“When am I going to have a grandchild?”
“There’s too much salt in the chicken. The other dish isn’t salted enough.”
“Be careful with the baby, this is not how you should be feeding her!”
“Your house is a mess! Don’t you clean it?”
“Why haven’t you brought (baby) to visit me?”
Have you been hearing these comments frequently? Worse, is it coming from family?
When you get married, you’re not only marrying your spouse but their families as well. And sometimes their families, especially parents, may not get along with you — or each other, come to think of it. Everyone fears “inheriting” difficult in-laws especially when your spouse is close to them and you have no choice but to get along with them.
Difficult in-laws come in many forms — criticisers, naggers, privacy invaders and the worst kinds, those who dislike you.
According to Agnes Teo, a clinical psychologist from Th!nk Psychological Services, one of the reasons that in-laws are difficult to get along with is because of differences in family culture, values and norms. Parents-in-laws might find it difficult to accept or understand that their child’s spouse comes from different family cultures or background.
Another major reason could be their own feelings of apprehension — of being replaced or becoming irrelevant in their child’s life. As a way to counter these feelings, parents-in-laws might be “difficult” to assert their authority, a display that they are still important in their child’s (your spouse’s) life.
Bad blood with your in-laws will only strain and might eventually ruin your relationship with your spouse. Instead, you should be the bigger person and try to form a bond or at least an understanding with them.
“Ensure an open communication channel with your in-laws,” says Teo. “Understand that misunderstandings might occur due to the differences in family culture. Learn to work through these differences.”
Teo offers tactics for handling various types of in-laws.
1. The Harsh/Critical In-Laws
They find fault with everything you do and never seem to be supportive.
You might have worked day and night planning and executing the perfect family dinner. Yet, instead of praise, compliment or even appreciation, all you get from your in-laws is harsh or critical comments on how you could have done better.
Eventually, this could make you either break down or scream at them, which would make the situation worse.
Solution: Instead, you should calm down and not take the comments personally. Choose an appropriate way of responding.
“One can choose to smile and thank their in-laws for their comments,” says Teo. “This may reduce the frequency of these comments as your in-laws will see that they are no longer eliciting a response for their comments.”
2. The Nosy In-Laws
Your in-laws always seem to be around. They are not giving you time alone with your husband and family. Worse, they seem to push their way through to get involved in everything!
Solution: To handle these type of in-laws, you need to discuss with your spouse and establish clear boundaries and limits for your in-laws. Then, with your spouse by your side to back you up, explain these boundaries and limits to your in-laws in a polite but firm manner to show that you mean it.
3. The Nagging In-Laws
Just like the nosy in-laws, these in-laws never seem to stop. They’re always nagging about one thing or another. It might get draining after a while and might even cause your relationship with your in-laws to be even more strained.
Solution: To handle these in-laws, acknowledge their comments by smiling or nodding — to show you hear them, but you don’t necessarily have to engage with them. “Understand that this could be their way of communicating and/or expressing their concerns,” says Teo.
4. The Haters
Your in-laws dislike you and are not afraid to say or show it. They make your life miserable or may ignore you completely. These types of in-laws might not be willing to look past their feelings and mend the situation.
Solution: You will have to be the bigger person and learn to accept the differences and find ways to work around them — because expecting them to change or even acknowledge their behaviour is futile.
“One may have to accept the fact that one’s in-laws do not have to like oneself,” advises Teo.
You must remember that you should stand up for yourself if you are continuously being picked on by your in-laws. However, do so in a respectful yet firm manner. You should always remember to cool off and calm down when faced with their difficulties and most importantly, be the bigger person.
Last but not least, work WITH your spouse, always. “Couples have to work together to manage in-laws,” advises Teo. “Work through the conflicts with your in-laws together with your spouse and avoid putting your spouse in a position where he/she is sandwiched between you and their parents.”
Agnes Teo is a clinical psychologist from Th!nk Psychological Services.