Ask Team Practical: In-Laws

Well, what a week it’s been here at APW. On Monday, I told David that there was nothing too exciting on the docket for the week, and then we had huge conversations about planning and gender, body image, money, and not loving your wedding. That’ll teach me to say not that much is going on around here, ever. But today it’s glorious Friday, and we have Alyssa here discussing In-Laws, and blending families—which is just flat out hard, y’all. Hard, and perpetually surprising, and sometimes isolating. So today, let’s talk about it, and at least feel a little less alone.

Oh, in-laws.  They’re like siblings; you didn’t ask for them, you may not even have wanted them, but suddenly they’re there and they’re not going anywhere and they are quite possibly touching your stuff.  Ask Team Practical has gotten so many questions on in-laws that we thought it best to approach this as a conversation rather than a straight up answer to any particular question.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to cover everything that may come up within the “How the hell do I handle my in-laws?” realm.  And if we don’t, we know readers will tell us in the comments.  (God love ya, you opinionated little unique snowflakes!)

OMG, my ______-in-law is driving me crazy!

Okay, honey, what are they doing?

[Long explanation with lots of details, elaboration and possibly rude hand gestures. And maybe some tears.] So what should I do?

Well, have you talked to your partner about this?



Because it’s their _______! I can’t talk to them about their ________!

That’s a problem right there.  You are going to be combining families, whether you like it or not.  Before you talk to your partner, figure out why you feel the way you do about your in-law. Is it a logistical issue with the wedding that they are insistent upon? Have they been less than respectful to you?  Is it an issue with their beliefs and how they express them?  Is this a pattern of behavior, or just a one-time super annoying situation? Pin-pointing the issue may help you realize that it’s not truly that your mother-in-law wants daffodils all over the place at the reception, it’s that this is the fourth time this month she has ignored your wishes in regards to your wedding.

One of the things that the two of you need to do is be able to discuss issues with each other’s family without argument (Or you know, with minimal argument. Anyway, this part might take practice, but time to start trying).  Try to approach it at a time where you aren’t seriously emotional.  The more calm you are, the more you will be able to explain all the issues without anger or tears. (I can’t be the only one who gets so mad that they cry.  Please tell me I’m not…)  It’s completely normal and valid to be frustrated with a family member or future family member.  The real issue is how you deal with that anger. Blowing up at your partner about how pig-headed his sister is may feel great, but it won’t solve anything.  Discussing with your partner about the way that your sister-in-law treats you is a better way to start on the path of solving the issue.

But my partner said that it’s not a big deal!

Try to discuss with your partner why they think it’s not an issue worth worrying about.  Remind them that while they’ve had their whole lives to learn how to deal with Misty’s bad behavior, you’ve only had X amount of time.  Your problem may be indicative of an on-going problem that your partner’s family is well aware of, and they’ve dealt with it in a particular way.  This may be your first rodeo in dealing with Misty’s crappy attitude, but they may be well-versed in her shenanigans and accustomed to ignoring them.  And always remember when talking about it, this is your partner’s FAMILY.  Yes, their brother might be a racist twat for making the stupid jokes he does, but it’s still your partner’s brother.  Talk about the actions that bother you, not the person.  Separate behavior from personality.

But IS it a big deal?  Not “does it feel like a big deal?” but is it really and truly a big deal?  Some hills ain’t worth dyin’ on, so pick your battles.  Don’t let emotion sway you in creating lasting conflict over a more trivial matter.

No, my partner seriously thinks it’s not a big deal and doesn’t want anything to do with it.

That blows.  And it’s something that will have to be worked on, because warring opinions regarding family will only cause future conflict.  You can have differing views on your in-laws, but you have to be a united front in front of others. That’s part of being a family, backing up your husband or wife at the family rodeo (especially your new husband or wife). Your partner cannot chalk it up to “your problem,” because it’s “our problem.”

You know that you need to set boundaries when you create your new family with your partner, yes?  Think of your boundaries not as something that keeps others out, but strengthens what is being contained WITHIN.  Big issues, like family problems, need to be solved together.  Even if only one of you does the talking to the family, the decision on what to say has to be a joint decision. And a united front does not mean that you make your partner choose between them and their family.  Work to find that common ground.

Fine.  We talked.  We agree, _______’s _______ is a problem that needs to be dealt with.  Great, so then what do I do?

