“Behind every successful man is a proud wife and a surprised mother-in-law.” – Hubert H. Humphrey
When the parenting website Netmums polled 2,000 women, they found that one-in-four had a troubled relationship with her mother-in-law. Some put it bluntly, “I despise her!” Common complaints included the mother-in-law openly undermining her in front of the husband and children, often making her feel inadequate in the process. Some even reported that the stress of dealing with in-laws caused a strain in their marriages.
Of course, mothers-in-law are not the only source of frustration for many married couples. Fathers-in-law can often be a big source of exasperation and even resentment. It can be challenging to deal with them, as they are, after all, your partner’s parents!
HealthToday has compiled tips and advice from several psychologists to help you improve your relationship with your in-laws if they are giving you a big headache,
Taking control starts with you
If you feel that your in-laws are crossing the line, you should do something. According to therapist Susan Forward, ignoring problems just to keep the peace will only prolong your misery.
In-laws can be intimidating, she adds, because you do not know how they will react to your criticism. However, you do not have to be the one to confront them. Your partner, their child, is the best person to do this.
American therapist and TV celebrity Dr Phil McGraw agrees. “If a wife has a problem with her mother-in-law, it’s the husband who needs to step in and help fix it,” he wrote on his website drphil.com. “Likewise, if a husband doesn’t see eye-to-eye with his in-laws, his wife needs to step in.”
Many people in a marriage may feel conflicted degrees of loyalty when their partner and parents do not get along. Dr Phil advises married people to place their own family as their main priority. “Their primary loyalty should be to their spouse,” he says. He encourages married couple to discuss, as early as possible, the roles they both expect the in-laws to play in the family. Once both parties are in agreement, boundaries can be drawn and both partners can see eye-to-eye when it comes to disagreements with the in-laws. Dr Phil stresses the importance of the couple sticking together and supporting one another’s decision (even if this decision goes against the wishes of the in-laws) – this is the best way to let meddling in-laws know that there are lines that they cannot cross.
This is not as easy as it seems on paper, but it can be done if each partner is sensitive to the other person’s relationship with the in-laws in question. Try not to force your partner to pick sides, instead understand and support his or her relationship with your in-laws, and work together with your partner to find ways to use this relationship to improve your ties with your in-laws.
Psychologist Dr Yvonne K Fulbright offers the following tips if you are gearing up to deal with your issues with the in-laws.
- Evaluate the situation. Get your emotions under control first so that you can take another look at the situation and develop a management plan.
- Try to understand your in-laws. If your in-laws are always critical of you, do they have a point? Are they right? Perhaps their advice comes from a place of love, even if they could have been more pleasant in delivering their advice to you.
Sometimes, the problem may not be about you – your in-laws may be using you as a scapegoat for any sense of disconnection they are getting from your partner. Parents sometimes have a hard time accepting that they are no longer the most important person in their child’s life, and they may resent you for ‘stealing’ their child from them. If this is the case, it is important that your partner has a heart-to-heart talk with them.
Examine your role in the situation. Yes, it may be tempting to believe that the in-laws are entirely in the wrong, but it often takes two to tango. Evaluate honestly your relationship with your in-laws. Are you a complete victim, or have you done your share of antagonizing them? The point of this evaluation is not to find people to blame, it is to determine whether there is anything you can do to improve your relationship with your in-laws. For instance, if you have been curt with them in the past, maybe you can try to rein in your emotions better. Small gestures would go a long way in improving your ties with them.
Living with difficult in-laws
If your difficult in-laws are a constant presence in your life, it can certainly be trying to your nerves and blood pressure. Dr Fulbright offers the following suggestions to help you get along with them better:
Do not force yourself to be someone else. It may seem like a good idea to try to be their ideal son- or daughter-in-law, but this will only make you feel more frustrated with your situation. For instance, if you are a career-oriented woman and your in-laws constantly insinuate that you should be staying at home to care for the kids ,it is better to try to get them to accept you for who you are, rather than to make big compromises that you will regret later.
Instead, be assertive. While it is good to be polite, there are times when being too polite will only let other people walk all over you. You need to establish boundaries. If they disagree with certain aspects of your parenting style, for example, you can tell them politely but firmly why you believe your style works. Show them the relevant articles written by professionals, to convince them that you are doing what you believe is right for your child.
Healthcare professionals can be your allies. Many doctors are very familiar with meddlesome in-laws (especially those with traditional beliefs that have no scientific merit) and they are more than happy to take your side against the in-laws in matters related to health and wellness. You can discuss a plan of action with a trusted doctor, and next, get the whole family to come with you the next time you visit the doctor. Casually bring up the matter that you and your in-laws are disagreeing about, and your doctor will then work his or her magic on your in-laws!
If all else fails, distance yourself. If your in-laws are particularly toxic, and all your efforts to mend fences with them fail, perhaps it is best for everyone if you limit your contact with them. This is something that you and your partner need to discuss, but perhaps a compromise can be achieved if you limit your own contact with them instead of getting your entire family to reduce ties with them. For example, you can excuse yourself from family meet-ups with the in-laws. While this situation is not ideal, it may be better than forcing yourself to continue an unpleasant relationship with your in-laws and affecting your relationship with your partner in the long run.
Dr Phil. Available at www.drphil.com
Psychology Today. A