16 Signs of a Toxic Daughter-In-Law & How to Deal With Her

Welcoming a daughter-in-law into the family is a big deal, and most people hope for a smooth and happy transition. But sometimes, things go differently than planned. 

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re concerned about your son’s relationship with his wife and how it’s impacting your family. Maybe things feel tense, or you’re worried about your son’s happiness.

Well, you’re in the right place. I’ll guide you through some common signs of a toxic daughter-in-law and, more importantly, offer practical tips on how to deal with these challenging situations. Remember, it’s all about finding healthy ways to protect yourself and your family without adding fuel to the fire. Ready to find some peace? Let’s dive in!

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as professional or psychological advice. If you are experiencing significant challenges in your family relationships, it is recommended to seek guidance from a qualified professional. Additionally, each situation is unique; thus, the suggestions herein may not be universally applicable to every individual case.

She Manipulates or Gaslights Your Son

Manipulation and gaslighting are severe forms of emotional abuse that can deeply affect your son’s confidence and self-perception. When a daughter-in-law constantly questions his reality, telling him he remembered things wrong or didn’t see what he saw, it can leave him doubting his own mind.

Imagine he mentions a conversation they had, and she flatly denies it or accuses him of making it up. This can be incredibly confusing and isolating.

What you can do: Open up a gentle conversation with your son. Express your concerns without sounding accusatory. It might help him to hear your perspective, especially if he’s feeling uncertain about his own.

"The other spouse becomes limited in their quality of life because the toxic spouse can compete for attention, isolate the healthy spouse by using guilt and shame as leverage, and use gaslighting techniques — phrases that make the healthy spouse question themselves."

Annemarie Lafferty, CECP | Neuro-emotional Therapy Specialist | Owner, Healing Within Wellness

She Isolates Your Son From His Family and Friends

When your son begins missing family events more than usual or starts distancing from long-term friendships, it could be a sign of isolation—a common tactic used by toxic individuals to gain control.

Isolation typically involves subtle suggestions or outright demands to spend less time with others, often masked with reasons like “they don’t have our best interests in mind” or “we should only trust each other.”

What you can do:

  • Reach out regularly and keep communication lines open without being pushy.
  • Invite him for one-on-one activities; sometimes group settings may feel overwhelming if he’s being isolated.
  • Stay supportive without criticizing his spouse, as it can make him more defensive.

She Shows Co-Dependent Behaviors

A daughter-in-law exhibiting co-dependent behaviors can be emotionally draining. This might look like:

  • Her needing constant reassurance from your son.
  • Shaping her entire identity and happiness around their relationship.
  • She’s unable to make decisions without him or panics when he spends time away.

All these are red flags for unhealthy dependency.

How to approach this: Encourage your son to set healthy boundaries. Remind him it’s okay to have separate interests and friendships. Suggest couple’s therapy as a safe space for them to express their needs and learn healthier ways of supporting each other.

"In her mind, your child belongs to her. Your child is the other piece of her, and she cannot be without them. She struggles with sharing their love and attention with anyone else, even their own children, and will pout and whine to ensure your child only focuses on her."

Janet Santiago, LCSW, CCTP, C-DBT | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional | Behavioral Health Program Director, Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida

She Tries to Put You in the Middle of Their Conflict

It’s a tricky spot to be in when your daughter-in-law pulls you into disagreements with your son. She might try using you as a sounding board or even expect you to side with her. This situation is tough because, of course, you want what’s best for your son, but being in the middle can amplify family tensions.

What you can do: The best approach is to stay neutral. Politely but firmly, express that you love them both but would prefer to stay out of marital conflicts. Encourage them to resolve issues directly with each other. Supporting healthy communication without taking sides is a delicate but necessary balance.

"She tries to put you in the middle of the conflict she’s having in her marriage with your kid... More often than not, the in-laws just let it slide out of fear they’ll lose access to their child and grandchildren if they rock the boat.

While this is usually a successful short-term solution, it doesn’t solve the long-term problem of having a dysfunctional relationship deeply embedded within the family system."

Cynthia King, Psy.D. | Clinical Psychologist | Founder, FemFwd

She’s Never Wrong When They Argue

If your daughter-in-law never admits fault and is always pointing the finger, it can create a very stifling atmosphere. Constantly being “right” can prevent any real progress in discussions and might leave your son always feeling like the “bad guy.”

Example scenario: In a calm moment, you might see them discussing something simple like what to have for dinner, and suddenly it turns into a minor debate with no give from her side.

