My first in-law related conflict knocked the wind out of me. I was blindsided to say the least. Prior to this experience, my naivety led me to believe that my laid back demeanor and my nice girl persona would help me to avoid these types of issues. However, I quickly learned that no one is exempt—not even “nice girls.” According to The Guardian, a whopping sixty percent of women “admitted the relationship with their female in-law caused them long-term unhappiness and stress.” While some conflict with loved ones is inevitable, “long-term unhappiness” does not have to be the end result.
Mentally separate your spouse from your in-laws
After one of your in-laws has done something to rub you the wrong way, it’s easy to look at your partner and question whether they feel the same way that their family does. According to licensed clinical social worker F. Diane Barth and Psych Central, you should never blame your spouse for the actions of your in-laws. “A guy’s mom may be intrusive and critical, but a healthy couple remembers that her behavior does not reflect how the guy feels about the things she is commenting on.”
Communicate, but don’t bash
When people overstep their bounds or behave offensively toward us, our first reaction is to jump into defense mode. While it’s important that you speak to your spouse about these issues, you should probably avoid trash talking their relative. As infuriating as this person may be, they are still your partner’s loved one at the end of the day. As a rule of thumb, Xochitl Gonzalez of Always A Blogsmaid recommends bringing “behaviors” to your spouse’s attention, “not character assessments.”
“While your girlfriends may listen and even agree with these assessments, they are harder for your partner — her child — to hear. A new layer of frustration can build when you feel that your partner ‘refuses to see’ who their mother really is. Don’t introduce your issues with ‘As usual, your manipulative mother is trying to have her dream wedding.’ Instead, tackle the behavior at hand: ‘I found out today that your mother went behind our back and asked the florist to change the colors of the flowers. I found that behavior unacceptable, since it not only isn’t her choice, but she did it secretly. How should we address this?'”
While Gonzalez specifically addresses mother-in-law relationships in this entry, this approach can apply to any of your spouse’s relatives.
Be open to a resolution
When I feel that a person has gone too far, my first reaction is to cut them off quickly and at the root. I will shut down in a heartbeat and begin to act as if the offender has ceased to exist. However, if you want to live in harmony with your in-laws, it’s probably best to avoid grudges. You’re going to be in each other’s lives for a long time so when there’s an opportunity to bury the hatchet, take advantage. Families are always going to have disagreements.
Stand up for yourself
While you should handle these disputes with care, you should not act as a doormat or a punching bag. Unacceptable behavior should be addressed. Whether you speak on these things yourself or allow your spouse to be your advocate is up to you.
“You may need to start out with gentle reminders, as things are unlikely to change overnight. This can be done compassionately, but firmly,” shares Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright with Psychology Today. “Overall, your approach needs to be strict in consistently enforcing the boundaries that you’ve drawn. If the situation allows, try to be friendly, tactful, straight-forward and respectful. Think of how you’d handle a disagreeable situation with a co-worker.”
What have you learned about handling conflicts with your in-laws?