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  • Travis Atkinson

In-laws getting in your way?

Couples have a lot of reasons to see a marriage therapist: arguments, emotional neglect, finances, affairs, to name only a few — but most couples never think that their marriage will be sabotaged by their in-laws. Some in-laws seem like fantasies come true, helping with raising your kids, coming over for a glass of wine, and even becoming very close with their daughter or son-in-law.


But there are some in-laws that seemingly interfere in marriages every chance they get.

“You’re doing everything wrong. If that was my child, they would never do that.”

In-laws are part of a marriage. They have hopes and dreams for their adult child’s marriage, and when it feels like their expectations aren’t being met, they may step-in doing things that you may not appreciate. The result can be that they are interfering with your marriage.


Initially, everything may go well with your in-laws, and you can brush off their actions. You might even bicker with your spouse over their interference, but it seems innocent enough, like it won't be a big deal. We all want to keep the peace over the long haul, but sometimes it’s a lot harder than it sounds.


When in-laws persist in their interferences, stopping them will take work – sometimes a lot of it if you’re dealing with particularly anxious in-laws. While you and your spouse will have to work as a team to overcome in-law drama, it’s certainly possible to “in-law proof” your marriage, and remain happy together.


Remember: Your Marriage Comes First


Your marriage is important. Your relationship with your parents is important. And while no one wants to choose, you have to ask yourself “which relationship comes first?” Of course, most people want to have a healthy relationship with their parents.


But you’re now a family with your spouse. You're a team.


There will be trials and tribulations. You'll be mad, sad, happy, angry, emotional, vulnerable, and sometimes, all of these emotions will hit at once. Problems arise when you start blaming your spouse for things, such as:

Hey mom. Well, we aren’t coming over today because Johan doesn’t want to come.
Hey dad. Anastasia doesn’t want to come over this weekend, so you’ll need to see your grandkids another day.

When you throw your spouse under the bus, you’re forgetting that you’re on the same team together. You won't enjoy the consequences, nor will your spouse.


Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), one of the most effective approaches to working with couples, can help you address your in-law issues together, as a team. All of our marriage therapists have extensive EFT-training, and can help you foster a secure bond. When you’re experiencing relationship distress, we can help you navigate in-law challenges, so you’ll be sure to overcome the issue you’re experiencing.

Keep Conflict and Discussions Calm

Using Emotionally Focused Therapy in NYC, we help couples keep conflict and discussions calm. Your mom or dad may be interfering, or your partner's parents may be driving you crazy, but these issues should never lead to either spouse jumping into a defensive mode.

We work to help partners shift to their more vulnerable parts when having conflicts, instead of escalating into negative cycles. You and your spouse have valid concerns, and even if you don’t feel like there’s a problem, they might. When a spouse is feeling stuck, it’s important for them to breakthrough this conflict — as a team.

Marriage isn’t always easy. You have to put a lot of work into it. Sometimes your blood may be boiling, but lashing out at your partner can make things much worse.

We work to help partners strengthen their bond so that they can remain calm, even during conflict discussions. If you can stay present and see your partner, even during challenging times, you’ll have a much better chance of overcoming your in-law problems than if you neglect your spouse’s feelings.


Choosing your parents over your spouse is a recipe for relationship disorder — do all that you can to help your spouse feel like you are part of a team together, so they never feel alone. Your spouse needs to be your most important priority in your life for your marriage to thrive.

Set Boundaries

We’ve already focused on how crucial it is to be a team with your spouse, and to remain calm during conflicts. Now you have to deal with the in-laws, or ideally your own parents, to put an end to the issues you’re facing as a partnership. Sometimes this is really difficult. Be mindful that in almost all cases, outside of toxic parents, in-laws are part of your family. A delicate approach is needed.

A key part is that the spouse address the issues with their own partners, not the other partner with the in-laws. The spouse needs to empathically set boundaries — one key to success.


Even if the parents don’t listen, it’s important to explain:

While you respect their thoughts on your parenting style, you’re uncomfortable with their unsolicited advice.
The key that you gave them to enter your apartment or home is for emergencies – not to pop over unexpectedly.

In many cases, people see a marriage therapist because they assume that their in-laws are trying to intentionally be difficult. In most cases, in-laws are very emotionally invested in the lives of their children or their grandchildren, and they’re often trying to be helpful.

We know it may not seem that way, but most parents aren’t trying to cause you marital distress.

If you can, have an open and honest discussion with your parents about any issues that they're causing in your marriage. If you need help, we’re here to help you both navigate this sometimes treacherous water.

Don’t Force the Relationship

Your spouse may despise your parents. While you may not want to face this reality, they don’t need to fall in love with your parents. Or if you’re the other spouse, your partner doesn’t have to want to spend every waking moment with your parents.

A few ways to keep the peace and stop any relationship problems in the process are:

· Figure out your holidays upfront. Holidays can be a time for contention if your spouse wants to visit their parents and you want to visit yours. Splitting holiday time works best in many cases. Ignoring this difficult talk won’t change things. Sit down. Talk. Laugh. Argue. And get it done as early in the relationship as possible.

· Keep an open mind. It's not uncommon to get defensive of your parents. You love them (hopefully). But you have to keep an open mind and think situations over before arguing. Is your mom being overbearing? Was what your dad said rude?

· Be the spokesperson. Your spouse shouldn’t be left trying to work out the relationship with your parents alone — it's a recipe for disaster. You should be the meditator and enforcer. Is your mom pushing for a holiday when you already agreed to spend time with your spouse’s parents? You have to put your foot down.

You also have to learn one very important and difficult thing that will strengthen your relationship forever: know when to let things go. A lot of the time, we have expectations of our spouses that never materialize. Your spouse may not want to spend every Sunday watching the big game with your dad.

Chances are, you don’t want to go shopping every weekend with your partner’s mom. Lower your expectations and let it go. You can still see your parents and protect your marriage. They don’t have to be the dealbreaker in whether you see your parents and have a loving relationship with them.

If you need extra help to navigate sensitive in-law issues with your spouse, turn to us for help at www.emotionallyfocusedtherapy.com




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