It is often said that when you marry, you marry your spouse’s family and this feels very unnerving when you have a problematic relationship with your in-laws. It is important that your in-laws know that you, as a married couple, are independent and have the right to make your own decisions about your life. While parents’ interest in their child’s welfare does not end when the child grows up and marries, it’ i sometimes hard for parents to back off and know their limits.
How you handle the situation of your sabotaging in-laws really depends on your particular situation. While some parents are well-intentioned, other people have agendas they want met. If your spouse’s parents have problems, your spouse has grown up with those issues and has been affected by them. So your first step is to ask yourself some questions before deciding the best course of action.
Evaluate the situation
First, look to yourself. Are you perhaps doing things that signal that their behavior is ok? For instance, if you talk to your mother-in-law about an important decision you and your partner are trying to make, you are signaling to her that you want her advice. If she is pushy or even just highly nurturing, she may try to pressure you to do what she thinks is best. Changing your behavior might solve the problem.
Next, ask yourself: if a neutral observer were to look at their behavior, would that person see intentionally mean or sabotaging behavior, mental illness, or well-intentioned but intrusive behavior? This is important, because if their advice is coming from a position of ill-directed love, the problem will be much easier to solve. If, however, there is intentional cruelty or mental instability, more drastic measures may be necessary.
Is your spouse aware of the behavior or your feelings about the behavior? If so, does your spouse agree with you or his/her parents? Or perhaps does not see an issue at all?
Steps to take
If your spouse is not aware of the problem or does not realize or acknowledge your feelings, address your concerns respectfully – after all, they are your partner’s parents—but emphasize the importance of solving this problem and not denying or ignoring it.
If after your explanation your spouse does not see a problem with the behavior or perhaps sides with his or her parents, I strongly advise marriage counseling. When you marry, each spouse’s allegiance must shift from the family to the other spouse. This is a fundamental requirement for a strong, healthy marriage. Marriage counseling can help both spouses see how beautiful it is to nurture that mutual allegiance and develop a real partnership that makes each spouse stronger and more fulfilled in life.
If your spouse does see the problem and agrees with you, decide together how to set clear boundaries of behavior. Then, together, tell them what those boundaries are, clearly and specifically. Let your spouse do the talking. Your in-laws might still blame you for it, but the message must come from their own child so they know their child sides with you and not with them.
Ask your spouse not to discuss with your in-laws any marital decisions you are making until after the decisions have been made. That will prevent them from giving unwanted advice. Also ask that your partner not discuss you with your in-laws—certainly not to talk about any differences you may be having. This could give them ammunition to break down the bond of allegiance between you.
Your partner will have to become more aware of the behavior that causes you so much pain and become your bodyguard, insisting to his or her parents that the behavior is unacceptable. In extreme cases, it might be necessary to cut off relations with truly sabotaging in-laws.
Even if you are both forming a united front against the behavior, it might be to your advantage to have a few sessions with a trained marriage counselor to give you some pointers and renew and strengthen your relationship.