Rules for Dealing with Your In-Laws 

It’s true what they say – when you marry someone, you really marry the whole family. Get married to someone when you dislike the family and it can lead to many tense and awkward moments. Fights over issues related to extended family can cause some serious marital problems for some couples.  It can be helpful to establish some rules to help you live more peacefully with your in-laws.

Be Open with Your Spouse

It’s important to be open and honest toward your spouse. However, use tact and don’t be rude. When you discuss times when you feel frustrated or hurt by your in-laws, use “I” messages. For example, state, “I felt hurt when your mother said my idea was ridiculous,” versus, “Your mother is such as a jerk. She doesn’t even recognize a good idea when she hears it.”

It’s very important that you share your concerns directly to your spouse. If you dislike your spouse’s parents, resist the urge to tell everyone besides your spouse how terrible your in-laws are. This can lead to a sense of betrayal and can create hurt feelings and trust issues down the road.

Use Direct Communication

It is usually best to be able to communicate with your in-laws directly. Instead of saying to your spouse, “Tell your mother she needs to call before she comes over,” tell your mother-in-law directly, “I’d appreciate it if you could call first before you come over.” This can prevent your spouse from being the messenger or feeling caught in the middle.

It’s important however that your spouse back you up. Otherwise, you’ll come across as the bad spouse. For example, if you want your in-laws to call first but after talking to your mother-in-law about it, your spouse then says to her, “I think that’s a stupid rule too,” it can create a lot of added tension.

Establish Healthy Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is important to your marriage (and your sanity). This means speaking up when you feel like your rights are violated or your in-law’s behaviors are causing you to feel uncomfortable.

If your mother-in-law lets your kids stay up all night, eat as much junk food as they want, and doesn’t enforce your rules, it’s important to speak up. Or if your in-laws walk into your house without knocking, stay well past your bedtime, and quickly wear out your welcome, you’ll likely grow resentful of your spouse if you don’t create some change.

Talk with your spouse about what you are comfortable with. Then, develop a plan together. For example, are you okay with your in-laws coming over as long as they call first and then go home by 8:00 so you can have some family time? If so, consider establishing some rules that you can live with.  It is important that you feel as though your in-laws respect you.

Deal with Boundary Violations as a Team with Your Spouse

When there are boundary violations, it is important to approach your in-laws as a team. So you’ve established a “no fast food rule” for your kids and your in-laws are aware yet continue to take the kids to McDonalds every chance they get, talk to your spouse about how to respond.

It’s important to clear the air. Sometimes these things are more about misunderstandings rather than directly trying to hurt you or break the rules. Also, it can be helpful to provide your reasoning for your rules. This can help your in-laws see that it isn’t about punishing them, but is for your own health and well-being.

For example, say to them, “We are trying to avoid fast food with the kids because Bobby is overweight and we worry about the impact this will have on his health as well as him being teased by peers. We’d appreciate your help in keeping him as healthy as possible.”


Accepting your differences can go a long way in managing the relationship with your in-laws. Hopefully you have some common ground- the love of your spouse. Learning to accept that your mother-in-law is a little whacky or that your father-in-law thinks he knows everything can be very therapeutic.

It can also be helpful to try and see some things from their point of view. They may think you are trying to take their child away from them. Or they may feel threatened by your family if they think your parents will give the grandkids better gifts or have more money.  Certainly, this doesn’t excuse rude or bad behavior, but it can be helpful.

One Response to “Rules for Dealing with Your In-Laws”

  1. This article gives some really excellent tips for couples dealing with their in-laws! Just wanted to add that if the in-laws are especially difficult it is best that the adult child protect their spouse and take the lead on speaking with their parents about the situation. Ilissa Banhazl, marriage and family therapy in Glendora, CA

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