I have been working with two clients who are struggling with in-law relationships.
Client A is stressed and sad that her future daughter-in-law will not let her (Client A) help with the wedding plans.
Client B is angry and defensive because her mother-in-law questions everything Client B does with her 6-month-old baby.
One thing I have been emphasizing with both clients is, “What is your role in the interactions?”
It’s hard for many of us to remember we only have control over ourselves and control over how we react to situations. We cannot change others, and the level of our influence on others is not a stable indicator of shifting things to go “your way”.
Even when a relationship, exchange, or situation is complicated, we have the power and control to shift our energy and move forward.
I provided the following reminders, for my clients, to keep at the top of their minds, when they are interacting with their in-law relatives:
Relationships take a lot of work
Cultivating a positive and thriving relationship with in-law relatives does not happen overnight. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and model constructive interactions. You will sometimes have to step outside your comfort zone and express your feelings or emotions to your in-law relative, knowing their response could be welcoming or unwelcoming. This is the case of you get out what you put in.
Change is scary – and may cause tantrums
Entering into a family or having a new family member join is a major change. An in-law relative may not realize it, but he/she may be grieving a loss – loss of how things “used to be” – and not directly dealing with it. The change may prompt him/her to throw a tantrum – which comes out in the form for being withdrawn, judgmental, or possessive.
One way to approach this is to acknowledge the joys and challenges of change. You can express what brings you joy in joining your in-laws, welcoming a new baby, planning a family event, etc. – and you can also express where you are feeling uneasy. In being clear with your own voice and feelings, it gives in-laws a chance to learn about you and understand your commitment to the in-law relationship or situation. This also lessens the fear of the unknown – which is a large characteristic of change.
Don’t take the bait
If an in-law relative is good at pushing your buttons – take a look within and figure out why this is a trigger for you. Are you holding on to limiting beliefs about yourself that make you defensive, hurt, or reactive? If so, explore this.
As I mentioned, you are in control of how you react to situations. If you work through your limiting beliefs and release yourself from any thought dungeons – your in-law’s bait with have no effect on you.
Take a step back
If you are interacting with your in-law relative and things seem to be going down a dark road, take a break. You cannot do the important work of having open communication when you are feeling stressed, defensive, or angry.
Step back from the situation, refuel, and try again.
It’s not uncommon for flair ups to take place between in-law relatives. Sometimes in-laws can show us their best, and often the worst can be displayed as well. Do not hold on to resentment because it takes up too much space and energy. Resentment does not serve anyone – so let it go. Practice forgiveness so you can release any hurt or pain.
You may not forget the incident or interaction, but forgiveness allows you to heal so that you are open to working on the in-law relationship – and moving forward in your living your best life.