Some people are super blessed and fit into their partner’s family flawlessly. However, most people have at least a few hiccups in their relationships with their in-laws. Some are minor. Some are not so minor. For your partner’s sake, you should try to maintain a civil, friendly relationship the best you can. The biggest person hurt if you and your in-laws can’t co-exist is the person you both love, your significant other. Here I address the more common conflicts that I hear about with in-laws and ways to handle them.
Your in-laws are TOO involved in your relationship.
If you are an independent, private person then it is hard to adjust to people consistently inserting themselves into your relationship. When you prefer to have some personal space and your in-laws show up without warning, it can be frustrating. Some families think of their other family members’ homes as their secondary home. You may feel they should behave like guests unless they want to start splitting the bills. They may think no question is too personal, or give unsolicited opinions on your life regularly. They think they should be a part of, or at least notified, of everything in your lives. The problem may be they do not even realize they are doing this, or that it is making you uncomfortable.
You should do two things. The first is figure out what areas you don’t mind having your in-laws very involved in. If you try to limit their involvement in your life completely they are probably going to become upset and offended. Maybe you have children and you love that they want to be as supportive as they can to their grandchildren. Is there a weekly or bi-weekly time everyone can get together and share what’s going on in their lives over a meal? Think along those lines.
Be open to finding a way to make your in-laws still feel like a major part of your lives. For many years they spent every day with your partner. Try to remember that. The second step is determining what areas you need to be private in your life and politely express that. Explain that while you love them, you need the disagreements you have with your partner to be off limits to their involvement (just an example). Help them understand that this strengthens you and your partner’s bond and makes your household more healthy and happy.
You have very little or nothing in common with your in-laws.
This is more likely if you are in a relationship with your opposite or your partner is the black sheep of the family. I know it is awkward to be surrounded by people you don’t have common interests with. They are discussing classical music and you couldn’t contribute a thing to the conversation even if you wanted to. It’s difficult to feel connected to people you have to force conversations with. Chances are they are feeling just as awkward about it and also trying to figure out a way to solve it. With a little effort this can easily be overcome.
Dig really deep to find something you both enjoy. Food, a book, something. Then run with that. If you all love desserts, bring something new to try so you can discuss that. Discuss a new article you read they may find interesting. If you are looking for a new interest or hobby, have them teach you about something they love. You can always talk about the person you have in common, your significant other. As long as you love their child/sibling and treat them well then in most cases that’s the only thing they care that you have in common.
Their child is NEVER wrong.
This conflict generally does not come up early in the relationship. When you still both agree their child/sibling is the greatest person walking the earth. This does not become an obvious issue until you are ingrained in each others’ lives. All romantic relationships will have at least an occasional disagreement. Sometimes your most recent grievance about your partner is brought up in front of your in-laws. That’s when you get informed that you partner is pretty much perfect and always right.
Did the two of you make an agreement that you would both save for a vacation and then he blew all of his portion on something for just him? Don’t mention that in front of these in-laws unless you are ready to hear about how that’s acceptable. “He is hard-working and he deserves to do whatever he wants with his money. Maybe you shouldn’t be so hard on him. Maybe you should pay for it all if that’s what you want…” If you are in the situation you know what I am saying.
This can be an incredibly frustrating response when you are already upset. My recommendation is that you never go to your in-laws with even minor issues with your partner. They are not your therapist or really even your friend. Find someone else to vent to. Unless it is life threatening like an addiction or something, it is best to keep these conflicts out of conversations with the in-laws. Or you may have another conflict to deal with.
That goes for every relationship, but especially the ones where you have in-laws who will never see fault in their child. When this conflict arises and you are being told how fantastic your partner is, just agree. Chances are they are just trying to convince you how lucky you are, so just agree. Then gently change the subject. If you are in an overall happy and healthy relationship, you are lucky. It is best for your in-laws to only see that. It will help keep conflict out of your relationship with them.
Your in-laws just plain do not like you/you do not like them.
This is obviously the most difficult conflict to try to work through. Their values/beliefs do not mix with yours. They constantly offend you and/or you them. Maybe this dislike is warranted. There are circumstances that can cause your in-laws to dislike you or you them that are legitimate. Or maybe you have in-laws that believe no one is good enough for your partner. Whatever the case there are a few options you can try and some things you absolutely should not do.
Sit down and discuss the big issues causing the conflict. Have each side present what they would need to see change to improve your relationships. Then try to meet those needs for them and give them a chance to do the same for you. If you just cannot overcome the conflict, you have the option of your partner having a relationship with their family without you. If your partner still wants to be involved with his/her family and you try to stop it, you are creating a big conflict in your relationship now. Decide together the best course.
What you should not do is go into a family and tell them how they should be. That is not going to produce a positive response. It will remove all chances of resolving the conflict. You have to keep in mind that you are the outsider coming in. It is not your place to try to control your partner’s family. It is always your choice on what you are willing to be a part of, and it is also reasonable to have expectations on how their interactions with you are, but that is it. Keep this in mind when picking what conflicts to address.
Situational conflicts that arise.
Most people will mainly experience situational conflicts with their in-laws from time to time. When these occur, remember to handle them as respectfully as possible. Focus on resolving these conflicts with the main goal of maintaining the positive relationship. You don’t want these conflicts to cause an overall relationship rift. If possible, let your partner address the situational conflicts. It is easier for them to communicate with their family. They have more experience resolving issues with them.
No matter what conflict you have with your in-laws the biggest thing is to remember to try to respect their boundaries and encourage them to respect yours. We all come from different backgrounds and everyone’s family and life growing up were different. That makes us all have different needs and ways we think things should be. There is a lot of gray area on exactly how a family should function so do not think your way is the best or only way. Focus on incorporating yourself into your partner’s family and not changing it to fit your needs. You will be more successful on resolving the conflicts that can be resolved that way. You love your partner and want them to be happy. Part of that is doing your best to have a positive relationship with their family.
I hope all of my readers are blessed with incredible in-laws, but just in case you aren’t, I hope you can use the suggested responses above to navigate the more difficult conflicts!