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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Relationships: Dealing with Difficult In-laws

We've all heard the jokes and cliches about "the difficult mother-in-law." These jokes, often sexist in nature, are at the expense of the vast majority of mothers-in-law who are nurturing and supportive people with the couples' welfare at heart and who have appropriate boundaries.

But what if you're one of the unlucky people whose in-laws are truly difficult and it's creating havoc in your relationship?

Dealing With Difficult In-Laws

Whether it's your mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law or sister-in-law, a difficult in-law can be very challenging to you and your relationship. Worse still, if your partner refuses to acknowledge the problem or acknowledges it but refuses to do anything about it, you might feel very alone and betrayed by your partner.

Difficulties with in-laws can come in all shapes and sizes: There's the in-law who criticizes how you spend money, the in-law who criticizes your housekeeping or your child rearing practices, the inquisitive in-law who wants to know everything about what's going on in your relationship, the "know it all" in-law who has unsolicited advise on just about everything and feels hurt if you don't follow this advice, and so on.

Here are some tips that might be helpful:

Communicate with your partner:
As I've recommended in prior posts,speak from your own experience. Don't start by criticizing your in-laws or your partner. That will get you nowhere fast. Stay calm and focused. It's better to say, "I feel upset when your mother criticizes how I spend money" than to say, "Your crazy mother always has something to say about how I spend money!" It might be difficult for your partner to hear and don't be surprised if your partner didn't realize that there was a problem. After all, your partner might have spent most of his or her life tuning out your in-laws and might still be tuning them out now.

The relationship must be primary:
Even though you and your partner might each love your own parents and siblings very much, it must be clear that your relationship must come first. That means that if you're having ongoing problems with your in-laws, your partner must speak up, unequivocally, on your behalf and vice versa.

Set clear boundaries:
After you and your partner have talked about the problems and (hopefully) agreed that your relationship must come first, talk about how you want to set clear boundaries with your in-laws, whatever the issues might be--babysitting, holiday visits, or unsolicited advice. Once you and your partner have agreed on these issues, it's up to your partner to communicate this to your in-laws. You must also be prepared to stick with these boundaries because change is difficult and people will often slip back into old behaviors at times.

Dealing with Difficult In-Laws
All of the above assumes that you and your partner can negotiate these issues between you and come to a mutual understanding about them. But what if you can't? What if these issues are eroding and threatening your relationship? At that point, it might be necessary for you to seek the help of a marriage counselor to assist you to overcome these obstacles so you can have a more satisfying relationship.

Working Through Issues With Difficult In-Laws

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.  
Feel free to call me at (212) 726-1006 to set up a consultation.

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