by Christina DiMartino
In-law problems can start even long before your wedding, then escalate due to the stresses brought on by wedding planning. And that’s just the beginning. But your spouse’s parents are part of your extended family, and they’re your children’s grandparents. You need to know how to deal with them.
Ups and downs
Jane Greer, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in private practice in New York, says, “Whether they want to smother you with kindness or kick you to the curb, figuring out where your partner’s family fits in with your life is tricky.” She describes how to navigate some common issues:
Support your spouse
Steve Pavlina writes on self-help topics on his blog, Personal Development for Smart People. He says if you’re having problems with an in-law, the person most closely related to that person—your spouse—is the one who must do the enforcing.
“This is especially important to a marriage,” says Pavlina. “You and your spouse must put each other first above all other relatives. If one of your spouse’s relatives is violating your boundaries, then your spouse must bring it to their attention and do the enforcing.”
Pavlina says problems of this nature are especially common in relationships between couples in their 20s because they are often in a transitional phase with how they identify their primary family.
“For example, prior to the wedding, you may be getting closer to your in-laws to be while still thinking of your family as the one you were born into,” he adds. “But after you’re married and have children, you’re likely to think of your primary family as your spouse and children. So for many people the 20s represents a period of shifting identities. It’s a time when problems with other relatives can spike because they interfere with your romantic relationship.”
Dealing with difficulties
Writer Jonathan Pitts says that no matter how much you love your spouse, sometimes getting along with family may be a tough task.
“Their words, actions or attitude may make you feel upset and left out,” says Pitts. “Ultimately, you will express your resentment and frustration.” And your spouse may not always be understanding or supportive, he notes. “There are some tips that might help you deal with difficult in-laws without losing out on your relationship with your partner.”
No divided loyalties
Lin Burress is the author of Telling It Like It Is, a source about raising children, relationships, marriage and parenting. She says there can be no divided loyalties between you and your spouse.
“When you spoke your wedding vows, you promised to put your spouse as the first and primary person in your life, and that’s where your loyalty rightly belongs,” says Burress. “If your wife has a problem with your mother, you need to step in and work on fixing it. The same applies to your wife if the problem is between you and her parents.”
Burress suggests you pick your battles wisely. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree, politely telling your in-laws that you appreciate their suggestions, but you and your husband make the final decisions. Be considerate and control your emotions and temper as much as possible. Be careful to think before you speak the angry words that may be swirling through your mind at the time.
Christina DiMartino has been a freelance and assignment writer since 1985. She is a researcher, interviewer, writer, editor, and manuscript collaborator with a repertoire of clients from around the world.