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How to Cope with Bad In-laws

Updated on January 28, 2014

Family Tribes

When we marry, we join a new tribe and we aren't always met with open arms. Why? It's all about maintaining the status quo of the tribe and a new member threatens to upset the balance.

  • Will he or she fit in with our customs or insist upon new ways?
  • Will this person end up pulling our beloved family member away from our tribe?
  • Will he or she know his rightful place or challenge our current, harmonious family structure?
  • Is he or she good enough for our child?
  • Will our child be well cared for? Happy?

It is a common practice to "size up" this new person who has claimed our child in marriage.


A No-Win Situation with Mean People

Many in-laws don't give the new family member a chance to fit in from the very start. Many parents believe that "no one" will be good enough for their child. Many refuse to "give up" their child and allow him or her to grow up and start a tribe of his own. Some people are negative, controlling, critical and demanding by nature.

Nothing you can do will meet with their approval.


Your weapons of war

When your in-laws are truly terrible people, there are ways to cope.

  • Don't let them see how their mean antics affect you. Mean-spirited people enjoy seeing you squirm under their thumb or how the worst comes out of you. Keep your cool. Even better, learn to smile and react graciously. This shows that you are, indeed, a better person for not sinking to low levels of propriety and character. If you can find humor in what they say, laugh a little. And it bugs the heck out of the bullies.
  • Refuse to take any of their comments personally. Mean people are unhappy people in generally. Their unhappiness is not about you. You just happen to cross their unhappy path and you'll be the target of the unhappiness that spews out of their mouths. Try to have pity on them.
  • Kill them with kindness. When you are sincerely kind on a consistent basis with no guile, you can melt the hardest heart over time. Few can remain cruel to a genuinely loving person. Win them over with love and laughter. If nothing else, you'll draw support from all those who witness your efforts and earn respect. Your spouse will never be able to point fingers of blame at you for causing problems.
  • Draw boundaries for your own health and well-being. Limit your exposure to mean in-laws.
  • Be good to their child. Be a loving, supportive spouse who makes their child happy. They can't argue with that. Regardless of whether you fail to meet their expectations in other areas (you don't cook? have a job? help out at home?) no parent can object when their in-law makes their child happy.

How do you cope with bad in-laws?

What do you do about your horrible in-laws?

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Staying on the same side

The difficult part about dealing with bad in-laws is that they're still family and still the parents of your spouse. Chances are, your spouse knows his/her parents are a pain but there is little to be done about it. There is some truth to the adage "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" and to expect major changes in personality and habits of older people is futile.

For the health of your marriage, it's critical to be sure your spouse knows you two are on the same side. Here are some do's and don'ts:

  • Don't unload your frustrations on him/her. It isn't his fault that his parents are horrible. Why should he have to take the heat for their ways? He'll resent it and you'll become the enemy by creating an unpleasant home atmosphere. Do you really want him to associate stress and pressure with your marriage?
  • Don't expect him to change his parents. They can only change themselves.
  • Don't force him to speak up for you. Things could get lost in translation, making the situation worse.
  • Don't expect him to "defend" you. Mean people will think what they want to think regardless of any facts put before them. You're an adult and if you need defending, stand up for yourself in a firm but kind manner. You'll earn their respect that way instead of trying to make their child the bad guy.
  • Don't create an emotional wedge between him and his parents. It is cruel to make him choose between you and his parents. Both play important roles in his life.
  • Do sympathize with your spouse's plight. It isn't easy to be put in the middle and having embarrassing parents.
  • Do encourage him/her to visit with the parents alone. Help foster a good relationship between them for the mental and emotional health of your spouse.
  • Do find ways to do good things for them when you can. Your spouse will appreciate it.
  • Do be sure your time with your spouse is loving and pleasant. Refrain from bad-mouthing his/her parents.


Compelling Reasons to Endure

Why should you work hard at enduring your bad in-laws when you can simply ignore them? Because how you react reveals a lot about your true self and your worth as a human being. Do you add to the angst of this world or lessen the madness?

You also model good attributes and virtues to your children such as patient, tolerance, forgiveness and long-suffering.

You'll also help ease the stress your spouse feels every time he/she must get you all together. By loving your spouse's parents, you're showing your love for him/her. He'll be grateful for it and your marriage and bond will be strengthened for your efforts.


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    • Lori P. profile image

      Lori Phillips 2 years ago from Southern California USA

      Thank you, bzirkone2. I very much appreciate your reading my hub and taking the time to comment!

    • bzirkone profile image

      bzirkone 2 years ago from Kansas

      Good article and hit the nail directly on the head.