Not all mother-in-laws are troublesome, but when they are troublesome they are a great source of frustration for wives. Most wives who face this problem try to solve it by putting pressure on their husband to intervene. Wives can bring a great deal of pressure to bear on their husbands in the form of denial of sex and threatened divorce, but in this case their go-to solution is shockingly ineffective.
Ironically the reason wives find themselves powerless against their mother-in-laws is their having taken on the power position in the marriage. Once they did this they created a de facto matriarchy. As the more senior member of the clan the mother-in-law outranks the wife. Putting pressure on the husband doesn’t work in this situation because the husband isn’t acting as the leader and protector of his household; he is trying to placate two women who are effectively in positions of authority over him. The mother-in-law will sense this even if she couldn’t articulate it. When her son requests that she change her behavior the mother-in-law sees him for what he is; he is a messenger from the wife, whom the mother-in-law outranks.
The solution is simple; the wife needs to relinquish the position of head of household and cede that position to her husband. This means she needs to abandon her tools of manipulation over her husband, not ratchet them up. This will take some time and effort, and there are simple steps a wife can take to encourage her husband to start taking on the role of leader and protector.
The solution isn’t foolproof, but it is extremely effective. Nearly all men are highly protective of those they lead, and if they see themselves as head of the household they will start to naturally see themselves as their wife’s protector. The mother-in-law will also sense the change, and since the husband is now acting under his own natural authority she will take him seriously in a way she never did with the wife or when she saw him as the wife’s ambassador.
My wife has given this advice to married women in her circle, and while most were aghast at the idea of allowing their husband to lead the ones who followed the advice were amazed at the results. In many cases the mother-in-law not only ultimately settled down, but became downright pleasant to the daughter-in-law. In one case the formerly at odds mother-in-law and daughter-in-law now actually enjoy each other’s company so much they regularly go shopping and to lunch together.
Patriarchy or matriarchy: take your pick.