In-law relationships can be some of the most complicated with tension arising sometimes at every turn. Let me count the ways …
1. They think they have a right to tell you what to do.
Meddling mothers-in-law or fathers-in-law can do serious damage to any marriage. Just turn on the Lifetime movie network and see for yourself. Meddling is a specific example of boundary crossing. If your mother-in-law has your apartment picked out and your future baby’s name too, or your sister-in-law is rearranging the name cards during your wedding planning, practice setting boundaries.
2. They play favorites.
It is difficult when in-laws coo over certain family members but go totally flat when you or your spouse enter the room. Or maybe they don’t coo, but everybody lets one or two “difficult” family members get away with unacceptable behavior … very tough to watch.
3. An Addict in the house?
Active addiction creates tension and chaos. So, Uncle Conrad is a drunk who yells at your mother-in-law at every family gathering? And everyone ignores it? Know that it is normal for families to be in serious denial when touched by addiction. They will have a harder time seeing things than you will because they are too close to the problem.
4. You go to great trouble to please them, or make them happy, and they meet your efforts with criticism or, worse, they don’t even notice.
I had a friend who spent hours making a delightful dinner for her in-laws. They showed up two hours late and didn’t bring what they said they’d bring. “What?! They didn’t bring the vegetable dish?!” If this happens a lot, order pizza for the next get together. That way you won’t be annoyed.
5. They put you down or make underhanded criticisms.
It is super painful when you don’t feel accepted by your in-laws. What’s even worse is having in-laws that criticize your parenting or you. You know the ones, “Well, Barb, I guess yellow isn’t your best color. What happened to the sweater I bought you on your last birthday? Although, that was sooo long ago.” Big sigh ….
6. They don’t believe in social etiquette.
Do your in-laws eat with their mouth spewing food? My dryer fix-it-guy told me that when he goes to his in-law events, people curse at each other and fist fight. Nice.
7. They violate your boundaries under the guise of “being helpful.”
I had a girlfriend whose mother-in-law would come over and wash her clothes. My friend was so worried about offending her mother-in-law that she couldn’t say no. “I don’t want her washing my undies!” she would scream at me. I get it.
8. They are judgemental.
They have different political or religious beliefs. Usually, this is okay, except when people don’t believe it is okay to have different beliefs. Politics and religion can sometimes be powerful energizers for certain people. If your in-laws happen to be extreme on one end of the spectrum, and that spectrum differs from yours, sparks can fly when these subjects are brought up. Don’t bring it up.
9. They are controlling.
I once knew a girl whose in-laws demanded that they invite certain people to the wedding. My friend refused, and they went ahead and secretly invited an extra 50 people to the wedding. And didn’t tell them! Note: A lot of well intentioned people start acting very controlling when it is “their” money you have accepted. So, when offered money, tread carefully.
10. They enable lazy, entitled relatives.
This means your in-laws pay the bills on the deadbeat son’s minivan, they bail out the sister-in-law from her gambling debts and shopaholic ways. Meanwhile, you and your spouse are expected to be the responsible ones, who never ask for help.
Have you ever struggled with any of these in law issues? Blending families brings its share of challenges. If you’ve had some difficult moments, don’t give up on developing a good relationship.
Having good boundaries while staying respectful and loving toward your new “family” is a good place to start. Try not to set yourself up to be disappointed if the family members act in a frustrating manner. For example, if there is a tremendous amount of chaos and tension surrounding certain family members around midnight, because Uncle Conrad has had too many martinis, it might be a good idea to leave early.
Write in with your Top Difficult In-Law Moments. Were you able to resolve them? How are things now?
Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a counselor and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, a new book about developing healthier relationships with yourself and others. The Stop Giving It Away movement aims to stop the detrimental level of self-sacrifice in which many women live and work. For more insight, get a copy of Stop Giving It Away.