What should you do if you have problems with your partner’s parents?

Updated on 29/08/2022 at 11:18

  • From unsolicited advice to outright rejection: in relationships there are often problems with the in-laws.
  • What is the best way to handle it? A couple and family therapist gives tips.

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When you get married, you don’t just get one partner. Like it or not, parents-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law and other family members usually come along. It can be an enrichment, but the relationship with the in-laws is often not completely conflict-free.

“It’s not so important how strangely the in-laws behave, but how we assess things,” says couple and family therapist Karin Neumann. “It always depends on what we have in our ‘backpack’.” If you didn’t get enough attention or validation from your parents, for example, such feelings could be triggered again later by in-laws.

“If the in-laws continue the pattern of their own parents, those affected may suffer miserably,” explains Neumann. For many, it is very important what their parents-in-law think of them, and they react very sensitively. “You look for their confirmation, you have high expectations that they will fulfill what you didn’t get in your childhood.”

Claims and criticism: “This can only lead to a scandal”

If there are specific problems, such as a lot of unsolicited advice or interference in child rearing, Neumann advises seeking an interview. “It’s best to think about it with your partner in advance – whether he or she wants to talk to the parents alone about it first, whether it should be done together, or whether you should talk to the in-laws alone.”

Above all, it is important to solve the problems in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. “Never as an accusation or criticism – that can only lead to scandal.” Neumann advises you to ask yourself before the interview: why does this bother me? What emotions does it trigger in me? “Always put your own feelings in the foreground. Then the other person doesn’t feel attacked and can respond more easily,” says Neumann.

“You can say, for example: It’s nice that you want to help us, but for us it feels like we can’t handle it on our own. We’d like you to just ask us in the future if we must afford.” If the issues cannot be resolved through conversation, family therapy can help.

The same applies if you are subjected to taunts or even accusations from your in-laws. If you only see your in-laws once or twice a year anyway, you need to consider how much energy you want to invest in the relationship. “Perhaps you can endure it, just be calm in the situation,” advises the psychotherapist.

“The partner must always come first, then the parents”

It is more critical if you are completely rejected by your in-laws. You should definitely talk openly about this with your partner, says Neumann. “It is crucial that your partner stands by you – the partner must always come first, then the parents,” says the psychotherapist. “I chose my partner, the parents have to accept that.”

If the in-laws remain unreasonable, one can only reduce contact. “If talks don’t work, you have to be consistent and say clearly: ‘If you don’t accept my partner and us as a couple, then unfortunately we can’t see each other anymore’.”

But putting your own parents in their place or even putting them aside is not so easy. What if the partner’s support is lacking? From Karin Neumann’s point of view, it is not an option – you will spend the rest of your life with him or her and not with your parents. If your partner cannot see it, the expert recommends couples therapy as soon as possible. “If that doesn’t lead to success either, I have to ask myself if this is the right person for my life.”

Neumann considers it critical to live under the same roof with the in-laws. “Generally, the same house seems a little too close to me.” A house in the neighborhood would be better. If there is a good relationship and everyone in the house has their own apartment, you can think again. “But in any case there must be clear boundaries, rules and separate areas.”

About the expert: Dr. Karen Neumann is a trained systemic couple and family therapist and has a doctorate in psychotherapy science in Perchtoldsdorf near Vienna. She is also the author of various specialist books on the subject of mental and physical health.

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