October 29, 2010, 7:01 pm
The following article is exclusive to Hitched Magazine:
Dealing With 3 Common (Difficult) In-Law Scenarios
Wives in my support group often describe incidents with their in-laws and then ask my opinion on how they should handle the situation. Sometimes they are surprised (and disappointed) when I encourage them to be assertive with their in-laws instead of expecting their husband to tell his folks to jump off a cliff. Many marriage disputes over in-laws occur because we behave as helpless victims waiting for our husbands to rescue us, when instead we should behave as confident, yet respectful, daughters-in-law.
Am I saying it is the sole responsibility of the wife to deal with difficult in-laws? Absolutely not. It is the husband’s job to make it clear that his wife is his first priority, even if that upsets his parents. He must be assertive with his parents when it is appropriate for him to do so, and he must support his wife when it is appropriate for her to do so. Both husband and wife play crucial roles in protecting their marriage from difficult in-laws.
It’s impossible for me to describe the best way for husbands and wives to behave in every possible situation with the in-laws, but here are some common scenarios.
Scenario 1: Your mother-in-law calls more often than you’d like to talk to her. If you answer the phone out of obligation every time she calls, then your resentment toward her will grow. A better approach is to decide when you want to speak with her and then start a new pattern of communication by:
* Screening her calls
Remember that you can only control when you answer the phone; you cannot control when she calls or whether your husband answers it. Do not complain about her to your husband, kids, sister, mother or friends. Don’t pressure your husband to tell his mom to stop bugging you so much. His role is to support you by:
* Not pressuring you to talk to his mother more often than you want to, and
Scenario 2: Your in-laws offer unsolicited advice about your finances, parenting decisions, etc. The next time your father-in-law makes a disapproving comment directly to you, say, “I appreciate your concern, but this isn’t your decision” or, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’ve decided to do it this way instead” or, “I’d rather not discuss [our finances] with you … is there something else you’d like to talk about?” In most cases, it’s better to give short assertive responses as each situation comes up rather than have a big, formal confrontation. Your husband can help by:
* Use the phrases I just mentioned whenever his parents offer him unwanted advice.
Scenario 3: Your in-laws expect you and your husband to spend more time with them than you would like. Spending time with your spouse’s parents is part of the marriage commitment, so communicate with your husband until you can reach a loving compromise about when you’ll spend time with each other’s families. Ideally, your husband should be the one to let his parents know what the two of you have decided about where and with whom to spend your summer vacation, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, etc. If your husband’s folks have a negative response, he can say something like “I’m sorry you’re disappointed, but we’ve made our decision.” Don’t be afraid to start your own traditions; you don’t have to have brunch every Sunday with your in-laws, and it’s okay to spend Christmas at your own house instead of dragging your kids all over the country to make sure no one feels left out.
It’s not always easy to determine what each partner’s role should be in any given situation, but as with all marriage obstacles, the best thing you can do is unite as a couple and work as a team to keep your marriage strong.
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.” Please visit her website at www.WifeGuide.org to join her support group or find a list of recommended counselors.
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