MY IN-LAWS ARE CONTROLLING OUR LIVES
Q For the past 10 years of our married life I have had to deal with the fact that my parents-in-law constantly interfere in our lives. From how we bring up our kids to how we spend our money, they seem to want to have a say and if we don’t do as they suggest, they make my husband feel guilty. In the end, he tends to give in and this makes me really angry. Is there any way I can get him to stand up to them? Even suggesting it causes a fight.
A Family power play, which I think is the issue you’ve highlighted, can cause intense stress in a relationship and make those on the receiving end of the demands feel powerless. The more powerless you feel, the more the resentment builds and it begins to spill over into your own personal relationship.
My guess is your husband has always been subject to his parents being controlling and this kind of conditioning can be very hard to break free from. The power they have over him inevitably leads to your husband feeling guilty if he doesn’t act upon their advice, and guilt is a very persuasive emotion. Like you, he’s probably played over and over in his head a video of him standing up for himself, but has been unable to do so.
Family dynamics can generate very complex issues, but there are some approaches you can take to learn to be more protective of your own core family life. Firstly, in a time when you and your husband are not being influenced by his parents, try to engage him in conversation about the situation.
Rather than using him as a sounding board to vent your own frustration, take the time to find out how he feels. Try to explore how his past has affected the present and suggest the idea of the pair of you taking back some control over the decisionmaking process. This could be done by simply not discussing certain things with his parents and leaving them out of the loop. Just going through this process will give him the confidence to be more assertive, especially if he stands his ground against the criticism that might ensue.
On a more conciliatory note, it’s worth considering your in-laws’ position too. It might be their over-controlling response is a reaction to losing that dominating role in their son’s life when he got married. Many parents find this transition difficult to handle and the source of their hostility towards you might originate in those feelings of disconnectedness. So, bearing in mind that their overbearing behaviour initially springs from a source of love and concern may help you to feel more conciliatory.
In fact, trying to discuss with your mother-in-law the general roller-coaster of emotions you go through being a parent might help you find common ground.
If the situation still doesn’t improve, I think it’s wise to focus on protecting your relationship with your husband, but also to implement a set of boundaries that you personally will not cross. Stay courteous, rise above criticism and make a concerted effort to show them it isn’t getting to you (even if it is!). Try to be as assertive as you can by being clear about what you will not tolerate. Clarity of message, without embellishment, is a very powerful tool when it comes to achieving a positive outcome for your family.
RUSSELL HEMMINGS is a life coach, and clinical and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist