Relationship Connection: My in-laws have taken over my marriage and time

Question:

I feel like my in-laws have taken over my life to the point that my only hope is for my family to move. Over 15 years of marriage, the time they expect to spend with us has escalated from weekly Sunday dinners to weekly lunches, every holiday – even Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day that I feel are immediate family holidays – and so much more. After going to a couple Expos together, my mother-in-law expects to go with me to all of them.

I don’t spend half as much time with my parents or sister combined (they also live in town) and it is hard to compete, because I feel like we should spend equal time with each family, but then we would never have any time to ourselves! My in-laws then say things like, “Why should we be ‘punished’ because your family won’t spend as much time?” It seems like they think our lives should revolve around them.

I have struggled to have a friendly relationship with my in-laws from the beginning when they disapproved of our marriage. My mother-in-law tried to get me to reschedule my wedding shower because she had a hair appointment and she does the same kind of thing today whenever I try to plan something with anyone else but her or on someone else’s schedule.

I am an at-home mom with two children and my in-laws are my only babysitter, but they say things like “I know you don’t want us watching the kids.” My father-in-law does the driving but frankly, he scares the crap out of me whenever I ride with him – to the point I refuse to ride in his car.

I have tried on and off over the years to bring things up, to encourage we talk instead of emailing, but things only escalate, all the time everyone acting like things are fine.

My husband is no help, he won’t talk to them, although he agrees with me about them wanting too much.  It is just what his mother is used to.

Answer:

It looks like everyone is afraid to protect your little family, so it’s time for you to step up, speak out, and make things really uncomfortable.

First, you’ve got to find a new babysitter. While using your mother-in-law is free and convenient, the drama that comes attached with her helping you is costing you your mental health. There is no price tag you can put on your sanity, so I would start there. The more you can decrease your dependency on her, the better. She’s not a safe person to rely on, as it will come back to bite you with unrealistic expectations.

Second, it’s time for your husband to “cut the apron strings,” as they say, and cleave to his wife. Fifteen years of marriage is plenty of time for any spouse to make that transition. This will take a lot of strength and courage on your part to consistently expect this of him, but it’s the only way these two families can get back in balance.

Your husband and his father clearly are scared of her and have learned that it’s better to be passengers in their own lives, allowing her to take the wheel and tell them where they’re going and how things will be. Your father-in-law isn’t the only scary driver in this family, if you know what I mean.

Your mother-in-law will never be satisfied, no matter what arrangements you make. So, let me teach you a life-saving phrase you can use over and over when you want to take back your marriage and family. Ready? Here it is: “That’s not going to work for me.” Variations of that include, “That’s not going to work for us, our family, etc.” You get the idea. No explanation needed. Just say it and carry on with your life.

Healthy families have a balance of separateness and togetherness. It’s unhealthy to lose your identity as a family unit and always be defined and swallowed up by the parents’ needs.

You can do this. With your husband, figure out the boundary of where your family stops and the extended family begins.  Then, have the courage to consistently enforce that line over and over again. No permission needed from anyone else. It’s your family, and you have to protect it … together.

Stay connected!

 

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

 

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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7 Comments

  • A Dude April 9, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I dread holidays around the in-laws, because her family wants to get together for every holiday, birthday and event at their place along with ex-spouses who get invited. The conversations tend to center around each other, other relatives, the ex-spouses, and of course, their past and present relationships with someone. Makes for an excruciating painful boring time since they refuse to vary from their repeated scenarios and conversations. Imagine seeing the same video 1,000 times.

    • A Dude April 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      Forgot to add after their conversations about “relationships”, they go into their church topic discussions. Gawd. Have these people have nothing else to talk about?

      • sweet jude April 9, 2013 at 3:06 pm

        I wonder if your talking about the gossip-machine-family that lives on the west section of middleton…

  • Francis Pope April 9, 2013 at 11:40 am

    If you folks have any self value at all, you will realize that Geoff is right on with his answer here. It is time for both the original article author, and A Dude, to stand up for yourself. We all have “needy family members.” And some of them really are quite manipulative.
    It is time to put your foot down, and say NO. No explanation is needed. Just NO. If after a year or so of doing this, they don’t get the hint, then you may have to literally knock them over with the facts of life.
    Of course, this means you are going to have to take on the roll of being “THE BAD GUY.” But for the sake of your family, and for the sake of your own mental health, it is a necessary thing to do.
    Moving is definitely not the answer. There is nothing to say that the extended family won’t just pick up and follow you. I have seen that. This is a problem you really cannot run away from.
    Diplomacy is nice, but if it doesn’t work, then it is time to get down to the hard cold facts of life. Be prepared to face everything from tears, (usually of the crocodile variety,) to threats, (I will cut you out of my will,) or (you will never see me again.) Don’t cave in to this, because it is likely pure BS. And if it is not, so what? Good riddance!

  • Mother-in-law April 9, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    There are so many horror stories out there about the wicked mother-in-law. It is difficult, at best, to know how to avoid being one of them. I have 4 sons, and have purposely tread very lightly regarding my daughters-in-law. I want them to know how much I approve of them and love them, and yes, want them to join family functions. It has been hard to know the boundaries and find the perfect balance, but I have stepped back, given the invitation, but understand if they don’t come. I would hope that this woman would speak to her in-laws openly and explain her feelings and need for them to understand her young family’s need for privacy. There doesn’t have to be contention, only firmness and honesty. There may be hurt feelings, but I don’t think that any mother wants to damage that already fragile relationship. Calling the mother-in-law needy is a little premature, because maybe she just loves having family around. I hope this can be solved without contention.

    • Big Don April 9, 2013 at 6:25 pm

      “Calling the mother-in-law needy is a little premature. . .” Oh really? Well then how about this. Controlling, manipulative, interfering, nosy, bossy, calculating, self centered, selfish, contriving, devious, scheming, designing. Do you like those better?
      I had problems like the folks are talking about here. But my problem was never my MIL, it was my OWN MOTHER. The only thing was, I was raised by her, and knew what she was. I had no problem in putting my foot down, and putting my family first.
      You are supposed to “Honor your father, and your mother.” I realize that. Unfortunately, the abuse as my brother and I were growing up, was so bad, that there was no way either of us could ever have “honored” the self centered, drunken, abusive witch. She made our dad’s life miserable, she made our lives miserable when we were kids, and she did her best to make our marriages miserable. She was the direct cause of two divorces for my brother. He was older, and I learned from him what NOT to do.
      Parents who try to run, let alone ruin, the lives of their kids? Well, there is only one place they belong. And I’m sure mine is there right now. And probably running the joint, with Satan terrified of her.

  • Maggie April 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    I can only say I think this is truly a family that is dysfunctional. I thank heaven that I have a life in addition to my grown kids and we have a pretty open relationship of being open and truthful if any of us is busy or does not want to do something. We have become friendly with our D-I-L families and very often join each other for holidays, sharing the cooking, etc. We may not all like everything all the time about each other but we can overlook some of the small petty things this woman is whining about and get on with living. Especially if there are grandchildren involved. Be glad your in-laws like to be with you and help with the kids. Many do not.

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