Women’s World: Difficult In-Inlaws
Why is it that you can tell your own mother she’s driving you crazy, but not your mother-in-law?
Precisely because she’s not your mom. “You don’t have a history with your in-laws, you didn’t grow up with them, so you don’t know how they’ll react to criticism,” says Susan Forward, PhD. “The unexpected is what makes confronting your husband’s family so scary.”
But you can’t ignore problems forever. First, know where to draw the line. “Everyone has a different tipping point,” says Dr. Forward. “Your threshold for in-law tension may be much higher than someone else’s. But if you’re being verbally abused, or have gotten to the point of having anxiety, headaches and other physical symptoms, you need to confront the situation.”
What do you do? “Work as a team and ask your husband to step in and talk to the person,” she says. “Although he’s the one stuck in the middle, you’re his wife and he should have your back, even with his parents and siblings.” That doesn’t mean making him choose between you or them. “It’s not about detaching himself from his mom, dad or anyone else,” says Dr. Forward. “It’s about him summoning the courage to tell the person, ‘She’s my wife, I love her and it’s not acceptable for you to treat her this way.'” Often, it takes a dose of reality from their son or brother, rather than you, to get difficult in-laws to back off.
If he refuses to stand up for you and simply tells you to try to work it out, you have two options: Stand up for yourself or limit contact with the in-law. “Tough as it may be, explain to your husband exactly why you’re going to make yourself scarce when that person is around,” advises Dr. Forward. It may be the push he needs to intervene. And if it isn’t, then you have, at the very least, removed yourself from a hurtful or stressful situation.
How to Handle His Family
Here’s how to get rid of the disruptive behavior without letting go of the person.
His mom constantly criticizes everything, from the way you dress to the way you parent your kids.
How to Fix It
She likely has major insecurity issues and the more you react, the more satisfaction she gets, says Dr. Forward. So take a deep breath, calm yourself, and use a nondefensive response like, “You’re entitled to your opinion, so let’s just agree to disagree.”
His dad calls all the time, drops by without warning, and insists on having Sunday dinner together every week.
How to Fix It
You have to put your foot down—firmly. “Tell him, ‘I’m sorry, but every Sunday isn’t going to work for us. We visit my family on the weekends, too, and we also have plans to see our friends,'” advises Dr. Forward. Set clear limits, making a schedule that’s realistic and acceptable to you and your husband. And stick to it.
The Master of Chaos
It’s one problem after another with your sister-in-law, and she constantly comes to you and your husband for help.
How to Fix It
Tell her, “I’m sorry, but we can’t fix this for you.” But make sure your husband is on the same page, says Dr. Forward. Don’t leave it to him to handle her solo. If he resists, remind him of the difference between helping out and rescuing: Helping is temporary; rescuing never stops.