It is the rare marriage that has no in-law problems. Think about it – you picked your spouse, but that spouse comes with the baggage of a whole family.
Malcolm X once jokingly commented that he feels in-laws were actually out-laws. It is ideal if the in-laws themselves sketch a boundary and operate according to it, but in most situations this is not the case. In these circumstances, it is up to their grown children to enforce those boundaries. But be assured that there is nothing wrong with your marriage if you have to deal with bills, kids, faulty plumbing, and your in-laws’ eccentrics.
Though it is normal to have an argument with your in-laws, recurrent fights can cause a strain in the relationship with your spouse and may impact negatively on the overall mood of your household. You may start to get easily agitated, while your spouse may get the feeling that you are not coping with the situation accordingly. Also, such arguments influence the children in a destructive way as well.
Before it all gets out of hands, let us walk you through these seemingly simple tips in order to maintain your calm and find a solution with an open mind.
Put the fences up beforehand
Set the boundaries with your in-laws during the initial stages of your marriage. This doesn’t mean that you must have one to one tutoring sessions about the dos and don’ts with them. Simply be assertive in your stance and communicate effectively about what you are not comfortable with. It will help your in-laws understand you better. This comes especially handy if you and your in-laws live in the same state and see each other often. This will help form a cordial bond among you and your in-laws from which you can benefit immensely if you plan to have kids. It is a well-known fact that raising children is a lot easier with the help of a grandparent. Just remember that you are creating a new family here – and everybody needs to know their role. But be patient – there is a learning curve for everybody. You included.
Let your spouse handle the situation
In case of a tricky situation, for example, if your mother in law is interfering with how you manage your finances, don’t confront her on the spot as it may further deteriorate the situation. Instead, ask your husband to talk to his mother and tell him how you feel about it. Your spouse understands their parents as they have spent a major portion of their life under their roof; therefore, they are better able to tackle the situation accordingly.
Prepare your Responses
Understand the nature of your in-laws and prepare your responses according to it. If you know that your in-laws give offensive remarks habitually, then instead of getting defensive respond with a simple answer and move on to another topic. And if it is easy for you, politely excuse yourself from being dragged into an aimless discussion with no fruitful results. It stops the argument from initiating and keeps the environment of your house at ease. Moreover, it will also give a silent message to your spouse that you are not picking fights and are trying to curb them instead. As every behaviorist will tell you: ignore the behavior you don’t want repeated. Giving it attention only gives it energy.
Realize that your in-laws are different people
Understand that your in-laws belong from a different generation who were raised with a different set of norms and values. It is natural for them to get surprised at how things are done today. However, the way they express their surprise may or may not agree with a polite code of conduct. What you can do is keeping the discussions balanced by acting as a buffer to negative comments. It is easier said than done, but this saves you from a lot of backlashing from your spouse and your in-laws.
Keep the communication flowing with your spouse
One of the best tools for dealing with intrusive or even down right offensive in-laws is processing the complications in words and talking about your position with your spouse. Don’t let a communication barrier form between you two due to this issue or that. No communication and miscommunication bring along a lot of misunderstandings and it is best to not let a problem remain unsolved for a long period of time, as it adds to the pile of unresolved issues that surface only during huge melt downs.
Try not to take it personally
This is perhaps the toughest of all the measures. When you hear someone criticizing your every move, and your ability to perform tasks well is undermined on a regular basis, it becomes hard to not take it personally. But let us mention here that to some people, especially those from older generations, there is only one way of doing things: their way. And you are not the only person who comes under the fire, everyone including their paper boy, plumber, and even the President comes under scrutiny for doing things that weren’t done in the good ol’ days. While they may have some wisdom to add, simply go forward with confidence and they can play catch up when you prove that your way works too.
Respect your spouse’s attachment and remember it’s only an opinion
No matter how hard a situation gets, you cannot change the reality that after all, they are your spouse’s parents. And like it or not, they are going to call every week and they will be visiting during the holidays. The key here is keeping your spouse in the loop, and making them understand about the various unfair things you encounter while dealing with their parents. Also, don’t trivialize or belittle your in-laws in front of your spouse. Parents have a special place in everyone’s hearts, no matter how unyielding they prove to be.
Take a deep breath
When all else fails, take a deep breath. This is an age old psychological trick to keep high tempers at bay. You cannot control their temperament, but you can control yours. So do your part to keep things relaxed and expect that your in-laws will follow suit one good day.
A true diplomat is a person who handles their spouse and in-laws in a way that doesn’t hurt either of them. Patience is going to get you through a lot of situations, and know that patience does not mean silently enduring the mistreatments or tacky behaviours, it means remaining steadfast in order to find a solution and not letting circumstances get the best of you.
However, there are some situations that I have encountered where the relationship with in-laws is beyond the norm and toxic. In these situations, some out of the box thinking is required. I’ve worked with several couples in the unusual situations. If you feel that counseling can be helpful, please call.