Then it’s time to find a middle ground. You two are creating a baby family, and with that family comes new rules. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to play by the rules established for your in-laws’ family.  If Uncle Howard is a loud old drunk, and the family blissfully ignores it while you can’t, then it’s perfectly acceptable for you and your partner to say, “There will be no booze in our house when Uncle Howard visits.  And he is not allowed over when he is drunk.”  However, you can’t make that rule for events that are not held in your house.  You can refuse to be a party to it, such as cutting your stay short if Howie starts getting deep in his cups, but insisting that Granny hide all the schnapps at Thanksgiving is just going to cause further conflict. Even if she knows it’s right, no one likes it when someone comes into their house and tells them how to clean it up.  Establish boundaries within your own new family, but respect the ones that are already there in your partner’s family.

Note that this does NOT count in situations that are illegal or dangerous.  How much Uncle Howie drinks is his business. When Uncle Howie starts trying to sneak brandy to underage cousins or tries to drive home soused, then it’s no longer just his business and it NEEDS to be stopped and addressed.

Okay, Dear Abby, what about when the problem is not what they are doing, but how they treat me?

This is tough.  It’s always best for you to fight your own battles.  It’s tempting to ask your partner to talk to their sister about how she treats you, but you’ll do better if you talk to her on your own.  Unless your partner sees the disrespect and decides to bring it up, it needs to be your discussion.

There is a misconception that problems need to be solved before you get married, and hopefully APW does its part in making sure that everyone realizes that your wedding is just one of many major events on the journey in your marriage.  That being said, an in-law being really and truly disrespectful or awful to you is something that you’ll want to at least attempt to clear up before your wedding.  It’s uncomfortable, but you are making your own little branch on the family tree and you’re a part of something bigger.  Your branch needs to be the priority, but you are still connected to others and they need to respect you.

And make sure that you’re respecting your in-laws also.  The road goes both ways, cookie.

What if the problem is how they treat my PARTNER?

That’s a situation that your partner will have to address. Yes, you could sit your mother-in-law down and tell her that every time she makes a comment about your fiancée’s weight, she ends up crying for days. But that conversation needs to start with your partner.  You can be there to stand up for your partner if needed, but they also need to stand up for themselves.

But our problems are only wedding-related!  Otherwise, we get along fine.

Remember that a wedding is not just about you.  There are a whole lot of feelings, emotions, complications tied up in your wedding day and they are not just coming from you. If your mother-in-law is trying to make you change up your decorations, it might be because she’s only had boys and has dreamed of helping a daughter with their wedding.  If your partner’s aunt by marriage is causing a stink about the guest list, it’s probably because she’s recently divorced and this wedding will be a difficult experience for her.  All this emotion will be flying leading up to your wedding and probably a lot of it won’t be about you.  Unfortunately, it might affect you and that’s where things get sticky.  But recognizing the reasons behind your in-laws crazy behavior might help you deal with them.  Maybe you can allow your mother-in-law to handle a certain aspect of the reception that you don’t have strong feelings about, that way she can get the experience she wants and that’s one less thing for you to think about.  Maybe you’ll have to sit your aunt down (together) and let her know how important it is to you and your partner that both sides of the family are there and how much you’ll appreciate her setting her feelings aside for a day.

And remember, it’s hard on your partner’s family when they realize that their first priority is now making sure you are cared for and supported, even if they are still a really really close second priority. Their mamma gave birth to them, so forgive her if this makes her a little bit weepy. So, just keep remembering that your in-law’s are people too.  You’re family because your partner loves the both of you, but to be friends you’ll have to find some common ground (and it’s ok if this takes time).

Team Practical, how do you deal with your in-laws?  What major conflicts have you weathered?

*If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa a askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com.  If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted.  Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit (CARBDILID, duh).  Seriously. We love sign-offs.  Make your editors happy.

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  • Erin

    Well my partner, his brother and I all went to college together and we all ran around together. His brother and I had a kind of huge falling out after college that made things really really awkward while we were dating. There was a big family event that I wasn’t invited to because they were afraid of the tension between us and a Christmas where he ignored me entirely even when speaking directly to him.

    But the nice thing, was that over time, things got better and while I wasn’t thrilled with him being selected as Best Man at first given his history of disrespecting our relationship, in the end, it made my partner happy to have his big brother there and things had been getting better. His brother welcomed me into the family in his speech which was an honest gesture. This Christmas it was finally like old times which was really nice. So I guess sometimes it takes time but things can get better. I also found that other person in my partner’s extended family that I had issues with is much nicer to me now that I am his wife. Being his wife gives me standing in their eyes that I just didn’t have as his girlfriend of several years. I think it’s ridiculous but it is what it is.

