Be Assertive With In-laws
March 1, 2011, 12:19 pm
This article is exclusive to Hitched Magazine:
Letter from Reader: My husband’s parents’ behavior is creating problems in our marriage. My MIL & FIL make rude comments to me in private and in front of my husband. I do not respond to the comments in an effort to be respectful to his parents. When out of their presence I try to discuss the situation to my husband and try to explain why their comments upset me. His normal response is that “I didn’t hear them say that”, “Oh I didn’t notice”, etc. I get upset with my husband because he is sitting beside me when these situations happen, how can he not hear or notice? His response to that question is that “This is just how my parents are and I guess I don’t notice because I’m used to it.” I explain that there is no excuse for poor manners and rude behavior and that I don’t accept the fact that “that’s just how they are”. I explained that WE need to set boundaries with them and that they need to be told when I find a comment or behavior to be rude or disrespectful. He hesitates to have discussions with them because he doesn’t want to upset them. I’m very tired of being upset due to their behavior and I have explained to my husband that this situation will never resolve unless they understand how their behavior is being perceived. My husband spent the past 12 years explaining his parents’ behavior to me as “that’s just how they are”. I can no longer accept this excuse. Please help!
How To Be Assertive With Your In-laws
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. He must make his wife’s needs a priority rather than being a “parent-pleaser.” His behavior plays a key role in how well you get along with his parents.
That having been said, I think many wives play the role of a helpless child instead of behaving as an assertive adult. In many situations it’s better to gain respect by standing up for yourself rather than expecting your husband to rescue you. You are not likely to gain your husband’s loyalty if you constantly complain to him about his parents; in fact you can actually trigger his instinct to defend them. It’s better to deal with your in-laws in an assertive manner rather than take a passive-aggressive approach.
It is respectful — not disrespectful– for a daughter-in-law to communicate her needs in a tactful, mature manner. For example, let’s say you hate it when your in-laws make rude comments. What would be disrespectful is if you didn’t tell them how you felt—and instead you complained to your husband, gossiped to your friends, or held a silent grudge. It would be more respectful to speak honestly and say, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m not willing to listen to you make negative comments about [my appearance, my cooking, etc.].”
Certainly there are situations in which your husband should speak up when his parents are behaving in an unacceptable manner. However, it’s important to realize that you have the ability to bring out the best or worst in him. Rather than yelling at him for not being a more loyal husband, it’s important to consider things from his perspective and work together instead of against each other.
There are few things in life more difficult than being assertive with our own parents, especially if they are controlling and manipulative. In order for your spouse to confront his parents about their destructive behavior, he must (1) realize their behavior is destructive and (2) have the courage to confront them about it. Without proper counseling or education, it may be nearly impossible for him to realize his parents are controlling, intrusive, and/or manipulative. Why? Because they are his definition of “normal.” Even if you are fortunate enough to have a spouse who recognizes when his parents’ behavior is unhealthy, he may not have the courage to confront them.
There are things you can say and do to help your spouse recognize destructive behavior and be courageous enough to draw boundaries with his folks. However, this is not an overnight process. It could take years for his definition of “normal” to change. In the meantime, realize that you are not doomed to remain in a helpless victim role. By behaving as an adult on an equal level with your in-laws, you can do what is in your power to protect yourself and your marriage.
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