Image Credit: HBO Max

The Mother-In-Law Survival Guide: How To Plan Your Wedding Without Losing Your Sanity

I always assumed the hardest part of getting married was tricking someone into committing to a life with me (which basically just consists of me complaining about not knowing what I want to eat and dealing with my hair stuck to the shower wall). I figured once I conned someone into slipping a giant(!) engagement ring on my finger, that would be it! Bridal bliss! 

Except, hi, I forgot a few things. First, my now-husband and I went to college together (a state school, mind you), so the *giant* ring was actually a one-carat diamond alternative. Also, I sort of forgot about one major player in the “I do” thing: My future mother-in-law. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, most MILs are narcissistic, self-centered, emotionally immature humans. But even if you’ve been blessed with an angel of an in-law, planning a wedding with her in the mix feels like defusing a bomb with a hangover. Not only are you working on this high-stakes, very stressful situation, but you’re doing it with this nagging, painful, headache-inducing presence hovering over your every move and saying things like, “Don’t you think that’s a little revealing?” 

It’s a lot, on top of the lot that is wedding planning. So, if you’re trying to figure out how TF to make it out of this phase unscathed and without a criminal record, you’ve come to the right place. Consider this your cheat sheet for putting up with your S.O.’s mom—your Mother-in-Law Survival Guide, if you will. Sure, it’d be cute if you bonded and became besties, but if that doesn’t happen, you’ve gotta at least learn to co-exist. Here’s how to get down the aisle without Mommy dearest realizing she’s actually Undesirable #1. (Don’t worry, that’ll happen if you get pregnant!) 

Step 1: Understand Your Monster Mother-in-Law

Mother-in-Law Survival Guide
Image Credit: HBO Max

The first step in surviving your MIL is to figure out who TF you’re dealing with, then respond in a way she can understand (this is especially important if she’s an almond mom because she’s likely hangry and doesn’t have enough sustenance to string multiple thoughts together). That way, you can speak her language and/or play the game even better than she does. 

Common MIL Types And How to Deal

The Overbearing Organizer 

She made the seating chart, hired the band, and picked your wedding night lingerie before you even posted your engagement to the grid.

Communication Tip: Cheer her on when she hits the mark with your vision, and guide those (annoying but potentially helpful) skills towards the tasks you’re cool with outsourcing from the start — like choosing the least eye-gouging table linens. 

The Narcissistic Nancy

If the topic isn’t her dress, her grand entrance, her speech, or her dance, she truly DNGAF.

Communication Tip: You’ve gotta let her have ~her moment~ (bc otherwise, she *will* make a scene), so get ahead of it all with a spotlight role that doesn’t hijack your day. Think: a glam toast that’ll have her basking in the glow without overshadowing your moment (which is all the rest of them).

The Passive-Aggressive Princess

Tasks conveniently forgotten, payments mysteriously bounced, and doors accidentally slammed instead of communicating disappointment like an adult? Check, check, check!

Communication Tip: Use the art of the compliment sandwich — praise, critique, praise — to navigate her sea of backhanded comments. It’s like telling her that, yes, her casserole is delicious, but maybe less arsenic next time?

The Laissez-Faire Lounger

Will she show up? Will she be hungover? Will she forget your name? Tbd!

Communication Tip: Only give her tasks that don’t actually matter (like putting potpourri in the rehearsal dinner bathroom or ordering pointless wedding favors), and have backups in place for when she inevitably bails on every to-do she was assigned. 

The Emotional Mama Bear

She just has a lot of feelings!!!!!! And she’ll make them known!! Constantly!!!!

Communication Tip: The key is to acknowledge her emotions but gently steer her towards the excitement of gaining a family member, not losing a baby cub… and by “cub,” I mean “adult child with a 401(k).” ​​Let her tears have their five minutes, then gently usher them offstage with a reality check wrapped in a begrudging bear hug.

The Can’t-Let-Go Karen 

You might be marrying her baby, but she’ll never miss the chance to remind you that she was the first person to love your S.O., dammit, and SHE WILL ALWAYS COME FIRST.

Communication Tip: Craft (semi-cringy) moments, like a mother-son/daughter dance, that’ll validate her as the original VIP in your partner’s life but set the stage for your starring role — no understudies allowed.

Step 2: Set (& Stick to) Boundaries

Mother-in-Law Survival Guide
Image Credit: HBO Max

Navigating boundaries with anyone is hard, but with your soon-to-be MIL? It’s basically Squid Game. The secret is to utilize clear communication, a dash of diplomacy, and a solid spine. For instance, when she’s about to turn your guest list into a high school reunion for people you’ve never met, or she’s pushing for a wedding dress that screams more “haunted antique doll” than “reality star chic,” it’s time to draw the line. This, my friends, is when you whip out the A-E-O Maneuver: Acknowledge, Express, Offer. Trust me, it works every damn time.

  • Acknowledge her input like it’s the hottest gossip: 
    • “Oh wow, that’s an interesting idea; you’ve really got a knack for thinking outside the box…”
  • Express your own vibe in the most chill yet unmovable way possible:
    •  “We’re kinda obsessed with making this day super us, which means going a bit more [insert your idea here]…”
  • Offer her a task that you don’t care about: 
    • “You know what would be amazing? If you could take charge of [something you actually don’t mind her handling that she can’t fuck up]. That would be soooo helpful.”