  • Our relationship started with my fiance showing his mother a picture of me and her response being “Oh, she’s pretty. It’s a shame she’s not Jewish.”. So, there’s that. And it hasn’t left my head for three years.

    Mostly, things are okay with the in-laws (which, for me, refers not only to the mother, but to the Aunts and Uncles and cousins and sister and family and friends….they’re pretty much a package deal). The biggest and hardest thing we’ve had to deal with (as far as families go) is our completely different family styles. His = huge parties for EVERYTHING and a need to live within 50 miles of one another. Mine = Small gatherings for the important stuff, and we’re spread all over the country. It’s a battle to try to get his mother to understand that just because I don’t see my family every other weekend, doesn’t mean there isn’t immense amounts of love between us. His mother believes that family should be your community, that you shouldn’t leave (or want to leave) because they are your roots, and there isn’t any need to spread your wings, go where the work is, move to your perfect climate…where your family is is where you should be.

    So my introverted, rather seclusive life, has changed dramatically since we’ve met. I’ve seen things that are great about big family communities, and I’ve experienced the downside of the same. We’re working on taking the good from both sides and creating our little family somewhere in the middle.

    • Our situation is similar, in that himself’s family is rather large and all very close (both in proximity and relationship), while mine is much smaller, and I think nothing of going months without talking to some other family members. (Okay, fine. Years. Whatever.) There’s no ill will, it’s just that I’ve never known some of them all that well.

      It’s definitely worth noting that different family styles can cause some tension . . . or at least a difference in expectations about what family “should” look like. Not to mention how big your now baby family will become . . . !

    • Jo

      YES. My family is the larger one, but very spread out and only see each other a few times a year, but we email every day and love each other lots. His grandma thinks that we hate each other and doesn’t value my family because hers “has dinner every Sunday!”

      It’s weird to try to let people know that differences in style doesn’t mean differences in attachment.

      • Class of 1980

        And neither family is “wrong”, which makes it even more complicated. ;)

      • ElfPuddle

        Mine family is bigger, and broker, so we don’t see each other often. His is smaller, and richer. I haven’t seen my parents in over a year. His live 20 minutes away. We’re still working out trying to keep them from smothering me. I know they mean “I love you”, but all I’m hearing is “I’ll do it for you because you’re incompetent”. Stressfull? Yes! But we’re trying, and that’s important. (And, Alyssa, it makes me so mad I cry sometimes.)

  • I’ve had and continue to have more than my fair share of in-law troubles and highly recommend Toxic In-Laws by Susan Forward.

    A lot of the book concentrates on getting you and your partner on the same page, which is immensely important, but it’s really helpful for those that are already there also.

    I can’t change anyone, but this book taught me how to shift my thinking and expectations, which has been hugely helpful.

    • Zan

      Yes to this, “I can’t change anyone, but this book taught me how to shift my thinking and expectations, which has been hugely helpful.”

    • Oooh I’ll have to get a copy of this! My future father-in-law and I are…tense. We’ve gotten much better since my fiance and I first got together, but there are still a lot of rough moments. Pretty excited there’s a book that might tell me how to calm the eff down…

      • Class of 1980

        I think as long as your fiance stands up for you against abuse, then you will be alright.

        Not standing up for you will erode the marriage. My sister married into a family with an emotionally unstable mother that everyone tiptoed around. When her MIL would turn on her for no reason, she could not count on her husband to stand up for her.

        It contributed to their eventual divorce. :(

        • I responded to a thread below saying exactly this below! So true. I’m your friggin’ partner, don’t turn a blind eye to this guy being mean to me…

        • My main anxiety surrounding wedding planning was based on my own parents, not my in-laws. I come from an UBER religious conservative family who just absolutely didn’t respect my relationship with my partner, add upon that a semi-unhappy marriage for them and you have a lot of stress, tears, and anger. I was so hurt that my partner didn’t stand up for me when they were yelling at me. When we talked later he said he felt that it wasn’t his place, since it was my family. Which, I guess in some way is true. Sometime’s you just have to learn to stand up for yourself. I’ve tried to be very supportive of his relationship with his family and encourage him to speak up when he feels he is being mistreated and sometimes I think that’s all you can do. Learn to rely on each other for strength and encouragement and when you meet disrespect from outside forces, it’s much easier to deflect.

