What to Do When You're Having Problems With Your In-Laws

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You know the saying: When you marry someone, you marry their whole family. That's great and all, but just like in marriage, you are bound to experience conflict with your in-laws.

In fact, this is the norm: According to Cambridge University psychologist Terri Apter, "three out of four couples experience significant conflict with their in-laws," and the relationship between mother and daughter-in-law is the most complex.

If you love your spouse and they love their family, you have to find a way to get along with your in-laws. Sometimes, it can be a challenge. When you're having problems with your in-laws, here is how you can improve your communication with both them and your spouse to avoid conflict.

You Need More Space

If you and your spouse are in the honeymoon phase and are very much in love and enjoying post-wedding bliss, you might run into problems if your in-laws come over all the time, and you want more privacy and alone time with your spouse.

Talk to your spouse, and kindly tell them you want your marriage to start on the right foot, and for that to happen, you need to be alone together more often. Gently remind them you’re two independent adults who are starting your own life and family. Tell them you want to spend time with their family, but you also need your own space and independence.

"Your spouse may be completely clueless about the situation or how it’s making you feel, notes Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright in Psychology Today. "Therefore, the first step to getting on top of the issue is to provide your spouse with an understanding of the problem. Focus on your feelings, owning them with “I” statements. For example, “I feel angry when your father…"

Ask them to talk to their family about coming over at designated times instead of inviting themselves over. Be sure your spouse knows they can spend as much time with their own family as they want, but you don’t always have to be there.

Never bad-mouth their family; this only causes hurt feelings, and it will alienate your spouse. Eventually, they'll resent you for your attitude.

Be aware of your spouse's feelings. Remember, your in-laws are at least partially responsible for creating the person you love. They likely don’t mean to be intrusive. They just love their child and want to remain a part of their life.

When Family Comes First

If your spouse always chooses their family over you, it's an issue. If you feel like you are always in second place with your spouse, you need to calmly communicate your feelings.

You might want to preface the conversation with your spouse by saying, “I know you love me and you don’t mean for me to feel left out.” Then, calmly and kindly tell your spouse they hurt your feelings when they make the needs and wants of their family come before your relationship. Remind them that decisions should be made by the two of you without interference from others.

Then, ask your spouse to agree to one night a week when the two of you can have alone time without phone calls, e-mails, or visits from family members. Suggest to your spouse to choose another night for them to devote to their relatives. If you have a good relationship with your in-laws, you might invite them over to dinner to show your spouse their family is important to you, too, and you are not asking them to give them up. You just want your relationship to be their top priority, which is natural once you’re married.

"While tough, try to avoid being critical of your in-laws—criticism is likely to evoke a protective response instead of empathy, advises Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright. "This is your spouse’s mother, somebody they love and think of fondly. You’re trying to get his or her support, so approach as you would want to be approached if they had a problem with your parents."

They Don't Like You

If your in-laws never wanted you to marry their child, it can be a big challenge to overcome. Even if you've made mistakes in the past and are working hard to make your future brighter, it can be hard for your in-laws to see a change. If they came to your wedding with grimaces on their faces, and barely congratulated you, your relationship with them probably took a hit. If your spouse is hurt, you should organize a meeting with your in-laws and spouse.

Make dinner for them or take them out to dinner and tell them you understand their concerns about your marriage. Remind them that you love their child and are building a life and would like their help and encouragement. Express your desire to have a relationship with your spouse's parents, and let them know they are welcome in your lives and in your heart.

Then, listen carefully to what they say, without interrupting. Find out what they want and what it will take to repair your relationship with them for the sake of your spouse. Control your anger and speak in a calm tone. Show them respect and be honest. They’ll likely return the favor. It won’t be easy, but you’ll be able to build a relationship. Your spouse will be grateful and your lives will be more peaceful. Plus, you won’t feel guilty for keeping your spouse and their family apart.

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