5 Quick Ways to Deal With Difficult In-Laws

Updated on June 19, 2017

Take the Hand You Are Dealt, but Do Something About It. . .

Some of us are lucky to have in-laws who are considerate, kind, and respectful. However, there are also in-laws who are exploitative, manipulative, and downright life-sucking. In some cultures, it is expected that once you marry into a family, the kith and kin become your responsibility. You are to serve them, fund their lives, and never complain. It does not have to be this way. With a little planning, you can put a stop to it, reclaim your freedom, and start living your life.

1. Talk to Your Spouse

It is important that you have your spouse on your side. Speak freely and honestly about the effect that the in-laws are having on your relationship and your family. Pick a good time to broach the subject. Do not use the behaviour of in-laws as a chance to get back at your spouse. The goal is to have your spouse in your corner because you will need all the help you can get. It is also important to remember that these are sensitive matters - after all, this is your spouse’s family we are talking about and you definitely do not want to trigger a defensive reaction.

2. Develop Family Priorities Together With Your Spouse

In-laws from hell usually take advantage of relationships which are shaky on priorities. For example, your sister-in-law wants you and your husband to fund her new business. She claims she has always stood by her brother and cannot see why you have a problem supporting her. However, your son is joining college this fall and you will need all the money you have. What comes first? If you and your husband are not on the same page, your sister-in-law will get her way. Later, it will be you and your husband struggling to send the kid to college. Having common priorities and a plan for your family helps you to quickly decide that the answer is “no”.

3. Reduce Contact

Families should be close, right? Yes, they should be close but that does not mean face to face interactions daily are necessary or even helpful. Sometimes distance helps. If in-laws are always in your face, they will drive you up the wall. You must still interact with them but if every Sunday evening dinner you have to encounter their sniggers, their back-biting and denigrations, maybe it is time you made this dinner a monthly affair. If you are living in a rented apartment in a block next to your mother-in-law’s flat, why not move to another part of the city and visit her on occasion? She will have less opportunity to criticise you and you can breathe a lot more easily. Remember: when everybody is breathing more easily, it is fun to be around each other.

4. Commit to Specific Obligations

The nature of exploitative in-laws is that they start with one request. If you accede to the request, they demand a bit more. This hunting game goes on. You yield more and more until finally, you are being ruled. Of course you cannot say “no” to all requests all the time. However, when you consider something to be a fair request, be sure to make it clear the boundaries. For example, your brother-in-law (who you know to be a very exploitative fellow) asks you to walk his dog once a week. You consider his request and since you also walk your own dog once a week, it is a favour you are willing to consider. You should agree on the time that you will pick the dog and make sure the understanding is that this is once a week and when the weather is good. If you do not, soon there will be an expectation that you have to walk the dog every day of the week, come rain come sunshine.

5. Address Issues Head-On With the Ringleader

Sometimes it feels as if all your in-laws have ganged up on you. Rarely is that the true. There is possibly one member of the family who gives the impression that bullying is OK. You need to identify the person and have a heart-to-heart talk. Be assertive and stand your ground. Demand to be treated with respect, if for no other reason, because you are human. It would help if this talk is held with your spouse present. If the ring-leader falls into his/her place, the rest of the gang takes cue and will start treating you better.

There you have it. It is possible to start with in-laws from hell and end up with “normal in-laws” if you keep your cool, work with your spouse and activate a proper plan of action.

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