          • suzanna

            Kayla, that is a tricky one indeed. I once stood up for my guy when his dad was yelling at him, which I thought was very valiant of me. Turns out it made things harder. His dad didn’t speak to him for months afterwards (yes, totally stupid, but there ya go). My fiance needed (and needs) to deal with it in his own way–that’s a dynamic that’s been going on since way before I showed up.

            However, I’m pretty sure his dad won’t pull that again while I’m around. ;)

    • Ashley B

      I should check it out (and be careful where I read it). It’s hard to acknowledge that you can’t change someone else’s behavior and I could use a little help in shifting my own thinking (and feelings).

  • 1st, Alyssa?
    (I can’t be the only one who gets so mad that they cry. Please tell me I’m not…)

    I cry:
    1. When I’m stressed out. (Like, I mean, REALLY stressed out and overwhelmed. It has to be huge. I cried once or twice during wedding planning, for example, and it usually has to do with something that’s been effed up and is now beyond my control.)
    2. When animals die/are mistreated on TV. (Dude, I’m a mess. Those Pedigree commercials from a few years ago? OH MY GOD.)
    3. When I’m pissed off. It’s usually a combination of 1 and 3, because I’m PISSED that I’m so STRESSED. So, yes.

    Anyway, in-laws. I am super super fortunate that I really love my in-laws. My MIL is AWESOME, and my FIL … well, he’s the living manifestation of Oscar the Grouch, but just like Oscar he’s also loveable. :) Sometimes, I think I get along better with my BILs and SILs than my husband does. (KIDDING …)

    However, on my side, they were an issue for my husband. Not so much anymore, but not because of a lot of hard work, hard conversations, and tears. My mother and I were always super close (and still are), so she took the process of me finding someone and getting married VERY hard. Now that we’re married, she sees my husband loves me as much as I love him, AND that our relationship hasn’t changed drastically because I got married, things are MUCH better (like, 180 degrees better), and I am SO happy that we were able to work out a happy ending to the whole thing. This was, in part, because we never closed communications on this.

    What I tried to keep in perspective was, how I would want my partner to act if the tables were turned. If it was HIS mother giving us so much grief. I stood my ground and stood up for our baby family and it was so hard and it sucked a lot, but in the end it was 150% worth it. And, yes, I realize that because it was a happy ending, that makes this a lot easier to say, but I would still say that even if it hadn’t been a happy ending.

    So, I guess, my advice is to walk a mile in your partner’s shoes for this. Think about if the tables were turned, and it was your mother/sister/father/uncle that was doing this, and how difficult it would be to handle it. THEN, go to your partner and ask him/her to walk a mile in YOUR shoes – how would it make them feel to be in your position?

    Good luck.

    • A-L

      Add me as another one who cries when angry. (The crying at pet sadness also rings a bell.)

      Thankfully, my in-laws have been really nice to me. Though it rankled slightly when I found out that my MIL had asked my husband, “Couldn’t you find someone who was white?” she has been nothing but kind to me. Ditto for the rest of his family.

      The issue I’ve encountered is more of a financial/family dynamic one. In my family nearly everyone could support themselves. If anything, I would get the handouts* because they took pity on the “poor teacher” and didn’t think I should be so underpaid for my work. In contrast, my husband has always been the one taking care of his family financially. As a teacher, he’s the “rich” one. (*Handouts to me are like paying for a theater ticket or restaurant meal, or a really nice housewarming gift. Financial help from my husband has been paying mortgages, utility bills, car notes, etc.)

      The issue is when we go to visit his family. My husband feels the need to treat everyone. So taking out all the siblings/children, etc (and there’s a lot of them) for outings, meals, etc… Suffice it to say that we spend as much money visiting his family for a few days as I have spent on 3-week international vacations. And as two teachers, we’re not exactly living high on the hog. We’ve discussed this, and it’s one of those things that is important to him (and there’s not a whole bunch he feels strongly about). Thankfully, it’s not important to him that we do this frequently, so I’m just going to have to suck it up when we do visit.

      All in all, though, I realize I got pretty lucky with the in-law situation. At least so far.

      • Ahhhh so much yessss. Agreed with Irisira, Alyssa, I totally cry. I cry all. the. time. I cry when I talk about anything about which I feel any amount of emotion. Could be notebook paper. I appreciate the, so if/when I talk about it emphatically, I cry. IT’S REALLY AWESOME IN MEETINGS. So when I’m angry? Um. Yes.

