Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What a tricky relationship the in-law relationship can be. Did we marry them?   Sometimes it seems that way. There are endless stories of crazy, troubling and hurtful in-law relationships and there are also probably just as many in-law relationships that are quite harmonious. Sometimes we may feel that they come over just a little too often and give just a little too much advice on how to best (take your pick) raise the children, be a good wife, clean the house, treat the family, etc. The difficult mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is a notorious stereotype.

But, are the in-laws just difficult people who want to make your life miserable? Are they a necessary burden that you have to put up with? For many, this relationship can drive a wedge between you and your partner. It can really seem like an ongoing cultural clash Many people may feel caught between trying to “please” the in-laws (or maybe, more correctly, trying to avoid problems) and wanting to feel free to be themselves and have their own space.

To work out this sometimes trying relationship, here are some tips to help make it go just a little more smoothly and maybe even turn it into a great relationship.

In-laws Are People Too, and They Are Parents

Firstly, the in-laws are people. Just saying that can open up a can of worms. People come with baggage, perspectives, beliefs, and ways of doing things, which may or may not clash with how we do things. (Most of the time) they are not really out to make our life miserable (in general). What they really want is to feel important and valued in the relationship. In-laws may still be trying to hold on to the parent-child relationship and can feel hurt when they are told (sometimes not so gently) that their role has changed.

It may help  to try to put ourselves in their shoes and walk a mile in them. How would we feel if we have spent close to 20 or 25 years in a close relationship (parent-child) with a person, and held a role of parental authority and then, all of a sudden someone else comes into the picture, usurps our role (we think) and becomes the sole focus of our daughter or son? How would we feel to be told that we are to keep our “parental” distance and that our role is no longer what it was?

Of course, I am not saying that there aren’t unreasonably controlling in-laws out there who, no matter how gently, how kindly you try to treat them, will still choose not to understand and will continue to be intrusive. Some can be controlling, manipulative, and dysfunctional.  But, in general, it is good to try to put ourselves in their shoes for a bit and try to understand where they are coming from.

Good Fences Make Good Relations

Boundaries are important to preserving your relationship with your partner and maintaining family harmony. It is important to clearly communicate what your limits are to your in-laws so that they can understand and, hopefully, respect them. But these limits need to first be clear in your mind first. What are your limits as a couple? You are, in fact, part of a new family, but you are also a new family within a family, which makes for complications if communication is not clearly established.

Decide ahead of time, not in the middle of family conflict, what your expectations and limits are. Be specific and respectful. Let your in-laws know that you love them and appreciate what they have to offer, but also that, as a new family, you have new family rules. Go the extra mile and include them, as much as you are able, in family activities. Let them know that they are welcome and appreciated.

Sometimes boundaries will mean that compromises need to be made. You may need to add some water to the wine in order to respect your boundaries while showing that you appreciate your in-law’s contribution. Finding common ground may help to appease fiery differences of opinion.

Don’t Take Things Too Personally

At the end of the day, most of what people say is just an opinion and not truth. We can listen to what people say without having to agree. Often what we perceive as intrusive or controlling has more to do with how the other person deals with life than with us personally. Our in-laws can give us advice, criticize our ways of doing things, complain about how they don’t see us enough, etc. etc, and we can listen to their concerns without having to give in. We are not obliged to follow their advice or change what we do.

What we can do is listen. We can sincerely listen to hear what their perspective is. And really, that is what they are looking for anyway, isn’t it? They want to be heard. They want to feel involved and appreciated for their contribution.

Separate Your Partner From Your In-laws

Don’t bring your partner into the boxing ring. You don’t have to use him or her as a punching bag to air out your frustration at his or her parents. Doing this will only alienate you from him or her and create a chasm between you. Your partner is not your in-laws even though he or she may be from their family. Actually, a better strategy is to discuss the situation and not the people. Focus on the problem and how to solve it rather than bringing in your personal issues and agenda.

If you take out the personal feelings and concentrate on the problem objectively, it is easier to find solutions. Be businesslike and not reactionary. Analyze and strategize. Being cool-headed about the situation and how to deal with it can help to resolve in-law (and other) problems as well as help to prevent future problems.

Your partner is your team member. You are on the same team. Sometimes it may mean that you have to “take one for the team.” You may have to give a little, compromise a little, or step back and swallow your pride. Sometimes peace will come at a cost.

Go the Extra Mile

Ok, so maybe your in-law relationship isn’t that great. Maybe you feel that you can not even live on the same earth with them let alone get along. Maybe you feel like you have been burdened with this millstone for life. I am quite sure many people are or have been in your shoes.

What about changing things up a bit? What about doing something unexpected and kind for them. What about going out to lunch with your mother-in-law and just taking the time to listen (yes, I said listen, not talk) to her. Focus on her. Ask her questions about what it was like for her raising her son. Ask her about her memories. Go down memory lane with her. She may enjoy the opportunity to share her life with you.  In the case of a son-in-law, ask your father-in-law to teach you about a special skill he has. Maybe you might find a common bond.

The Takeaway

The one thing about this world is that we will all have to deal with people, in-laws or others. And they will have to deal with us. Cultural clashes and values clashes are bound to happen, but they don’t have to be a battleground.  Putting situations into their proper perspective, setting boundaries, communicating and valuing people over differences can all go a long way towards mending and building strong family relationships. It always requires a give and take, and more often giving than taking.

Have a great day!

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Diana Lynne’s passions are family, travel, self-improvement, pursuing a debt-free/financially free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and being with her dog Skye. Diana is a Quebec City girl. who loves living life.  You can connect with her through