What’s your reaction to the term ‘mother-in-law’? If it’s negative, you’re not alone. Research says that 75 per cent of couples have in-law problems and 60 per cent of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law bonds are ‘draining’ or ‘simply awful’.
In What Do You Want From Me? Learning To Get Along With In-laws (WW Norton, £10.99), Terri Apter writes, ‘In-law problems are never simple and never involve simply two people.’
Failure to manage in-law relationships may put your long-term happiness at risk.
From her research, Apter found that vulnerability is often behind bad in-law behaviour; a fear that we’re not appreciated or don’t belong. If we feel rejected or criticised, a common response
is to reject and criticise in return. Added to this is the issue that most of us find it easier to see other people’s faults than our own and that we may be less empathetic and less fair with our in-laws than we are with our own families. Our partner’s family may also be very different to our own. Apter points out, ‘We tend to choose a partner who offers something our own family lacks.’ Those differences can then become sources of tension. This can leave our partner with divided loyalties. They don’t always see the behaviour that worries us, as to them it’s ‘normal’. That can be hard if we then feel that they are not being supportive of us.
NOW TRY IT OUT
Difficult in-law relationships need to be successfully managed to prevent them damaging your relationship with your partner. If tricky in-laws are a problem for you or your partner, here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t insist a partner chooses between you and your parent-in-law. Instead, help them build a bond with their parent.
- Empathise with your partner. If they’re struggling with one or both of your parents; try to see their perspective. Encourage your partner in front of your parents and don’t engage in any critical conversations behind their backs.
- Show appreciation to your in-laws and reassure them. Also, take time to listen to them and get to know them.
- Own your responses. Aim to look at a problem without worrying about who’s right or who’s to blame. Try asking, ‘How can I help solve this problem?’
SARAH ABELL is an author, speaker and relationships coach. Find out more at nakedhedgehogs.com. To buy her LifeLabs Practical Wisdom online course How to Save Your Relationship, please click here. You can try a free 3-day taster trial first too.