In-laws Article: Difficult in-laws

September 30, 2009, 2:06 pm

The following article is exclusive to Hitched Magazine.

Got Scary In-laws?
by Jenna D. Barry

It’s that time of year when children– dressed as little witches or monsters– trot through neighborhoods gathering huge piles of delicious candy. I have fond childhood memories of Halloween, even though it can be somewhat of a frightening holiday for kids. Now that I’m an adult, what scares me is the high divorce rate. Difficult in-laws are one of the top reasons the divorce rate is so high; if you have in-law problems, then you probably have marriage problems.

In-laws are often stereotyped unfairly. Many, if not most, married couples have wonderful in-laws who treat them with kindness and respect. However, as indicated by countless posts from wives in my support group, it is not uncommon for in-laws to have such destructive behavior that it poses a real threat to marriages.

While in-laws don’t always fit into neat little categories, here are some descriptions to help you and your spouse learn more about them:

Type 1 In-laws: These in-laws have absolutely no idea their behavior hurts you and they would be sad to learn that it did. While you are seething with anger, they may be totally oblivious to the fact that they are a source of tension in your marriage. It may be obvious to you that they trample over your needs as a couple, but they may not realize it. Chances are, if you respectfully let them know how you want them to behave, they will be humble and willing to change.

Type 2 In-laws: These in-laws can sense that their behavior upsets you but they don’t know what to do about it. They are willing to change but don’t know how. They will keep behaving in their old familiar pattern until someone (you and/or your husband) teaches them a new behavior pattern in a respectful way.

Type 3 In-laws: These in-laws are aware that they are hurting you. They know how to change and are trying to change, but they need a little more time. They’re still in the process of replacing old, unhealthy behaviors with new, healthy ones. If your in-laws fit into this category, chances are they will improve their behavior if you are persistent in (1) respectfully communicating your needs and (2) offering them praise whenever they make an effort to respect those needs.

Type 4 In-laws: These in-laws are aware that their behavior is hurting your marriage. They know how to change, but they don’t want to change. Their relationship with their son is more important to them than the success of his marriage. If you respectfully confront them, they will likely overreact and use the situation as a way to draw pity from their son in order to turn him against you. If you hold your ground as they sulk, pout, whine, cry and blame, they will probably change their behavior, although they’ll complain about having to do so.

Type 5 In-laws: These in-laws say they want a better relationship with you, but then ignore every suggestion you give on how to change their behavior. They refuse to respect your boundaries and then complain to their son that they can’t understand why you don’t like them. It can be extremely difficult to maintain control of a verbal confrontation with them because they have subtle, manipulative ways of controlling conversations. Instead of apologizing for overlooking your needs, they will focus on how you are hurting them by having needs that conflict with theirs. Or they may offer an insincere apology while at the same time denying any wrongdoing by saying you misunderstood them or they were just kidding. Their goal is to maintain their saintly image while making you look like the bad guy.

Type 6 In-laws: These in-laws are too arrogant and self-centered to concern themselves with whether or not their behavior hurts you. They think that because they have done so much for you, you owe it to them to do anything they want you to do. Chances are, even if you and your husband communicate your needs a million times in a respectful manner, they will no sooner change their behavior than pull watermelons out of their nostrils. If you confront them about their destructive behavior, they will say you are overreacting and being too sensitive, rude, selfish, and/or disrespectful.

The more knowledgeable you become about in-laws, the more equipped you will be to prevent them from becoming an obstacle in your marriage.

Jenna D. Barry is the author of “A Wife’s Guide to In-laws:  How to Gain Your Husband’s Loyalty Without Killing His Parents.”  Married 15 years, Jenna learned how to gain her husband’s loyalty through communication, persistence, and a whole lot of love.  She leads a support group for daughters-in-law and has a website at

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You can have a GREAT marriage, even if your in-laws aren't so great!

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You may be quick to blame your in-laws for your marriage problems, but in reality the biggest part of the problem isn't your in-laws, it's your husband's loyalty to them.  When a man marries, he is supposed to transfer his loyalty from his parents to his wife. His behavior plays a key role in how well you get along with his parents.  The goal of this book is to help you gain your husband's loyalty.

If you are in need of hope and encouragement, this book is for you!  Jenna Barry offers hilarious, heartfelt advice about how to have a terrific marriage in spite of difficult in-laws.  As a wife who has personally experienced the despair that comes from having an unsupportive partner, she suggests specific things to say and do to gain your husband's loyalty.  This book won't teach you how to become best friends with your in-laws, but it will teach you how to think and behave in a new way so they no longer have any power over you.  A Wife's Guide to In-laws has over 40 cartoons, two fun chapters written just for your hubby, and worksheets to help the two of you reach loving compromises about common problem issues.

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About Jenna

As a wife of 22 years, Jenna D. Barry (a pen name) has learned how to gain her husband's loyalty through communication, persistence, and a whole lot of love.  She has familiarized herself with the needs and frustrations of other wives by participating in on-line in-law support groups and by talking to marriage therapists, friends, family, and co-workers.


Jenna is the author of the book, A Wife's Guide to In-laws:  How to Gain Your Husband's Loyalty Without Killing His Parents. She has been a radio guest on The Mike Bullard Show and her articles have been published in newspapers, websites, and magazines worldwide.  She writes monthly articles for Hitched Magazine and has been quoted in The Washington Times,, The London Free Press,, etc. She leads a support group for daughters-in-law right here.



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