When Dealing with Difficult People Isn’t Easy!
While some marriages are blessed with fantastic in-laws, some spouses think of in-laws as dealing with difficult people and overwhelming situations. Whether you are living with your in-laws, dealing with in-laws who aren’t supportive, or avoiding dramatic in-laws, we have some tips to improve your relationship and keep the peace!
Being a part of a new family is a process for just about everyone after getting married, but some have more than just a period of adjustment to handle. So, what do you do if you feel smothered, attacked, isolated, or estranged by your in-laws?
Create a United Front and Set Boundaries
Before dealing with difficult people in your family, remember where your first priorities lie: with your spouse! Discussing each other’s families may get emotional, so before diving into the deep end, remind yourselves that you are each other’s family first and foremost.1 If you have disagreements or concerns within your marriage, don’t involve other family members and certainly don’t vent about your spouse to others. You have to be a united front or your in-law problems are going to get much, much worse.
Once you have a united front, discuss with each other boundaries you would like to have with each set of in-laws. You may assume you are both on the same page, but really take the time to listen to your spouse and make him or her feel understood. Then, present the ideas to the in-laws in a positive way. This sounds scary and awkward, but we promise it will save you from many scary and awkward situations in the future. Keep the feeling light and loving as best you can. You might consider requests such as asking ahead of time if a visit to the home can be made, having the labor and delivery room private when baby comes, agreeing to not make criticisms in front of the children…whatever you feel you both need for happy in-law relations.
Setting boundaries is even more important if you and your in-laws are sharing the same home. You may consider having quiet times2 during which your in-laws will respect your privacy and vice versa, having off-limits areas, or set up a laundry schedule. The more you plan ahead of time, the smoother the experience you will have.
Primary Relationship is the Messenger
Dealing with difficult people is stressful, especially where in-laws are involved. However, it is usually easier when the spouse with the primary relationship to that set of parents is the lead or sometimes the messenger when an issue needs to be addressed.1 Parents will usually be a little more receptive and the child will have an easier time being honest. It can be scary to disagree with your in-laws and potentially hurt their feelings, but having your spouse take most of the attention can help ease the awkwardness. Just be sure that you are both on the same page before the conversation happens.
It is extremely important to take the lead with your parents if they have been disrespectful or unkind to your spouse. Your sweetheart may be too emotional or hot-headed to deal with the situation as it needs to be. Remember that you are a team, and any disrespect to your spouse is unkindness to the both of you.
Pick Your Battles
Once you get used to the idea of dealing with difficult people by talking it out, it’s time to think about the issues you want to pursue. While you may feel you have enough material to give them a piece of your mind for the next century, focus on the big picture. You probably don’t need to confront them about how you they ruined your children’s lives by giving them some chocolate before dinner, but it might be a good idea to discuss how they shouldn’t critique your parenting skills constantly.3
It can be tough in the heat of the moment to realize if an issue warrants a conversation with the folks, so take a beat to think about it. If it really does need to be addressed, having a good night’s sleep will allow you to articulate what you really feel and the best way to express that.
Look for Common Ground and Be Positive
It can be easy to judge your in-laws as bizarre or crazy, but try to avoid the mind trap that what you have experienced is normal1 or preferable to others’ experiences, traditions, or perspectives (anthropologists give that the fancy term of ethnocentrism). There are going to be differences, and we usually handle those pretty well with our spouse. Same principles apply here; so, do your best to see things from their perspective.
Even if you don’t see eye to eye, remember that you have something you do agree on: your spouse! Your sweetie wouldn’t be the love you cherish today without them.4 Look deep and you may just find the reasons your spouse turned out to be an incredible human being.
With this in mind, keep it positive and resist the urge to insult them – even behind their back and even if your spouse starts it.3 Spouting negativity will only breed more disgust and disdain and that is not going to help improve your relationship with the in-laws. Not by a long shot. Plus, your spouse may be hurt by and resent your comments later even if they are mad in the moment,3 and should your children hear you, it could cause stress and confusion for them, as well.
Take the In-Law’s Side
Now what if dealing with difficult people for you means trying to play nice with a daughter-in-law or son-in-law? A very wise woman once told me that she makes it a habit to lend her support to the child-in-law in disagreements – even if they are funny, light-hearted “arguments” (“She does not always pick on you!”). This helps create a feeling of camaraderie and affection which can build a good foundation for when trying times do arise. When you show that you aren’t always going to side with the child you raised (or anyone else over you), it will make your in-law feel included and loved.
All that being said, if you are struggling with your in-laws in a way in which you don’t know how to deal, seek out the help of a professional counselor with whom you are comfortable!
Check out these helpful books for dealing with difficult in-laws:
1Fulbright, Yvonne K., PhD. “Have In-Law Issues?” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 14 Oct. 2013. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
2Montgomery, Heather. “Sharing a Home with Your In-Laws or Parents.”EverydayFamily. N.p., 21 Sept. 2012. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
3Kerner, Ian. “In-laws Can Help — or Hurt — Your Marriage – CNN.com.”CNN. Cable News Network, 13 Dec. 2012. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
4“5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult In-Laws.” Couples Counseling Chicago. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.