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Family Interference in Marriage

4 Tips to Win Over Your Overbearing In-Laws

Over 60% of women reported that their relationship with their mother-in-law caused lasting stress and unhappiness. Even more of them–two-thirds–”believed that their husband’s mother frequently exhibited jealous, maternal love towards their sons,” according to one study.

No wonder it’s so hard and painful when parents interfere in marriage.

You might even feel, as some sources say, that your intrusive in-laws “are dangerous” because “they either endanger the marriage, impede its growth, or divert it into other directions.”

In-laws’ interference in marriage is so well documented that it’s not unusual to see titles like “How to Stop Hating Your In-Laws,” which asserts that “every mom clashes with her in-laws.”

If this is all starting to sound pretty bleak, like there’s no alternative but to resign yourself to this hopeless state of affairs, you’re not alone. It is easy to feel hopeless if your husband’s family is ruining your marriage.

But does that have to be the case?

If you’re ready for some good news on how to deal with extended family in marriage (finally!), here are four ways to win over your overbearing in-laws.

1) Say “I Can’t”…

limits in marriage

It’s all about boundaries.


Maybe that’s what you’d expect to hear because you hear it everywhere. But there’s a problem with trying to get someone else to respect your boundaries.

If your mother-in-law makes your kid eat every last bite of the food on his plate, for example, and you’re not a fan of force-feeding because you want your child to have a healthy relationship with food, of course you can kindly request that she do things your way.

But you can’t make her. That’s because you can’t control another person. You can only control yourself.

Of course, you could exert control by refusing to allow the kids ever to visit her again. But if you’re reading this article about how to improve relations with your in-laws, that’s probably not what you had in mind.

I invite you to give this some thought instead: What are your limits, based on what you can control?

Maybe those limits include staying at the family BBQ no more than two hours then having an exit plan so you can do your thing. Or leaving the room when your in-laws start debating politics and you don’t want to get triggered. Or not caving when your mother-in-law keeps trying to fill your plate a third time.

Honoring such limits by saying “I can’t” to anything that would make you resentful or cost you self-care can be scary if you don’t want to rock the boat.

But in my experience, pushing through those fears is a beautiful thing: It’s self-honoring, which teaches others how to treat you too. And, in doing the scary thing, you get to show vulnerability. While casting aside people-pleasing seems like it would cost you intimacy, instead it creates even more connection.

2) …But He Can

accept your husband

As you already know, you can’t control your husband either. Including in his relationship with his parents.

Which can be uncomfortable. If you’ve ever felt jealous of your mother-in-law, you’re not alone!

That is a normal human response if he drives all the way to her house to spend the afternoon fixing her toilet when your own home needs so much work. Or if he takes the day off to be her plus-one to the holiday gala for her work. Or if you feel like a third wheel while she gives him a shoulder rub as you endure their action movie.

It’s natural to want to bring to his attention that some of these behaviors are not normal or healthy, certainly not for your marriage.

If you’ve tried that route, how did it go? Chances are, it pushed him further away, making him less likely to give YOU the massage you’re craving or take care of the home improvements on your list.

So, if trying to control him has not served you either, are you ready to try a different approach? Even if it sounds crazy?

Because this next part is not for women who are faint of heart. Only the courageous will ever try this experiment.

What is it, you ask?

Enter Experiment RC: Relinquishing Control.

What if you just acted like you accepted his relationship with his mom, even if it’s unhealthy or seems to interfere with your own relationship with him?

Why do such a crazy thing?

You’ve already tried the other way and if it’s not getting you what you want, what can it hurt to try a new strategy?

Relinquishing control of your husband conveys your respect for his choices. That respect can cause him to evaluate his choices in a new light instead of defending himself against your criticism. He might suddenly see what you’ve been seeing all along and decide to make a change for himself.

Or maybe he’ll just be relieved and feel more emotional safety in not having to fight off your disapproval and drop the defensiveness that made him seem hostile or mean.

Most of all, it means you can stop wasting energy on something you can’t control anyway and start using that energy on something more gratifying, even if it’s just playing on your phone or watching your favorite series.

If that sounds too good to be true, that’s what I thought too! But I was amazed at how much this one scary act of accepting my husband’s relationship with my in-laws changed everything.

3) Stop MIL Bashing

talking about marriage

If you manage to be that respectful toward your husband, congratulations! You’re going a long way toward creating intimacy, which sure comes in handy to face the in-laws as a team. If you manage to show respect to them too, biting your tongue even when they get to be a bit much, you get bonus intimacy points.

You’re probably feeling pretty dignified by this point, as you should be!

And ready to dish because now you’ve stored up this whole log of their infractions you managed to keep to yourself. This should make for one juicy car ride home!

I can’t wait to hear it myself, but let’s hit the pause button here for a minute.

How has venting to him about his family gone for you in the past?

Everybody knows that male bashing isn’t very nice. Is MIL bashing any different?

I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me a long time to realize that being disrespectful to my husband’s loved ones was disrespectful to him by extension.

I’ve never been a fan of him saying nasty things about my beloved family members. (Even if I said them myself!)

When Cassandra quit complaining about her MIL to her husband, he looked relieved, like he was breathing freer with all the oxygen in the air. Cassandra took it a step further and started reporting only the good things about her MIL, like how much they bonded while spending hours together chatting and enjoying the MIL’s cooking.

He was so happy to see his wife happy.

Cassandra’s happiness was so magnetic that he wanted to pile on even more. That’s when things got juicy, for real!

Sacrificing a little gossip was totally worth it.

Gossiping with her own family about her husband and MIL, on the other hand, seemed harmless enough. That is, until they started badmouthing her loved ones, and she wondered why they couldn’t be more supportive of her marriage. That’s when she saw her part in poisoning those relationships.

Leaving behind the “harmless” gossip was so connecting that, next thing she knew, her mom was inviting her mother-in-law on vacation! Her Intimacy Skills were healing the whole family.

That’s why the next experiment is to stop male bashing and MIL bashing, with any family member.

4) Experiment with Gratitude

expressing gratitude

Catherine was convinced that the root of her marital problems with her stressed-out, depressed workaholic husband was–you guessed it–her in-laws. Especially her father-in-law, who put so much pressure on his son in the family business.

Then she became convinced of something else: that her ways of dealing with this dynamic were not serving any of them. Her attempts to intervene and point out the problem somehow only seemed to make it worse.

She was hyper-focused on the dysfunction, and boy was it increasing.

So she tried the gratitude experiment, which included shifting her focus now that she saw that what she focused on increased.

Finding opportunities to express her thanks became so natural that this was literally her gift to her father-in-law. She prepared a message of love and gratitude for his birthday, which she vulnerably read in front of the whole family.

She reported her experiment results as a miracle: “He’s a good guy when I’m looking for the good. Sometimes that’s a more miraculous transformation than with my husband.”

Now that you have these five tools for healing with your husband’s family, which will you try first?

I can’t wait to hear the results of your experiments in the comments!

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