How to Handle Invasive In-Laws
By Drs Les and Leslie Parrott
One of the most difficult situations married couples face is dealing with invasive or controlling in-laws. Maybe they’re critical, nosy, or they monopolize your (or your spouse’s) time. Perhaps they don’t think you can take care of their “baby” as well as they did. Whatever the case, these situations can get dicey in a hurry.
In today’s blog post, we’re going to focus on how to deal with invasive in-laws who are making your life as a couple harder than it should be.
HAVE A HEART-TO-HEART…WITH YOUR SPOUSE
Is your mother-in-law rifling through your things when you’re not home? Has your father-in-law repeatedly interfered with your home repairs and handyman projects? Do your in-laws probe you both for personal information?
It’s time for a heart-to-heart talk…but not with your in-laws.
Even though you might feel tempted to address them yourself (especially if your frustration level is high), it’s best to rely on your spouse–who is their child–to be willing to draw a line in the sand. That means you need to approach your husband or wife first, and lovingly talk to them about what’s happening and how it makes you feel.
You could say something like, “I know your parents love us, but this is making it hard for me to be close to you. When they (fill in the blank), I feel (fill in the blank).”
Be patient with your spouse; it’s often difficult for a person to hear that their parents have such a negative effect on their spouse. And they may not admit it at the time, but they’re probably feeling pretty frustrated with their folks, too (maybe even more than you are).
Don’t shift the situation into an attempt to control your in-laws through your spouse; instead, say your peace, and give your spouse space to process the situation. He or she may need a little time to figure out how to approach your in-laws.
SETTING BOUNDARIES WITH YOUR INVASIVE PARENTS
If your parents are guilty of invasive or controlling behavior, it’s your responsibility to be your spouse’s advocate (and your childrens’, if you have kids). We know that approaching your parents isn’t going to be easy, but it’s essential for the health of your marriage.
Be kind when you approach your parents. You could say something to them like, “You guys are so helpful to us, and we see all the love behind what you’re doing, but we’re going to have to decide/work through this on our own.”
Let them know you understand their love for you. Acknowledge the good they do in your life, and the wonderful part they have in it. If they respond with hurt feelings, understand it’s normal for parents to mourn the loss of a large role in their adult child’s life, but remain firm.
Sometimes, we run into situations where we can’t easily set boundaries with our in-laws. For example, if you know your mother-in-law has a key to your home and has been going through your personal belongings–but you can’t prove it–you have to find a workaround, since you can’t confront her. To set a boundary around this behavior, you could lock away your personal items or send the kids to her house for babysitting, instead of having her keep them in your home.
Here are a few more quick tips for dealing with sticky in-law situations:
- If your in-laws are monopolizing your time, ask your spouse to set aside time for you
- If your parents and your spouse don’t get along, get out of the middle of their disagreements and let them work things out for themselves
- If family functions are stressful, work together to maintain a sense of humor about the situation
ADVOCATE FOR YOUR SPOUSE
Remember, if your parents are the ones creating problems in your marriage, it’s up to you to change the dynamic of your relationship with your spouse for the better. A toxic relationship with in-laws can be really harmful to your marriage, so it’s up to you to be your spouse’s advocate and change your relationship with your parents on his or her behalf.
There may never be an ideal or perfect relationship, but you have the power to make your marriage the very best it can be. That includes protecting it from outside sources–parents or not–that may interfere with your peace.
We’ve included a chapter in our book, The Control Freak, that deals with invasive in-laws if you want to know more about how to navigate these tough situations.
If you would like help dealing with in-laws or other family situations, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.