        And my fiance’s family is not well off by any means, but we’re comfortable. So we foot the bill for things a lot of the time. Like contributing a LARGE amount (20-25% I think of the total bill, which was a fancy dinner for a lot of people) towards his sister’s graduation party. Which you wouldn’t typically expect to be covering.

        The in-law expenses haven’t been outrageous (3-week international vacation?? Madre de Dios…) but I know that before we were together, my fiance exhausted a lot of his resources to take care of a lot of them, so it’s like this looming storm cloud of this-could-get-bad-any-time sort of thing. Tons of time and energy and money to basically parent everyone. I try not to worry about it, but…I do.

        • Caro

          ahhhh money in-law issues here. (We’re not married yet). His parents are really bad with money, like really bad, like can’t pay the mortgage, but I feel sorry for the kids so let’s get an x-box bad. And poor. And perpetually broke, They can’t afford to be retired, but they also can’t really work much because of disabilities, though they get a partial gov’t pension.

          So there have been times when they asked to borrow money. And not in like, hey, here’s some money that will make a big difference to you but is just a drop to me ways. We’re poor young folk (my partner is unemployed, and I work only 4 days a week at a job that doesn’t pay all that well.), and it was half our rent they were asking for. Well, not asking straight out, but in a manipulating way.

          So the one time we gave them a huge amount of money, I sent off the money, then had a big huge breakdown (at work!). I talked with my rabbi for a while (couldn’t reach DP), and then DP and I sat down and talked and worked out a strategy to deal with his parents.
          Which is basically, No lending money, PERIOD. If they were so badly off they couldn’t take care of themselves and his minor siblings, we would consider taking in his sister as guardians. That’s the only option. No lending money, nothing else. (I only think it would come to taking in his sister if his dad died, his dad keeps them sort of afloatish)
          I talk to them when they ask for things, are difficult, etc. Because I can stand up to the them because they aren’t my parents, but he can’t stand up for himself to them. (Now, I know that if they were bashing on me, he’d stand up to them, but if they’re asking for help, or bemoaning life, he sometimes rolls over like a doormat, since it’s hard to make new life patterns. However they adore me, and ask when we’re getting married. wish my parents did that)
          Which is not to say that my parents are a walk in the park either. But because we live near them, it’s more like… low level drama all the time, vs the calm calm CRISISCRISISCRISIS calm calm that his parents are. Again, most of our issues with my parents are my issues, but we’re learning to stand as a team.

          • Kayla

            Wow! I didn’t realize everyone else had in-law money issues too! Ours are different in that my husband’s parents make enough to be pretty comfortable and they like to spend money. So while I’m pretty sure they aren’t prepared for retirement and will have to keep working and still have a mortgage, they love, and can’t say no to, helping their children out. And the children ASK, wait, feel entitled to it! I mean it’s like, the car I couldn’t afford anyway is in the shop and I can’t pay for it but oh, we’re going on vacation next week so we’ll need the car. Can you pay for it to be fixed?!

            This is huge for me because I was taught to always be self sufficient, that you aren’t an adult until you are on your own and responsible for your own bills. It really upsets me to see them take advantage of his parents (while my husband has definitely benefitted from their helping hand in times of true crisis and unemployment, he has always been extremely grateful and tries to make it up in any way that he can, be it work around the house, etc).

            While we’re still poor folks around here, it’s starting to change a little and have decided that we need to go ahead and have those tough conversations and make a plan for when the inevitable happens: when they ask US for a loan. We’ve decided that we won’t loan any family any money. If we have enough to give them a monetary gift without sacrificing our financial security, then we will but it will be a gift. We’re also planning to invest some money that will one day be used to care for his parents in the event they need end of life care because unfortunately, no one else will be prepared to handle it. It was very important to me to have a plan for this so that we’re not blindsighted by it. I have a horrible time saying no to people and usually bend over backwards for them so I knew the only way I could not feel forced to do something I would regret was to have a plan of action.

          • Oh sister, I hear you. Majorly rough.

        • Part of your fiance’s parents’ story sounds like my fiance’s! His parents are bad with money too, in an extravagant way. Luckily his stepfather had a job that gave them a very good pension and a chance to pay off the house, otherwise I don’t know what would happen. Now they are retired and because of disability can’t work. They’re making it, but just barely. I’m sorry you’re going through this, but glad that you have found some sort of solution for this sticky and emotional issue.

          Also, I cry too! Actually, pre-marital counseling helped me figure out some of the causes of my anger crying. It has been helpful to me because when we argue I often cry and it’s hard to have a fair argument when one person (involuntarily) starts the waterworks. It also happens I’m angry, tired or stressed about things other than relationship issues.

