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Dealing With Your In-Laws

January 9th, 2024


How Couples Therapy Can Help You Talk To Your Partner About Their Family

When you get married, you are not only marrying your partner but also marrying into another family. When a couple maintains a good relationship with their in-laws, they have extra support from people who genuinely care about their well-being. However, it is important to also set boundaries with your in-laws as well, especially if the relationship with your in-laws is a little rocky. Boundaries are clear rules or guidelines of how you would like to be treated. There can be different expectations about your partner’s family dynamics. Every family has a different set of values so a healthy relationship with your in-laws also requires empathy and resilience. What do you (or your partner) do when your in-laws are pushing those boundaries?

Let’s talk about how to navigate relationships with your in-laws and how couples therapy can help you with these challenges.

couple talking with counselor
  • Focus on the relationship between you and your partner: Let your partner know the boundaries that you have set for their family. Ultimately, you and your partner are a team, so make sure you’re both on the same page about what you do not want to talk about or do not want to do with their family. With respect and open communication, you will both feel more comfortable during interactions that involve your partner and their family.
  • Be careful of the confrontations/arguments you get involved in: Family gatherings don’t need to be about confronting family issues. Before the gathering, sit down with your partner and come up with things to say to shut down any confrontation. Some starters include: “This is not something I’m comfortable discussing right now”, “Sorry, but I won’t be getting involved in this conversation right now. We can talk about it another day after the holidays.” and “I have decided not to discuss that today. If you’d like to call me sometime next week to talk about that, I’ll be available then.”
  • Have a strategy to leave the gathering early: If all else fails, make sure you and your partner develop an exit plan before the family gathering. It’s not easy to deal with constant judgment, especially if it is coming from your partner’s family. Create a code word or phrase so your partner knows when you feel highly triggered and need to leave the event. You did your part by trying to be there for your partner’s family, but you don’t have to stay around them for too long and engage in situations that are not good for your emotional well-being.

Pro tip: It’s often better if you let your partner set boundaries with your in-laws (their parents). This is because the child of the parents already has an established relationship with their parents, which means the message might be better received if it’s coming from their child rather than an in-law. When you get married, your spouse should be your number one priority so it’s crucial that your spouse has your back in case you have any issues with their family.

Overall, having healthy boundaries creates mutual respect among people and setting boundaries helps us know what is expected in a relationship. Having boundaries with your in-laws lets them know that your boundaries are not a rejection but a way to establish your own space as a couple. Boundaries in relationships say, “I can love both you and me at the same time”. In this case, boundaries mean loving both your partner’s family and yourselves at the same time, which can lead to more positive in-law interactions and harmonious connections with your partner’s family.

indoor family gathering

Benefits of Couples Therapy: Strengthening Your Relationship Through In-Law Challenges

In situations where you and your partner are not on the same page regarding your in-laws, that is where couples therapy can come in handy! Many couples come to therapy regarding relationship challenges with their in-laws. There are many benefits in seeing a couple’s therapist when coping with in-laws gets difficult. Couples therapy is a safe space where both of you can share your feelings about your in-laws. A trained couple’s therapist can guide you on these conversations so that they remain productive. When you learn how to bring up these issues to your partner (in a way that doesn’t make your partner feel attacked or defensive), you both become a great team. Being able to understand your partner’s perspective and learning to build empathy for each other can promote tremendous growth in your relationship. Learning how to set clear and loving boundaries with in-laws, who may be interfering too much with your relationship, is also essential in couple’s therapy. Family of origin issues is another important topic that will be addressed to unpack any discomfort surrounding family issues, especially if your partner is having difficulty advocating for you and making you a priority when it comes to relationship issues with your in-laws.

While having good relationships with your in-laws is a wonderful thing to have, it’s also important to prioritize your relationship with your partner first and be able to express your concerns to them in a way where both of you feel heard. As Dr. John Gottman says, “every marriage is a cross-cultural experience regardless of whether people are from different or the same cultures. They come from different families and the family they create is a brand new culture that has never existed before.”

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