"She can always make your child feel like they’re at fault and can never do anything right. Even if your child is justified in their feelings and behaviors, she will find a way to spin the argument so that it appears she was right all along.

And forget about apologies; if you’re lucky enough to get one, it will usually be a half-hearted excuse or dismissal during which she will still maintain that she was 'technically not wrong.'"

Janet Santiago, LCSW, CCTP, C-DBT | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional | Behavioral Health Program Director, Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida

She Displays a Sense of Entitlement and Expects Special Treatment

If she expects constant pampering or special rules just for her, it can create friction and resentment within the family. Picture a family dinner where she expects the menu to cater solely to her preferences, dismissing anyone else’s dietary needs or choices.

What you can do about it: Communicate openly and firmly. It’s key to remind everyone that family interactions are about compromise and respect for all members. Sometimes, setting a collective family agreement on what fairness looks like can help everyone stick to the script.

She Constantly Criticizes You or Your Family

If your gatherings feel more like critique sessions than family fun, it’s a sign that things aren’t on the right track. Maybe she’s making negative comments about your cooking or subtly digs at your parenting style. This continuous critique can really dampen the spirit of family unity.

How to approach this: Keep your cool and set clear boundaries. Let her know, in a gentle way, that while you appreciate her perspective, negative comments are hurtful and not conducive to a happy family environment.

"She’s negative and judgmental. She’s cynical in her views and rigid in her beliefs. She’s two-faced with people. She’ll act pleasant when in the company of others, and then, as soon as they’re gone, she’ll start tearing them down or sharing things about them that she shouldn’t be sharing.

She can never genuinely be happy for others and will usually point out any flaws she can in an effort to diminish or taint the other person’s achievements and happiness."

Janet Santiago, LCSW, CCTP, C-DBT | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional | Behavioral Health Program Director, Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida

She Attempts to Control Family Finances or Create Financial Strain

Handling family finances can be tricky, and it gets even more complicated if someone tries to overtly dictate how every penny is spent. If your daughter-in-law insists on making major financial decisions without involving others or becomes upset over how your son manages his money, it could lead to significant stress and conflict.

How to tackle this delicately: Encourage your son to openly discuss financial decisions with her as a partnership, emphasizing transparency and mutual consent.

You Notice Negative Changes in Your Son’s Personality or Behavior

This might be one of the most heart-wrenching signs. You know your son, and if he starts to become a shadow of his former self, seems consistently unhappy, or changes drastically in a way that worries you, it’s vital to take it seriously. Whether he’s become more withdrawn, quick-tempered, or just seems lost, these changes can be indicative of deep-seated issues in the relationship.

Practical steps to consider:

  • Reach out to your son in a private, comfortable setting where he feels safe to open up.
  • Express your observations without sounding accusatory or placing blame. Sometimes just knowing someone is there for them can make a big difference.
  • Encourage professional help if the changes are profound and persistent. Sometimes external guidance from a counselor or therapist can provide the support he needs to address his feelings and situation effectively.

She Starts Arguments or Drama During Family Gatherings

When your daughter-in-law consistently starts conflicts during family gathering, it can make everyone dread what should be happy occasions. Imagine a typical family birthday where instead of laughter, there’s whispering tension because she’s upset over a seemingly trivial matter.

What can be done?

  • In a calm moment, talk to her about the importance of peaceful gatherings and how much it means to everyone.
  • Propose the idea of setting aside differences for the sake of family unity during events.
  • Suggest addressing any serious issues in a more private setting, not at the family table.

You Feel Like You’re Walking on Eggshells Around Her

Feeling like you have to tiptoe around someone, especially in your own home, can be incredibly stressful. This walking on eggshells feeling usually means you’re constantly anxious about her reaction to the smallest things — it’s like you’re just one accidental toe-step away from a full-blown argument.

How to ease this tension: It’s important to establish open lines of communication. Perhaps a heart-to-heart can help clear the air.

"How you feel when you are with her can also clue you into whether or not she is toxic. For example, warning signs might include the following:

- You often feel like you’re walking on eggshells when you are with her.
- You are hesitant to tell her how you actually feel or what you actually think."

Cynthia King, Psy.D. | Clinical Psychologist | Founder, FemFwd

She Disregards Your Cultural or Family Traditions

Traditions hold a special place in family hearts, binding generations. If your daughter-in-law openly disregards these customs, it can feel like a personal slight to your family’s heritage.

