Dealing with your in-laws is twice as difficult as dealing with your own family. The snide remarks, the gossip, and the bickering are at their most intense when the in-laws come to visit.
- There can be no divided loyalties. When you married your spouse and spoke your wedding vows, you promised to put your husband or wife as the first and primary person in your life, and that’s where your loyalty rightly belongs. If your wife has a problem with her mother-in-law, it’s the husband who needs to step in and work on fixing it. The same applies if a husband has a problem with his in-laws, his wife must speak up on behalf of her husband.
- Good fences make good neighbors. Clear boundaries, as in really good fences, need to be established and set in place about when in-laws are and are not invited into your lives. Negotiate the boundaries with your spouse regarding the role you want your in-laws to have in your life, being as specific as you feel is necessary. Write it all down on paper if that would work well for you during discussion and negotiations.
- Your parents and in-laws only know what you tell them. Set boundaries so you and your spouse know what specific information will or will not be shared with your family. If you go to your parents or family members every time you’re angry, frustrated, or having problems in your marriage, they hear that but they don’t hear when you’ve resolved the issues. If you’re having a problem in your marriage, you need to resolve it in the marriage, privately.
- Set time boundaries so that you both will know how much time will be spent at the in-laws’ house and how often they will be in your home. Sometimes husbands and wives argue because the in-laws are always at your house and you don’t seem to have a moment to yourselves. Or, the wife is almost always at her parents’ home and not taking care of responsibilities at home, or constant phone calls by the in-law to find out personal details that impose upon the time and privacy of your marriage.
- Set decision-making boundaries so that both husband and wife understand that they will make the decisions in their marriage without having to consult the in-laws first. Once a decision is made you should not allow your mind to be changed because one of the in-laws voices disapproval. You have a backbone, so use it.
- Set boundaries about the care and discipline of your children, so the standards and rules established in your home are not contradicted by your in-laws. If boundaries are not set, clearly communicated amongst the family, problems and conflicts will arise. Problems and conflicts also persist when the husband or wife fails to correct their unruly parent or family member when boundaries have been breeched.
- Once the boundaries are decided upon, you must now keep to them. If one of the marriage partners violates the agreement then the whole process breaks down and sends a double message to the in-laws. In addition, failing to keep an agreement with your spouse is a violation of your word and his or her trust. You must realize that if you violate your mate’s trust you have betrayed your vows to honor your spouse above all others.
- Talk to your parents (or the in-law that is driving you crazy) about the boundaries you’ve decided upon together. Make it perfectly clear that the boundaries set have been decided upon and mutually agreed to by both husband and wife. Believe it or not, some mother-in-laws may not even realize how their intrusion and criticisms hurt or belittle you, so you must learn how to be assertive, using assertive techniques to express how you feel when she says or does x,y,z.
- If holidays with in-laws are so difficult that it’s obvious your parents and in-laws don’t get along, it would be best for you and your husband to talk to your own sets of parents separately. Explain to them that while you understand that they’re not going to be the best of friends with the other couple, that it will make you and your husband happy if they can at least be civil.
- When it comes to social settings, it may be better to keep them apart than to deal with the stress of potential bickering. If it’s a small holiday dinner, consider celebrating on two separate nights. Bigger parties should have enough people that both sets of parents can avoid each other. But keep in mind that they are all adults, even if their behavior suggests otherwise. And if you’re given an ultimatum such as, “If they’re coming, we’re not”, simply reply, “We’ll miss you.”
- Never attempt to force your spouse to choose between his or her parents and your marriage. Understand that the other woman in every man’s life is his mother. If your husband starts in on you with something like, “Well, my mother does it this way…”, then tell him to go over and sleep with her.
- Pick your battles. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree in some situations, politely telling them that you appreciate their suggestions, but you and your spouse make the final decisions. Be considerate, controlling your emotions and temper as much as possible, being careful to think before you speak those venomous words swirling through your mind at the time.
Are you having difficulty getting along with your in-laws? Would you like to share your story or ask a question related to your specific situation? Or, if your relationship with the in-laws has been virtually flawless, to the point where you simply love and adore your in-laws, what further advice would you give couples dealing with in-law problems? Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome in the comment section below.