Having an in-law that constantly goes out of their way to cause hurt in either an emotional or a physical sense can seriously affect your marriage. You need to find some form of coping mechanism that enables you to not only protect yourself from their repeated attacks but also ensure that your marriage has a future.
How to Avoid Conflict
There are a number of things that you can do to avoid any situation where there could be conflict, plus if you already find yourself in a bad situation, can stop that conflict escalating and getting out of control.
• Emotional Detachment: Put some distance between you and the in-law. For example if it is your mother in-law that is causing the problems stop thinking of her in those terms. In your mind allow her to become just an acquaintance; don’t give her the power that calling her Mother or Mum bestows. She is not your parent, address her by her first name.
• Understand Her Issues: Try and understand the reasons why she is being so negative towards you and about your relationship. It may be that she feels as though she is being pushed out of her son’s life. It may be a case of a total personality clash between the two of you or she may simply not be a person who can take the back seat even when she should. The more you understand the reasons behind her behaviour the easier it will be to deal with.
• Put Some Distance Between You: You don’t have to move yourself and your family to the other side of the world; you just don’t have to show up every time it is expected of you. Occasionally your spouse could attend some family events on his own, or you could say that you have conflicting plans on that day and none of you attend. Don’t make this a regular occurrence you don’t want to make things worse than they already are, but neither do you want to be at her beck and call.
• Don’t Try and Force Her to Change: If she is determined to show her dislike for you and your relationship with her son she is unlikely to change. Keep your distance from her at all times and strike up friendships with other members of the family so that you are not completely ostracised.
• Avoid Conflict Triggers: Before you attend an occasion where she will be present, run through a number of possible scenarios in your mind. Note what it is that she does or says that pushes your buttons and gets your blood boiling, once you have identified the triggers you can find ways of avoiding them.
• Don’t Antagonise Her: If you really can’t avoid a conflict try not to lose your temper, whatever she provokes you with make sure that you respond, just don’t be rude or offensive. Make your response honest and straight to the point, don’t try and sugar coat your response to avoid hurting her feelings, doing the same clearly doesn’t matter to her.
• Disarm the Guilt Bomb: Guilt is a fabulous tool for manipulation but you should be able to overcome it. When you sense that she is attempting to use emotional blackmail to get what she wants, confront her about it. Ask her if she is trying to make you feel guilty, it will break the blackmail pattern, she will come back to it repeatedly but just keep breaking it up again by confronting her with what she is doing. Once you refuse to be made to feel guilty you are taking away her power and it will allow you to view the situation more objectively and allow you to recover some ground.
Setting Your Boundaries
Without a boundary a relationship has no definition, there are no guidelines as to what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what is not. If a line is crossed you need to address it and set things right so that balance is restored. By definition your boundaries are the line that once crossed leaves you feeling abused and violated, so they need to be clear.
• Privacy: If you like time to yourself and feel uncomfortable when people drop by your home unannounced this could be one of your boundaries, make it known that while you are open for visitors you would like them to check with you first before they arrive.
• Be Heard: Unless you verbalise your boundaries they will not stop being crossed. Your spouse needs to know how you feel and they should be supportive in helping you handle the issues. If they are not successful in speaking to their parents about adhering to your boundaries you will have to go to them directly. She may act shocked as though you are speaking out of turn accusing them of doing something that they are not, or if you have never been vocal in this way before they may treat you like a child and just dismiss you. However they react wait until they have finished and make your point again.
• Enforcement: You need to be firm but compassionate; you are probably trying to alter something that they have been doing for a very long time. Start with gentle reminders and if they go unheeded be firm. If the violations continue have your spouse on your side and let her know that unless he starts respecting your boundaries you will remove all forms of contact for a period of days, that means no visits, no calls, nothing. After which time you will expect her to respect the boundaries you have in place, if this fails again go back to the no contact scenario until she gets the message. This is a process that requires you and your spouse to work as a team, it does sound harsh but it does work, and will totally change the basis of your relationship with her. Remind her, via your spouse that this course of action is only being taken because of her behaviour, her failure to respect your boundaries and your privacy. In essence she has brought this situation upon herself.
Have a Supportive Spouse
Your spouse needs to know exactly how you feel and why you feel the way that you do. When you explain all of it to your partner do not take this as an opportunity to start criticising her as he will probably get defensive about her, after all she is his mother. Ask him to step in when he can and show that he is supporting you by his actions and words and not silently siding with his mother as she may believe. If you find that you have a spouse who will not fight your corner with you, you could be in for a great deal of trouble in the future.