8 Signs Your In-Laws Are Influencing Your Significant Other
In a healthy relationship, your in-laws respect the boundaries set by your relationship, offer their guidance (but don’t necessarily expect you to take it), and are there for both of you in a loving and supportive way that makes you feel included. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But in other instances, you might feel like your partner is perpetually 5 years old when your in-laws are around. That’s why you should know the signs that your in-laws are influencing your significant other, so that you can fix the problems that are being caused by their interference.
“Although it’s normal and natural to receive general life insights from one’s parents now and again, some in-laws have invasive patterns that go beyond healthy boundaries,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert, tells Romper. “In general, it’s not healthy to let in-laws have any deep impact or control over one’s adult romantic relationships.” But that might sometimes be easier said than done, especially for a significant other who hasn’t quite learned how to snip those apron strings.
Now, no one is saying that your partner should turn their back on their parents. Quite the opposite. What you’re ideally looking for is a healthy boundary so that you feel respected in your relationship without any outside influence from your in-laws. So if your sweetie is showing any of the signs that their parents have too much influence, it’s time to take out the Sharpie and start drawing some serious limits on what’s okay — and what’s not.
1. They Badmouth You Behind Your Back — And Your S.O. Allows It
Listen, the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law dynamic is the stuff made of legends. And while you might not always see eye-to-eye, you would hope that your partner is there to support you and shut down the naysayers, even if they have parental status. But if your S.O. is being influenced by your in-laws, that might not happen. “While they may be nice to your face, if your in-laws are speaking disparagingly about you behind your back, they may have a negative influence on your partner,” Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a licensed clinical professional counselor, tells Romper. So if you’re left wondering why your significant other is suddenly acting different, in-law interference might be to blame.
2. Your S.O. Can’t Make A Decision Without Them
Asking for advice from various sources (like your friends and parents) isn’t a bad thing. It becomes problematic when your decisions are based solely on what someone else has to say. “While it's often wise to ask for advice, when one can't make a decision on their own without parental approval, it can drive a wedge in a relationship and be unhealthy,” says Slatkin. “A couple needs to learn how to make their own decisions — and not be dependent on mom and dad.”
3. Your S.O. Discusses Your Relationship With Them
Sure, it’s always nice to get some parental guidance in certain situations, but there might be an issue if this occurs all the time. “In a relationship, the couple needs to be the main focus,” says Slatkin. “Sharing your relationship challenges with your parents can be a breach of privacy, and undermine the trust in the relationship.” That’s why your partner needs to learn how to work on your relationship without running every nitty gritty detail past the ‘rents.
4. Your Partner Practices Their Parenting Style
Let’s say that you and your partner are in sync when it comes to not only your relationship but your parenting approach, too. But then you notice that your S.O.’s style is starting to mirror that of your MIL — and you’re not feeling it. “If your significant other follows the in-laws advice on parenting and lets them interfere with how to raise your children, that can be a problem, “ Babita Spinelli, LP, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Romper. “Instead, your partner should discuss how to parent with you and co-creating your parenting style.”
5. Your Partner Echoes Their Sentiments
For a long while, you knew where your partner stood on practically every issue under the sun, from parenting to politics. But now, you’ve noticed a shift in your SO’s thinking that sounds somewhat suspiciously like your in-laws. Thing is, your partner can’t be a mouthpiece for your in-laws’ opinion of you. “It’s not good if your significant other repeats their critical view of you and accepts it as truth,” says Spinelli. “Rather, they should support you and set boundaries with the in-laws.”
6. Your S.O. Allows Constant Contact
Yes, it’s nice to have an open relationship with your in-laws where they can see the grands when they want to (and hey, there’s nothing wrong with scoring some free babysitting while you’re at it). But it can take a turn towards the weird when your in-laws have almost immediate (and incessant) access to your sweetie. “Having constant contact with your significant other regardless of what you are doing is unhealthy,” says Spinelli. “It might be a sign of co-dependency, a need for constant pleasing, or unhealthy bleeding of boundaries.” So if you’re out on date night (and your partner is Facetimeing their momma for a non-urgent issue), you need to have a good long discussion over dinner about boundaries.
7. They Treat You As The “Other”
If you’re feeling a little like a third wheel in your own relationship, it might not be in your head. When your S.O. defers to Mommy and Daddy for everything, it puts you in an awkward and totally uncomfortable position. “You might feel chronically left out or sidelined due to your in-law’s controlling behavior,” says Spinelli. And the thing is, it might be super subtle so that you don’t notice it at first. So express your feelings to your partner so that you can work together on some serious boundary building.
8. They Use Guilt Trips
Let’s say that your S.O. makes an effort to establish some rules regarding your relationship. That might not go over too well with your in-laws, who are used to ruling the roost. So when shifting the power back to their favor, get ready to pack your bags because you’re going to be going on one major guilt trip, momma. “Guilt-tripping is a tactic that can be employed by the in-laws to coerce the adult child in certain ways,” advises Spinelli. But by listening to them (and caving in to this bad behavior), it might mean that you’re going to need to perform some serious repairs on your relationship.
Learning how to get along with your in-laws is truly a tale as old as time. Make sure you rewrite the story so that your relationship is rock-solid, and that your in-laws know what is expected of them and respect both of your wishes.
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and relationship expert
Babita Spinelli, LP, licensed psychotherapist