-in-law and I get along great but I just feel like she would rather have the ex as her daughter-in-law instead of me.

I am very confused and don't know if I should say anything to her.

ANSWER: It is to your mother-in-law's credit that she has a great relationship with her daughter-in-law as well as with her grandchild's mother. Both of you have places of importance in her life. Though your husband never committed to his child's mother in marriage, he did forge a family connection which cannot be reversed.

You have only one mother-in-law and it is understandable that you would like her to have only one daughter-in-law. It is also possible that your "great" relationship with her holds wishes for fulfillments that were promised but undelivered in your own past. For example, if your relationship with your mother is strained, you may be harboring hopes to have with your mother-in-law what was denied in your relationship with your mother. If so, your relationship with your mother-in-law may be pressured with unrealistic expectation which makes your disappointments in her more prominent.

It is also likely that your mother-in-law's relationship with the mother of her grandchild serves as a reminder that your husband loved another woman before he met you. Ordinarily, a past relationship would not have much presence in the ongoing family system, but in this case your husband's child cements a lifelong bond. It is natural for your mother-in-law to want to maintain a good relationship with her grandchild's mother. And it is in the best interest of her grandchild that family connections are sustained.

You have married into a somewhat more complex situation than you might have realized. Your feelings of jealousy are natural, but need to be addressed without blaming your mother-in-law or suggesting that she should have other than a good relationship with her grandchild's mother. Assuming that all is well with your husband and that you have no reason for jealousy or blurred boundaries in his behavior with the mother of his child, it is probable that this is something you must come to terms with on your own. Your choice to marry a man with a child includes accepting the reality of previously forged relationships.

Though you feel hurt and betrayed, in reality your mother-in-law has done neither. Instead, consider that you may be feeling betrayed by your own fantasy of what family relationships should be like (if there was no grandchild) and hurt by your own wishes for it to be a different situation than it is.

If you feel it would help you feel more comfortable to set some boundaries around the topics you discuss with your mother-in -law, you might want to express this to her. It might help to share your feelings with your mother-in-law in the interest of asking for her consideration in not bringing the "other woman" up in discussions with you. For example, "I know it is natural for you to have a good relationship with Mary. She is your grandson's mother afterall. But I can't help but experience a twinge of jealousy that you remain close with her, even though she and Larry are no longer together. I'd rather not hear a lot about your time spent with her. I' d like to just focus on our relationship and immediate family matters, for now..." .

Or you may want to simply share your feelings without requesting that your mother-in-law do anything different at all. Knowing you better has potential to open doors between you instead of close them. Opening up instead of skirting the topic might prove beneficial to your relationship. Perhaps with this opening could come deepened interactions which might secure your sense of your place in this family.

Finally, keep in mind that you have now become a new stepmother through marriage. It is also your responsibility to think along the lines of supporting this child's growth in an appropriate manner. You are a newcomer to this family, but this will not always be the case. You may find that it simply takes time for you to feel a more established place in the family.

Talk with your husband about connecting with your stepson in ways that will include rather than exclude you from this family. Gaining insight into the roots of your feelings of betrayal and sorting through your hurt feelings may be enough to help you release some of the pressure that has built up around this situation.

Return to Article Archive


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com