Thursday, August 28, 2008

Toxic In-Laws

My husband’s parents treat me terribly. No matter how hard I try to be nice to them, they do not reciprocate. In disagreements, they always take their son’s side. I am thinking that it would be better for me if I just kept my distance. Is this the best solution?

Being an in-law truly can feel like being an “outlaw” at times. It is rare for a spouse to really feel like the child of the other one’s parents. You are wise to notice that what you are doing currently is not working in the way that you want it to and you want to find a way to do something differently.

Here are some things to think about :

Set realistic expectations. Don’t think that they will automatically like you. You “took” their child away and now they have to accept someone new, not necessarily of their choosing, into the family. While there are some parents who find it easy to incorporate new members into the family, others find it an intrusion and have a great deal of difficulty shifting relationships, rituals and connection with their own child.

Find ways to befriend them like inviting them to dinner, picking up something small when you are shopping for yourself and your own family, calling occasionally just to say “hello”. Allow the friendship time to develop slowly.

Try to think of some of the things that you do like about them and find ways to call that to their attention. Be as positive as you can around them in your words and your actions and find ways to notice the good things that they do.

It is rarely a good idea to talk with your in-laws about problems with your spouse, even if you feel very close to them. While you might think that it would be helpful to engage them in changing your spouse, unless the problems are very serious ones such as drug abuse or alcoholism, it is more likely that they will not think fondly of you rather than becoming upset with their own child. Find other confidants for yourself.

If you feel that they are truly being mean to you, talk with them about it. Try to have an honest conversation with them about your feelings. Begin in a “soft” way saying things like, “I am sure that I am being overly sensitive, however, it really hurt my feelings when …” or “Can you tell me what you meant when you said …. ?”

Strategize out loud with your spouse about your struggles. He may be able to help you see things from a different place or he may be truly unaware of their treatment of you. Ask him for his support and to speak up if he witnesses and recognizes that they are being disrespectful.

Do not cut off all contact with them unless they are truly abusive to you. They are your spouse’s parents and you, and your family, will be better off if there is contact along the way. You may choose to limit the amount of time that you are with them. You may choose to stay in a hotel when you visit. You and your spouse may agree that you do not have to attend every family function as the two of you build rituals for your own family.

We know that this only scratches the surface of some of your concerns, questions and experiences and would welcome your comments here.

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