For instance, if every Thanksgiving is celebrated with a special family recipe, and she insists on radically changing the menu, it can feel dismissive. Or, she may refuse to participate or trivialize important ceremonies or celebrations that are meaningful to your family.

Navigating this delicately:

  • Try to have a respectful conversation explaining the significance of these traditions in your family life.
  • Perhaps introduce a compromise where new customs can be introduced incrementally, respecting both her background and yours, fostering inclusivity rather than division.

She Refuses to Take Responsibility for Her Actions

It’s frustrating when someone never accepts fault. So if she always finds a way to deflect blame onto others for anything that goes wrong, it not only prevents personal growth but also strains relationships.

Imagine a simple situation where a miscommunication leads to a misunderstanding, and instead of working through it, she points fingers.

How to gently handle this: Encourage accountability in a supportive way. Perhaps recommend a family discussion where everyone expresses their feelings freely, promoting a culture where it’s okay to admit mistakes.

She Disrespects Your Boundaries and Personal Space

Personal boundaries are crucial for maintaining respect in any relationship. When these are disregarded, it can create feelings of frustration and disrespect.

Picture this: You’ve asked that family visits be planned in advance, yet she frequently drops by unannounced. Or, she keeps ignoring requests for privacy, such as entering your bedroom without permission. Another example is if she keeps overstepping during family events by taking charge without consulting others.

What you can do to reinforce boundaries:

  • Communicate your limits clearly and explain why they matter to you.
  • If boundaries continue to be ignored, consider setting consequences that are respectful yet firm.

She’s Always a Victim

Playing the victim is a common tactic that can manipulate situations to her advantage, making it difficult for others to voice their concerns without seeming harsh or insensitive.

This might look like her overreacting to constructive feedback or trivial matters, turning them into personal attacks against her.

Navigating this complex trait involves:

  • Setting clear boundaries. It’s important to calmly discuss how her behavior affects the family, suggesting ways to communicate issues without playing the victim.
  • Offering empathy but not enabling. Show understanding for her feelings but resist the urge to soothe every complaint, encouraging her to find solutions or compromises instead.
"She acts like she has no control over her life and is completely unaware of how she creates her own circumstances — she has no insight. Everyone is always out to get her or doing her wrong in some way.

She fails to see the common denominator in all of her conflictual relationships: herself."

Janet Santiago, LCSW, CCTP, C-DBT | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional | Behavioral Health Program Director, Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida

She Creates a Divide Between Your Son and Other Family Members

Creating divisions within the family is a serious red flag. This behavior might be subtle, like sowing seeds of distrust or more overt, such as outright demanding he spend less time with family or making him choose between her and them.

How to address this while maintaining family unity:

  • Organize a family meeting where everyone can openly discuss their feelings and concerns in a supportive setting.
  • Remind your son of the deep bonds and love shared with his family. Encouraging inclusive family activities can reinforce these connections and highlight the importance of family unity.
"Another toxic trait is manipulative behavior, such as not making time for in-laws and only spending time with their own immediate family. She may also make up reasons that the couple cannot spend time with the partner’s family."

Andrea Brognano, LMHC, LPC, NCC | Licensed Clinician, Choosing Therapy

More Insights from the Experts

“Power and control are very important to her. She will always want to be the one who determines:

  • How the family dresses.
  • What the family eats.
  • Where they go for vacations.
  • How they handle their finances.
  • Whose family they spend their time with, and on and on.

She’ll make it seem like she is very structured and organized, the perfect mom who’s got it all together. In reality, she is ensuring that she has full control over every aspect of her family’s lives, and she will be damned if she allows you to change that…”

“So, how do you deal with a toxic daughter-in-law without damaging your relationship with your own child?

  • Remember that it’s not about you. She’s toxic because she’s toxic. If you personalize it, you’ll become defensive and contribute to the conflict.
  • Try not to react or offer unsolicited advice. She doesn’t want to hear it anyway, and it’s just going to lead to an argument.
  • Strengthen your relationship with your child and grandchildren. Make sure there are no cracks in the relationship that she could take advantage of.
  • Stay in your lane but set your boundaries. You can’t get involved in your child’s relationship, but it is your responsibility to make sure that everyone is safe.
  • Stay empathetic and hopeful. If you allow her toxicity to make you cold and negative, she’s won.”

