In-law issues have been the subject of comedians forever. But what do you do when it’s no laughing matter? One of the first things is to realize when it’s not just you. That there genuinely is a true issue happening, not merely a bit of a personality clash. Here are some warning signs that you may truly have an in-law issue.
Are your in-laws respectful of your boundaries? If you say no, do they respect that, or do they act insulted, pout, cry, whine?
So many times, I’ve heard, “Oh, they’re nice people, but so sensitive…” Here’s the thing: if they are sensitive people, they are sensitive to other’s pain too. If they only act ‘sensitive’ when told no, or disagreed with, they’re not being sensitive, they are being emotionally manipulative to get their own way. Everyone is so worried about upsetting Mom or Dad in-law, that they give in, and allow themselves to be treated as doormats. Not a healthy thing for anyone.
Other common comments include, “That’s just the way he/she is” and “They’re older, they could die…” My response to that? First, just because someone is a jerk does not mean that you have to accept that behavior. A toddler throws tantrums, hits a playmate, even bites others. Do we say, “That’s just the way he is!” and expect others to allow this behavior, or do we teach a toddler a better way of behaving? If we believe that toddlers are capable of learning ways of behavior that aren’t hurtful to others, then why would an adult be deemed less capable? A good response that I’ve found to, “That’s just the way he/she is!” is, “I don’t accept poor behavior. That’s just the way I am.”
Second, the ‘They’re older, they could die soon…” The reality is, none of us know how many tomorrows we may have. Why should they be spent locked in a miserable situation, simply because of someone’s age? Also, since they’re older, shouldn’t they be held fully responsible for their actions, and the consequences of them?
Passive Aggressive Behavior
What about those passive aggressive, ‘helpful’ comments? Be it about your parenting choices, your appearance, housekeeping, finances, career…Remember the old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? This applies! Just because someone is ‘family’ does not give them the right to give unpleasant comments or criticism.
Other examples of passive aggressive behavior includes hosting a meal that contains allergens, undermining parental authority (“I know Mommy said you can’t have this, but Grandma says you can!”), ignoring your presence, and making plans for you, without your knowledge or consent, “I didn’t think you’d mind…”
What about your autonomy as a family? When you commit to a relationship/get married, you are starting a family of your own. Parents, be it your own, or in-laws, become extended family. This is especially true when there are children involved. You have the right to make plans, be it for birthdays, holidays, or any other time, without input from anyone else. It is up to you, and your spouse/significant other, to decide what traditions to follow from your own family of origin, and what to create new for your own family. Attempts to guilt and manipulate by others to continue their traditions is not acceptable. Simply because you grew up always going to Granny’s for Christmas doesn’t mean that you are obligated to continue to do so for your entire life. When you were the kid, your parents made the decisions, as was appropriate. Once you became an adult, the decisions became yours to make.
Another perk of being an adult, is privacy. Other than your spouse/partner, it is nobody’s business what your finances are (ok, if you’re applying for a mortgage, the bank gets to ask. As does your government’s taxation office), what your decision is about children, your sex life. Nobody else has the right to that information, and the questions simply should not even be asked. A good rule of thumb, when deciding if in-laws are trampling that privacy boundary is to ask yourself, “Would I answer this question from a friend?” If the answer is ‘No’, then that’s a good indication that it’s also inappropriate from the in-laws.
Another issue I have heard of has to do with physical privacy. Now, this does vary from person to person, in terms of comfort, but I consider it a good standard to never allow anyone to simply walk into your home, to have keys to come and go freely, or to stop by unannounced. If you’re comfortable with those things, then obviously it works for you, and that’s okay. However, if it’s something that you’re not okay with, I’m validating that as being a perfectly reasonable reaction.
What’s your gut say?
That’s a good place to start. If you’re uncomfortable, then there’s something wrong. Nobody has the right, be it your spouse, friends, or family to negate your emotions. If you feel that there’s something wrong, then there is.
Change is rarely easy, especially when it involves a challenging/difficult/toxic personality. However, too many relationships break under the strain of in-law issues, so it is absolutely worth it to make those changes, regardless of the reaction of the trouble parent.