Today I'm going to focus on four ways to manage difficult in laws so they don’t destroy your marriage. I had a woman come up to me at my last Total Marriage Refresh seminar and she said "you have to do a blog post on in laws because I can’t stand my mother in law." And so here it is. The first thing we must do is define what a difficult in law is. A difficult in law is one who doesn’t behave in respectful ways and doesn’t respect your boundaries. For example, they may judge you because they don't like the color of your skin, your socio-economic status, your career choice, who knows! They feel like you’re not good enough for their child. They also may be jealous because of how much attention you receive from their child. Typically, the negative feelings they have towards you result in critical remarks, contemptuous digs, and passive aggressive behaviors. Another common behavior with difficult in laws is they don’t respect boundaries with you or your children. For example, perhaps you ask them not to come over unannounced since they live nearby but they do so anyway. Or, perhaps they live far away and instead of asking when a good time would be to visit, they just tell you when they’ll be arriving. When they do visit perhaps you’ve asked them not to give your kids refined sugar, but they do so anyway. Or, perhaps you’ve asked them not to let your kids watch rated R movies, but they do so anyway. They don’t know their place and falsely believe they should have the final say since they’ve raised kids and therefore know more than you. Their lack of respect for your boundaries is disrespectful.
If you don’t handle difficult in laws well, they can quickly damage your marriage. So, here’s four steps to prevent that from happening.
Dealing with Difficult In Laws
1-Become A Unified Front
When you get married, your top priority becomes your spouse, not your parents. Therefore, you need to build a unified front against your in laws. So, if your parent insults your spouse, consider it an insult to you as well because they just hurt your partner. So, an offense to your spouse becomes an offense to both of you.
2-Empathize with Your Partner
If your spouse gets their feelings hurt because of your parent, empathize with their feelings rather than defend your parent. An effective empathy comment is “I can see how you would feel ____ because of ____.” So many people fall into the trap of defending their parent by saying “they didn't mean it like that,” or “that's just how they are, don’t take it so personal.” Those types of comments invalidate your partner’s feelings. While there may be a time and place to process through the actual intentions of your parent’s behavior, always error on the side of empathizing with your partner’s feelings rather than defending your parent’s actions.
3-Address Your Parent
If you have a difficult parent and they've mistreated your partner or disrespected your boundaries, you should be the one to address them, not your partner. It is not fair to put that type of burden onto your spouse. It's your parent so you need to be the one that speaks up and defends your partner. You need to be the one that goes to your parent and says, “hey, this was said, and it hurt my partner’s feelings.” A caring and humble parent would say, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean for it to come across that way, I’ll apologize to them.” Unfortunately, difficult in laws usually aren’t caring or humble so be prepared for a response like this, “I can’t believe that hurt their feelings, I did nothing wrong, I told you you shouldn’t have married them.” Even if your parent responds poorly, you did the right thing by standing up for your partner and that will benefit your marriage.
If your parents continues to disrespect your partner or your boundaries and they’ve scoffed at your conversations about it, it may be time for a break from the relationship. You can simply say, “I feel like my concerns about the disrespect towards my partner or towards my boundaries is being ignored so I need to take a break from our relationship until these patterns can be resolved.” Don’t visit your parents by yourself to keep your connection with them going. That will only enable their behavior and send the message that you’re more aligned with them than you are with your partner. If you don’t push pause on the relationship with your parents because of their misbehavior, they will probably continue to disrespect your partner and your boundaries for decades. They need a natural consequence for their actions to send the message loud and clear that their disrespectful behavior won’t be tolerated.
So, there you go, four ways to ensure difficult in laws don’t ruin your marriage. First, become a unified front by viewing an offense towards your partner as an offense towards you. You and your partner must be a team and operate as such. Second, empathize with your partner’s feelings rather than defend your parents. When your parents upset your partner, you will make it worse by trying to defend them. Third, talk to your parents about their disrespectful behavior. It needs to be brought to their attention and the biological child should be the one to do it. And fourth, set boundaries by pushing pause on the relationship with your parents until the disrespectful patterns are resolved. Otherwise, their misbehavior could continue for decades. Learning to get along with in laws can be a big challenge for couples, especially when you have difficult ones. However, following these steps will create guidance on how to navigate the murky waters to keep your marriage protected first and foremost.
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What else do you feel could be helpful with difficult in laws?