A look at some practical ways to deal with troublesome in-laws.

Jason Brien.

Having two people from completely different background come together and form a relationship is hard enough as it is. Throw in each partners families and all hell can break loose. Whether it’s the immature and lazy brother/sister in-law who is always harassing your spouse for money or it’s the mother/father in-law forever trying to tell you how to live your life and raise their grandchildren, in-laws can be a handful and put immense strain on a relationship or marriage. Here are some practical ways to help you as an individual and you and your spouse as a couple manage troublesome in-laws. 

Always remember who is in control of the relationship – you AND your spouse: This tip is nearly always forgotten and I remind couples of this on a regular basis. When two presumably equal people agree to enter a relationship, it is those two people alone who ultimately decide what is to occur within their relationships. It is up to those two people to decide what their relationship will look like. Will they live together? Will they get married? Will they have children and if so, how many? Will they have a monogamous relationship or an open relationship? Whilst in-laws may provide suggestions for how they would like to see the relationship proceed, it is entirely up to the couple to discuss and implement whatever it is they both want. 

Stand up for each other: Toxic in-laws love the divide and conquer tactic because it makes it easier for them to then meddle in your relationship. Whether they sew seeds of doubt or openly mock and ridicule one or both of you, their presence in your relationship is not needed and you both need to take a united stand and discourage the toxic behaviour. If its your parents ridiculing and demeaning the person you have chosen to be in a relationship with, and you don’t stand against it and discourage it, you are essentially condoning it. You both have a right to a peaceful and harmonious relationship without in-laws disrupting that for their own pleasure and misguided intentions.

Stand up for yourself: You do not have to tolerate abuse or toxic behaviour from ANYONE. You have the right to set and enforce boundaries against toxic in-laws and, ideally, your partner will support you in this. You setting boundaries against your in-laws is not a personal attack against your spouse. In saying this though, if you have limited the time that you spend with your in-laws because of how they treat you, it is not appropriate for you to demand that your spouse also not spend time with their family. It is appropriate to ask that your spouse defend you in your absence but you cannot realistically force them to choose between their family and you. 

Know thyself:  In simple terms, you do not have to be or become what your in-laws want or expect you to be or become. If they want their son or daughter to be in a relationship with someone who they deem ‘acceptable’ then tough luck. They can go out and date such a person if they are so concerned about it. You do not have to satisfy the needs of your in-laws simply because they need to maintain their own social status or image. You are your own unique person. If they are unable to support their own flesh and blood and support who their flesh and blood chooses to date/marry, that says more about them than it does you.

Accept the reality that your in-laws are not obligated to love you or even like you:   Just like you never chose to be born, your in-laws probably never chose to have you enter their family. If they are unable to accept you into the family for whatever reason, that is not a reflection on you. The same goes for your family too. They may never accept, love or like your spouse for whatever reason. We cannot always live in an ideal world no matter how much we want to. If you and your spouse are constantly under pressure and strain because you are both always trying to impress one or both set of in-laws, ask yourselves “Does their happiness determine our happiness”? You two can have a happy, healthy and loving relationship even without the support of in-laws. 

Be mindful about what you share to your family and your in-laws. This one is pretty much a given. If you are annoyed and upset with your spouse for whatever reason, and you call someone in their family to slag them off, don’t be surprised if they react angrily towards you. Likewise, if you are constantly going to your family, and you are only ever sharing the negatives of your relationship and your spouse to them, don’t be surprised if they create a negative image of your spouse. Whilst family can often give good relationship advice, they are likely to be biased towards their ‘one of their own’. If you want to vent to family that’s fine, just don’t forget to vent about the positive aspects as well so they have a balanced view of your spouse and your relationship. 

Whenever dealing with family and in-laws, just remember that if they are acting hostile and/or toxic towards either your or your spouse, they could be acting that way for any number of reasons. It could just be that they have always been that way and so any realistic change is unlikely to ever happen. It could be that they feel threatened by the new addition to the family or they may be feeling over protective because of the nature of previous relationships. In an ideal world two people meet, start a relationship and the two families get along like the brady bunch. If you are only ever chasing this ideal, and so you are throwing away relationships which don’t meet this ideal, you may forever spend your life in and out of relationships.