Janet Santiago, LCSW, CCTP, C-DBT | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional | Behavioral Health Program Director, Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida

“Another sign of a toxic daughter-in-law is if the people closest to them feel like “the life is being sucked out of them.”

  • Do those family members who were once active and vibrant become repetitively sick or get weakened immune system?
  • Are they missing work or not participating in their regular activities?
  • Does the toxic spouse leave for periods of time, and the environment becomes temporarily happier and lighter?
  • Do the thoughts running through your mind change to positive ones and then turn back to “gloomy” when she gets home?
  • Do even your animals and pets act differently when she is not around?

These are small observations to make because negative people will tarnish their environment, intentionally or unintentionally. We all come from varying backgrounds, and what is tolerated and accepted in one family may not be the norm in another.”

Annemarie Lafferty, CECP | Neuro-emotional Therapy Specialist | Owner, Healing Within Wellness

“Signs of a toxic daughter-in-law:

  • She uses disrespectful communication (i.e., name-calling, gaslighting, yelling, stonewalling, etc.).
  • She assigns blame to others.
  • She tries to put you in the middle of the conflict she is having in her marriage with your kid.
  • She is highly critical.
  • Her need to be right overrules other people’s feelings.
  • She is defensive.
  • She is not willing to take ownership or apologize.
  • She is dishonest.
  • She is highly reactive.
  • She is not willing to include you, or when she does include you, it’s only because it benefits her.

How to deal with a toxic daughter-in-law:

  1. Use assertive communication: Assertive communication is clear, respectful, honest, and direct. It does not include beating around the bush or using unkind words. For example, “When you raise your voice, I feel nervous. I’m not willing to engage with you if you are going to yell.”
  2. Set limits and express those limits to her: For example, “I am not comfortable hearing about the issues you and my son are having in such detail.”
  3. Do not fall into the trap of being overly accommodating with her: If you find yourself thinking a lot about how to go about things so that your daughter-in-law stays happy or doesn’t start acting out, you’re being overly accommodating, which is reinforcing her behavior.
  4. Display loving actions and words: Most of the time, toxic people have had hard upbringings or even abusive childhoods. Model what it is like to be loving and let her know that you care about her, even when she is being difficult.
  5. Take breaks at family functions when she is present: If you notice you are getting worked up due to her behaviors, take a break. Go to the bathroom and do some breathing, take the dog out, or go for a short walk.
  6. Model healthy communication: No matter what she says or how she behaves, model healthy and assertive communication.
  7. Most importantly, maintain a strong relationship with your kid.”

Cynthia King, Psy.D. | Clinical Psychologist | Founder, FemFwd

“Here are some actionable steps if you have a toxic daughter-in-law:

  1. Have a discussion with her outside the heat of the argument: Speak directly with her outside the heat of an argument. Explain you want some time together to discuss how you feel and the impact it is on your relationship.
  2. Talk to your son about your relationship with her: Its impact and changes: Speak with your child about how the impact of the relationship has been on the two of you and what changes you have noticed. Be clear with examples and avoid conversing in an attacking manner.
  3. Avoid comparing her to other family members: Do not compare her to other family members, especially other daughters-in-law. Your relationship with each person is different.
  4. Don’t give her any power to manipulate further: Learn to recognize the pattern of behavior and your response to this. Be sure not to do anything that gives her the ability to have any power to manipulate further.”

Andrea Brognano, LMHC, LPC, NCC | Licensed Clinician, Choosing Therapy

Final Thoughts

Remember, dealing with a toxic daughter-in-law is a delicate situation. You want to protect yourself and your son without making things worse. Focus on setting healthy boundaries, communicating openly and honestly, and prioritizing your own well-being.

I hope that this information empowers you to navigate this challenge with grace and resilience. If things become too overwhelming, don’t hesitate to seek support from a therapist or counselor.

These situations are rarely easy, but with patience and a little bit of wisdom, you can find peace and build a healthier family dynamic.

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Leah is a creative soul with a passion for telling stories that matter. As an editor and writer at UpJourney, she channels her natural curiosity and imagination into thought-provoking articles and inspiring content. She is also a registered nurse dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact.

In her free time, she indulges her artistic side as a hobbyist photographer, capturing the world's beauty one shot at a time. You can also find her in a poor-lit room playing her favorite video games or in a corner somewhere, reading and immersing herself in the rich worlds of fantasy and dark academia.

At home, Leah is surrounded by love and laughter, living peacefully with her partner and their three adorable shih tzus.