Have you ever watched the movie Monster-in-Law and been able to relate to Jennifer Lopez’s character on an eerily close level?
If so, you’re probably dealing with some intrusive in-laws.
“Having these types of in-laws is quite common,” relationship expert Nicole McCance says. “It tends to be more common with the mother-in-law than the father-in-law.”
In fact, this type of toxic family situation can be so disruptive to a relationship that it is often among the top reasons why couples choose to divorce.
“In these cases where the mother-in-law is very intrusive for example, the wife can feel left out, hurt and disappointed that she’s second,” McCance explains. “As a result, resentment can build over the years in the relationship. It’s also really hard to get that dynamic back, too, because the wife just feels farther and farther away and less included. It can lead to marriage difficulties, and it’s one of the top stressors in marriages.”
So just how dreaded can in-laws be?
According to a 2010 survey done by iVillage, 51 per cent of people say they would rather stay home and clean than spend a day with their mother-in-law. However, 36 per cent said they’d rather go to a gynecologist appointment, 30 per cent say they’d rather serve jury duty, 28 per cent would prefer to file income taxes and 28 per cent would opt for a root canal, Adweek reports.
So instead of letting the frustration build and get to you and your relationship, McCance suggests these tips to help you manage those nosy in-laws.
Look at what you’re doing
Seeing as relationships and families are dynamics, it really takes some understanding that everyone involved has some responsibility in the matter. So start with a look at yourself, McCance says.
“We teach people how to treat us,” she says. “So ask yourself what are you doing that might be making this worse – and can you do anything differently? Because we can’t change other people, but we can change ourselves. And because our focus is often on them and the problem, we don’t often realize that every relationship is a dynamic.”
Don’t only set boundaries, but speak about the boundaries, McCance suggests.
“It might be difficult but it’s important for both you and your partner to be there to discuss these boundaries with those in-laws,” she says.
Those boundaries might be how often they can visit, if unexpected visits are acceptable, if they can help in some decision-making, etc. Whatever makes you and your partner comfortable, she says.
And don’t assume the in-laws already know how you’re feeling or know the boundaries you’d like for them to have.
“There are cultural differences and every family has a different culture,” McCance says. “So you might have been raised differently than he was. So make sure you don’t make any assumptions.”
Seek family counselling
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things just don’t seem to be improving or working out.
So, worst case scenario, McCance says to seek out family counselling.
“It can be hard to change these things without getting some kind of mediator,” McCance points out.
Counsellors will help steer the discussion’s direction in a way where everyone feels heard, has a chance to listen and, hopefully, work out the kinks.
Get your power back
“Sometimes the in-laws will take care of the kids, for example, and deter you from getting a nanny because they can watch them for you,” McCance says. “But because they’re watching the kids they almost now feel like they have this power, like you owe them kind of.”
And in these cases, the in-laws might feel that they have more say in what goes on in your relationship and family, McCance explains.
“So it might actually be worth putting them in daycare to create that boundary,” she adds. “Keep the in-laws for family functions.”
Look for the positive
Lastly, McCance says to be grateful.
“The things that they do might actually be coming from a place of love,” McCance explains. “It could just be possibly coming out too assertively, or it’s rubbing you the wrong way. But deep down it might actually be coming from a place with good intentions.”