How to Get Along With the In-Laws: Dealing With In-Laws and Extended Family

Does the mere mention of the word “in-laws” or “mother-in-law” increase your blood pressure to possibly dangerous levels? Are you having difficulty in knowing how to get along with the in-laws in your family to the point where you really just want to know how to get rid of your mother-in-law, sister-in-law or other family members? Does one or more of your in-laws cause you to “walk on eggshells” around them most of the time, or when talking about certain subjects?

You might have agreed to stand by the love of your life for better or for worse, but you probably were not expecting to have to try and get along with difficult in-laws or struggle with mother-in-law problems, and you might now even feel like you hate your in-laws. Getting along with in-laws can be very challenging at times, especially if you’re made to feel that all the problems are your fault, causing you to feel that it’s easier to just shut up and put up in order to keep the peace. Then there’s the often ominous time spent over the holidays with in-laws that you’d just rather not have to deal with at all. Sound familiar?

Common problems might be that your mother-in-law criticizes your cooking or housekeeping skills, asking when you and your husband will have children, or criticizing how you raise and discipline your children with unsolicited parenting advice. Maybe your mother-in-law does or says things that suggest she still thinks of your husband as her little boy, struggling or refusing to let go of the apron strings, or the painful reality that your parents and the in-laws will never get along and you wonder if your marriage will last.

Dealing With In-Laws

Are you the spouse that doesn’t understand why your mate has such an angry and resentful attitude when it comes to your parent’s influence in your marriage? If you are the husband trying to figure out what to do if your mom and your wife don’t get along, you need to understand why your wife is so upset and why she’s having so much difficulty in getting along with your mother and other members of the family.

While it is true that not every situation or conflict requires you to step in and handle the problems between your mother and your wife, your wife is angry because intrusive, controlling, manipulative, and opinionated in-laws are invading private issues that should only be talked about or decided by you and your spouse alone. This includes dealing with the sister-in-law, brother-in-law, father-in-law, and any other problematic in-law within the family.

Ask yourself: Would you consider it unacceptable behavior if someone came into your home and picked up your checkbook and began questioning you about your purchases? Wouldn’t you take immediate offense to this behavior because it would really be none of their business how you spend your money? Your wife views your parents’ constant involvement and intrusion into personal matters the same way.

Your wife feels that your unwillingness to speak up and put a stop to these intrusions into your marriage and family life, including personal attacks on her as your wife, as a personal betrayal bordering on abuse. Your wife may believe that the emotional abuse, manipulation by controlling and downright toxic in-laws is a relationship deal-breaker for her, and may cost you your marriage if you don’t put an immediate stop to it. Now.

Your wife believes that every time you take your parents’ side or do nothing to stop your parents’ intrusion, you are betraying your wedding vows to leave and cleave unto your spouse, honoring your mate above ALL others. Betrayal is one of the deepest offenses that can ever be inflicted upon the heart of your spouse, which if not changed will create tremendous anger and resentment that will drive you and your spouse further apart, ultimately landing you right into divorce court. Yes, it really is that serious.

Are you planning on staying married to your spouse? Then, regardless of whether you are the wife or the husband, the two of you must come to an agreement that there is a problem with the in-laws that needs to be solved, in order to protect your marriage from toxic in-laws. If your wife’s family has been meddling and intruding on your personal lives as husband and wife and it’s making you crazy, then managing the in-law problems on her side of the family needs immediate attention too.

How to Get Along With In-Laws

  • 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.

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