Dealing with the in-laws is a classic marital issue. If you're lucky, the in-laws will be lovely people who support your relationship in a respectful manner. If you're unlucky, though, it might feel like your spouse is still living under their parents' rules. Staying mindful of the signs your in-laws are influencing your SO too much can make your relationship more understandable, as well as highlight potential problem areas.
To begin, what do healthy relationships with the in-laws look like, anyway? In general, healthy couples understand the fact that in-laws are different people with different views, and they accept these contrasts in good humor, psychoanalyst Cathy Siebold told Psych Central. Although they sincerely attempt to understand and interact with the in-laws, healthy couples also realize the importance of maintaining a separate relationship and keeping boundaries. "They’re able to have open conversations with their spouse about their needs and create a plan that both of them agrees with," explained psychologist Meredith Hansen to Psych Central. No one's expecting perfection, but in general, all parties will treat one another like adults, with respect and an open line of communication.
On the other hand, in-laws who are over-involved in your partner's life can add unnecessary complications to your marriage. Granted, the amount of acceptable parental interference will depend on your culture, upbringing, and even personality to some extent. The mother-in-law who seems like a busybody to one person may appear caring and devoted to someone else. But in general, if your SO is displaying the following signs, it may be time to rethink your boundaries with the in-laws.
1. They Criticize You Behind Your Back
Badmouthing is not a good look for anybody. If your in-laws talk smack about you to your SO, it can undermine your relationship, according to Cambridge University psychologist Terri Apter in an interview with Newsweek. Granted, a lot of this depends on your partner's reaction. If your SO refuses to gang up on you with their parents, then that's a good sign. But if every trip home to their parents' results in a mudslinging campaign against you — in your absence, no less — this behavior should raise a red flag or two. It puts the parental relationship above your own.
2. Your SO Won't Take Responsibility For Contact
Your SO can't control their parents' behavior. However, the way your partner reacts to the situation says a lot. In a healthy partnership, your SO would deal with the in-laws directly, and act as the main point of contact, according to the website for Psychology Today. This lessens the possibility for conflict. If your partner doesn't have your back, and instead makes you fend for yourself with hostile in-laws, then you're in a crappy situation.
3. Your In-Laws Use Guilt Trips (And They Work)
Guilt trips are the fastest way to make some people feel like garbage. They're also manipulative AF. If your spouse is susceptible to parental guilt-tripping, and frequently prioritizes the in-laws' wishes over yours, then this is the sign of trouble, according to Hitched. Whether you're deciding where to spend Thanksgiving or whether to move across the country, you and your spouse should arrive at your decisions together, regardless of manipulative behavior from the sidelines.
4. Your SO Relies On Parental Approval For Everything
Sure, being close to your mom or dad well into adulthood can be a healthy, wise choice. Plus, it's great to have advice from the voice of experience when you're taking out a car loan or buying a house. But if your SO can't make any decisions without the help of parents, then your in-laws might wield too much influence, according to HuffPost. If your grown-ass partner can't put together an outfit for work without input from mom or dad, then they might be a bit too close for comfort.
5. Your In-Laws Make Unreasonable Demands
Sure, sometimes older parents do need their grown children to help with a move or handle unexpected medical expenses, and that's understandable. But if your in-laws make unreasonable demands of your SO, and your partner tries to meet them, then this could be a control tactic, according to Parenting. One set of in-laws asked their son to drive to their home, a 40-minute trip each way, to water their plants several times a week. This meant the son did not get home until long after his kids were in bed, which felt like a big ask. Working with your in-laws to find a less taxing solution is the kindest response. If your partner jumps to meet every demand, though, it's a potential sign of over-dependence.
6. They Drive A Wedge Between You
This sounds like an unthinkable course of action, but it can happen. If your in-laws undermine your relationship, it can affect your SO's view of things, as was the case for Attorney Ini Ghidirmic who shared his story with HuffPost. In some cases, if the parents never fully accept you into the family, or actively try to cause a breakup, your SO's reaction is crucial. If your partner believes them instead of forming an independent opinion of the relationship, then you might end up splitting.
7. They Get In Your Business
A serious romantic relationship needs some amount of privacy in order to function. If your in-laws are in the middle of your business, and even try to get involved in your minor marital disputes, then this can lead to serious problems, according to Scary Mommy. Learning how to handle conflict is a major component of any relationship. If your partner shares every last detail of every argument with the parental units, and invites them to get involved, you're probably in for a rough time.
8. They Treat Your SO Like A Child
Sure, your SO could be a successful, grown-ass human with a career, marriage, and loads of other adult responsibilities. But some in-laws will only see the child that once was. If your in-laws expect your partner to run all decisions by them, or follow their advice at all costs, then it's a sign of control, according to One Country. In addition, if your partner actually follows their wishes in these things, then your in-laws have an outsized influence on your lives.
9. They Have No Boundaries
Sure, you're all family now. But that doesn't mean any semblance of privacy has to go out the window. In-laws who drop by unannounced or engage in other boundary-breaking behaviors may be influencing some control over your SO, as well as your relationship, according to Mad About Marriage. If your partner has a healthy sense of boundaries, these unexpected visits will be cut short, and rearranged for a more convenient time. If not, it may be time to have a chat.
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