This little formula lets you navigate those “bless her heart” moments with finesse, keeping everyone (mostly) happy and your wedding in check.

Saying “No” (Without Being a Bitch)

Tip: There are three basic ways to say “no” to your MIL during wedding planning: Ignore, acknowledge, or delegate it. First, let’s talk about the art of the nod and smile — a tactic as old as time, perfected by diplomats and those subjected to long-winded family dinners alike. This move is your go-to for benign but unsolicited advice, like her insistence on using doves in your reception (because nothing says “love” like bird shit on the guests’ shoulders). It acknowledges her input without committing to action, a delicate dance of respect and autonomy.

But what about when she crosses into the land of the non-negotiable, like pushing for your bridesmaids to wear the same dress she did in the ’80s? This is where you stand your ground, armed with tact, love, and the unwavering support of Pinterest boards. Explain your vision confidently, offering compromises when you can but firmly stating your decision where you cannot. Remember, this wedding is your and your partner’s story, not a historical reenactment of her big day.

Speaking of your partner… it’s time to have them step up when all else fails. They can navigate the delicate nuances of their mother’s expectations and help articulate your shared vision in a way she understands and respects. After all, they’ve been interpreting (or ignoring) “because I said so” since before they could walk. And if they won’t put their foot down now, it’s better to find out pre-wedding or risk a Charlotte-Bunny-Trey situation. IYKYK.

Step 3: Deal With ~The Drama~

Mother-in-Law Survival Guide
Image Credit: HBO Max

If there’s one thing all weddings have in common, it’s drama (hence why there are a zillion reality shows based on them). The problem is that wedding drama + MIL drama are literally lethal. If you’d rather rip out your hair than listen to your in-laws’ repeat their concerns that your ceremony isn’t taking place in their church, read on. 

Grounding Techniques

When your MIL starts hitting every nerve like she’s got the cheat code (#rosebud), here are our fave calm-down tactics that are almost as effective as a Xanny:

Breathe Like You’re Zen AF: Inhale for four counts, hold it like the season finale cliffhanger, then exhale for four, imagining each breath out pushes a bit of stress out of your system.

Honeymoon Headspace: She’s on minute 27 of her toast rewrite? Close your eyes (briefly, we’re not napping here) and teleport yourself to that beach/mountain/cityscape you’ll jet off to post-nuptials. Chug that imaginary cocktail. Feel the bliss. Repeat.

SOS Signal: Establish a safe word with your partner when you feel overwhelmed by the MIL situation. Whether it’s squeezing their hand three times or whispering “pineapple,” a simple, discrete signal that says, “I need support” or “We need to change the topic now,” can literally save your relationship.

Venting Etiquette

When the urge to vent hits (and it will), skip the social media rant and head straight for your inner circle. In-laws have eyes everywhere, so opt for the friend who’s like a vault — capable of keeping your shit under lock and key. Remember, the digital footprint is a real trap, so venting in person or over the phone is your safest bet. And if the wedding stress feels too heavy to handle alone, hire a pro, like a therapist or a seasoned wedding planner, who can offer a judgment-free zone to air your grievances and find solutions that don’t necessarily involve filing a restraining order or calling off the big day. 

Step 4: Win Her Over

Mother-in-Law Survival Guide
Image Credit: HBO Max

Keeping your enemies close and your mother-in-law closer is the secret to less stressful wedding planning (and is also a good rule for life in general). Even though she might have horns under her “Can I speak to the manager” haircut, winning the woman over is a surefire way to secure your spot as the new HBIC of your S.O.’s life. 

Use Your Charm

ICYMI: Little gestures will go a long way in winning your MIL’s approval (without selling your soul). Admire something uniquely her, whether it’s her daring fashion sense or her ability to speak her mind. Even if it’s her bold choice of leopard print for every occasion, find that genuine compliment and lay it on thick. If you can stomach it, regular, scheduled check-ins (or at least the occasional text) can work wonders, showing you’re in this for the long haul, not just the wedding. And when all else fails, a well-timed laugh at her not-so-funny joke can smooth over many a rough patch. It’s about finding a balance between genuine effort and self-preservation, proving that you, too, can play the long game.

Befriend Some Allies

Securing a few allies within your future mother-in-law’s inner circle is the ultimate move, turning the tide of family opinion in your favor without you lifting a finger. Start by identifying the family members or friends she respects the most — it could be her sister, her best friend since childhood, or that cousin she’s always gossiping with. Then, it’s all about charming them: a friend request here, a compliment on their taste in something there, or showing genuine interest in their life stories during family gatherings. Before long, these allies will be singing your praises when you’re not around, thus forcing your MIL to follow suit until death or divorce do you part. 

Rachel Varina
Rachel Varina
Formerly one of the HBICs at Total Sorority Move (RIP), Rachel Varina has a long history of writing about things that make her parents ashamed. She's an avid lover of holding grudges, sitting down, and buffalo chicken dip. Currently, she lives in Tampa, Florida, but did not feed her husband to tigers. And even though she's married (with a *gasp* baby), she doesn't suck. Promise. PROMISE! Follow her on Instagram and Twitter (@rachelvarina) so she gets more followers than that influencer her husband dated in high school.