Advice: My in-laws hate me

Last updated 05:00 16/08/2012

She has a great relationship with her husband, but his family seem to actively dislike her. What can she do?

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My husband and I were married four years ago after being together for four and a half years before that.  Our relationship isn't perfect and we definitely still have disagreements and the odd fight, but we are still in love and have supported each other through some tough times.  My family always tell me how happy the two of us look together and how good we are for each other.

His family on the other hand don't appear to be so supportive. Without going into too much detail, my husband and I had different political beliefs before we were together. We respected each other's beliefs and quite often we would debate points of politics and pieces of news. Over the years, my husband's views have changed and our views are now aligned.  I was conscious that he was trying to change himself to fit in with my family and told him not to, but he assured me that he came to it himself through ideas and points of view he was exposed to at work and through our travelling.

His family seem to actively resent this and have openly told him "we love you in spite of ..." and "we don't trust ...[people that do what you do]" which they don't seem to notice hurts him deeply.  They aren't happy that he doesn't see the world the way that they do and they have no problem telling him about it but then act innocent and confused as to why he would be upset.

They have always appeared to treat me with slight incomprehension for my lifestyle and the work I do, but now I think that they really believe I have 'taken their son away'.  We don't see them a great deal, but every time we do, my husband ends up fighting with them about something.  I want to stand up for him and I do try to without being antagonistic, but I'm already the embodiment of the devil to them and don't want to excaerbate the situation.

What can I do?

Worried

 

Our beliefs and values have an enormous impact on our relationships and lifestyle choices, and it sounds as if this is exactly what you are experiencing with your husband's family. 

The two of you have adapted to each other and now share similar views, but his family have not changed so they are left 'on the outside' in a way struggling to make sense of the change in their son. In some ways, the fact he ends up fighting with them when you meet will just confirm their worst fears and entrench their belief that you have changed him and taken him away from them.

It seems to me you have a number of choices and it would be useful for you and your husband to talk through the options and be clear about which ones fit best for you as a couple. To begin with you both need to be clear how much energy you want to invest in repairing and maintaining the relationship with his parents. It may be much more an issue for you than him, so it would be useful to ask him what support he needs from you in terms of his family. Here are some ideas to start you off;

1. Think of ways to reassure his parents that you have no intentions of taking him away from them and support his relationship with them. They may need help to accept that this relationship is for keeps and he is his own man.

2. Your husband could write to his parents outlining his understanding of the current situation. He would need to be very clear about what decisions he has made for himself and  his commitment to you and your relationship. If he wishes to maintain a good relationship with his parents he could state his care and love for them and desire to stay connected, but note that the arguments and their difficulty accepting his new lifestyle and beliefs are getting in the way.

3. You could both agree to sit down with his parents and give them time to express all their concerns about what has happened and why they are so worried. Many beliefs are so strong they threaten our very sense of who we are and what our immortal future may be - to have these challenged is very scary. Some beliefs are a strong part of 'who this family is and has been for generations past' and again a threat can mean you don't know how this person fits any more.  Sometimes the fact we haven't listened carefully to someone else's concerns just makes us want to shout the concerns even louder.

4. On the other hand you may both  decide, on balance, that distance and minimal contact is the way to go. If this is the case then you both need to be able to support each other through this and to think of the long term implications.  You might agree on a strategy that is about exiting conversations or gatherings when the contentious issues or fights begin. For example ' we want to stay connected with you and care about you, but don't want these arguments to continue'. You would then quietly leave unless the situation calmed. You could also agree to disagree and recognise that some topics are off limits.

 In all these situations the main thing is for you to create a strategy together for how to deal with different scenarios so that you are both feeling supported, protecting each other and the relationship. I wish you well.

 For more advice and information on counselling, visit Relationships Aotearoa online or join them on Facebook.

We'd love to hear your take on this week's issue. Before you comment below, though, remember that this is a real-life situation. This reader has bravely shared their personal life with you; please show them respect by refraining from hurtful or abusive comments.


 

- Stuff

26 comments
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Curious   #1   06:27 am Aug 16 2012

It sounds like you married a Christian lad and he has changed his beliefs. If that is the case, the family will never accept you unfortunately. But that's their loss! You should like you have an amazing relationship so just make sure you make that visible, let him spend a lot more time with them and move on.

Agreed   #2   07:08 am Aug 16 2012

This situation sounds like where I am heading with my in-laws in a few years. They really seem to resent me, and I feel so uncomfortable around them now, even though I have been with my husband for five years. I wish you the best of luck in sorting this out!

Dennise   #3   07:33 am Aug 16 2012

I read this letter with interest as it is very close to the relationship we have with our son and partner. They have been together four years in Aust. He has changed a lot since being with his lady. To begin with I had great difficulty coming to terms with his choice of partner, but after discussions and being told it is his life, I have realised I needed to back off our we would lose contact altogether. I accept the partner as just that, my Son's choice, if in the future things don't work out, we will be there, just as we will be there if things do work out for them both. Probably the nicest thing that could happen is for your partner to tell his parents that he loves them and wants them in his life, on his terms.

Dan   #4   07:45 am Aug 16 2012

If it's that she votes Labour, then I completely understand where his family is coming from, there is just need for that sort or behaviour.

N   #5   07:47 am Aug 16 2012

My mother in law is a clinical narcissist. Was a difficult decision to cut contact - but wife and I haven't seen her side of the family in years and life couldn't be better. You have to make an effort but when it becomes your safety at stake...

Dan   #6   08:31 am Aug 16 2012

In a similar situation, ultimately I chose to allow a buffer of distance to come between the warring parties. Plenty of consequences come birthdays and gatherings, but the pay-off is pleasant daily living & weekends.

I'd consider this the nuclear option of last resort.

Fairfax   #7   08:31 am Aug 16 2012

I would suggest the lady looks no furthur than herself for the cause of the problem. Emotive statements like "iam the emboidiment of the devil to them" I would suggest are a big part of the issue

Rob   #8   09:09 am Aug 16 2012

It is kind of hard to comment or offer my 2c worth without know the details. The writer says political - surely the in-laws aren't so opiniated that it is solely based on who she votes for? I wonder if there isn't something more here?

Nico   #9   09:30 am Aug 16 2012

@Curious

POLITICAL not RELIGIOUS, how about you spend a bit more time READING the actual article? (or is the problem that your comprehension of the English language is to vauge to understand big words?) I really loath people like you who always have to go on with your atheist I HATE ALL CHRISTIANS story. Your an Atheist we get it, someone once told you being an Atheist would mean people notice you. Let's all clap hands for the attention seeker.

AT   #10   09:33 am Aug 16 2012

I am in a similar situation, as alluded to by Curious #1, I married a boy who has deeply religious parents. He left the church they are involved in long before I met him, but I think they always held onto the belief that he would eventually settle down with a nice girl and go back to church. Instead he's settled down with a nice girl and moved to the other end of the country.

We opt for option 4. The minimum contact required to not be rude and to still keep them in our life, and a strict policy on which conversations are off-limits. For us, these are religion, politics, money and business - we've learned the valuable skill of smiling and nodding (whilst not agreeing or disagreeing with their point of view - merely acknowledging it) to avoid short term conflict and when we visit we stay somewhere else so we have our own space to get away to. It works ok for us!


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