Friday - - Beauty -

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

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