          Fortunately for me, my future in-laws pretty much love me like a natural daughter. Partially because I’ll sit and listen to them talk (for hours!). They are easy going and love that I’m part of what has helped their son “grow into a man”. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have difficult in-laws.

          But I agree, the boundaries are so important too! I can see that even in this nice relationship we have. And I am really glad that I know where my intended stands on issues so that we can be a united front. He is also super aware of any areas that might damage the relationship and is careful to show his parents where the boundaries are. As nice as they are, they can exert pressure in ways that get you to agree. Not for nothing did they run their own flea market booth for years, and become friends with all the pawnbrokers in the area! Those people know how to bargain!

          • The idea of having professional hagglers for in-laws kind of terrifies me… You are a brave, brave soul.

          • clairelizabeth

            I just wrote a looooong comment that the internet ate. sigh…

            Suffice to say that the stories of money and inlaw issues are so, SO helpful for me right now. We’re wading through an unending swamp of money problems/finanical planning nightmares in relation to my F-FIL, and all your stories remind me that L’homme and I are not alone in this.


          • Jess

            Wow, I also can’t believe that so many other people on here have in-law money issues too! My mother-in-law has had pretty terrible financial problems in the last few years. She’s been widowed, has gone through bankruptcy, has had the hours at her job cut (after going through bankruptcy), and is on the brink of losing her house. She lives paycheck-to-paycheck and needs help from her kids whenever any extra expenses come up (such as to pay her car insurance bill, or when something breaks in her house), and definitely will not have anything but social security to live on once she can no longer work.

            I’m frustrated to no end about how my husband and his siblings handle her financial situation. His mom ignores the problems and lets them pile up, and he and his siblings are inclined to do the same—until something happens and the kids have to come together to put together the money in the midst of a crisis. I feel like everyone has their fingers in their ears, and that someday a huge burden is going to drop on us kids finically when she can no longer stay afloat. At the same time, since she is not my mother and we are not dealing with my siblings, I feel like I don’t have any control over a situation that I will ultimately be partially financially responsible for. My husband knows how I feel, and tries to be more proactive in helping her with her finances, but he is caught between a lot of people who have different opinions on how it should be handled (me, his siblings and their spouses, his mom) and doesn’t always know what to do.

            What’s also extra frustrating to me is that my family was always super-responsible with money, and that his family has never really been. I want to go to my mother-in-law’s house and yell, “how can you pay for cable boxes in three rooms when I am paying part of your car insurance bill!” That’s how my family would react if someone else in our family was asking us for money but wasn’t being responsible with the money they had. But I can’t do that here, it’s not my place.

          • suzanna

            Oh the money thing. Ouch. For me it gets really hard when my fiance is like, “That’s just what children do!” so there’s no discussion about it. Children take care of their parents (and younger sisters, and younger cousins….), *period*. Definitely some cultural issues going on in my case.

          • Meredythbyrd

            That must be so hard for you. I can only imagine how powerless I’d feel in that situation. At the same time, while I was reading it I sort of saw a little of myself in your MIL. Not the bankruptcy and lost hours but the ignoring money problems and hoping they’d go away. It’s a hard lesson that I’m still trying to master (see: the unpaid tickets/bills I have on my desk). Even though it’s really frustrating to watch a grown woman and mother of someone you love go through this I can empathize with the way she must feel. Not that what she’s doing is good, but that it is probably a really common way of reacting. And I can’t imagine how hard it must be for her to have her children weighing in and criticizing or adding to her stress about the situation. Money is such an emotional topic that having your kids trying to tell you what should be done must be difficult for her. Especially considering that her hours have been cut.
            Although, yeah, the cable box thing is pretty hard to swallow. When I’m broke EVERYTHING gets cut. It’s hard to see people who don’t cut back on unnecessary and foolish expenses, even when they’re not broke. Wasted money and wasted water are my two biggest pet peeves.

            But I guess part of what I’m saying is that maybe trying to focus on empathy might help you when you’re super stressed. That and some rules about spending? Good luck!

          • A-L

            Yeah, I totally understand feeling aggravated about financially strapped people buying unnecessary stuff. Particularly when nobody then wants the stuff. My MIL buys a bunch of junk to give to everyone. No matter how often we say that it’s unnecessary, that she should keep her money, whatever, it’s bought. And 99% of the time it goes straight to the Goodwill pile. Yet when anything comes up, she needs to ask her kids for help. So yeah, I understand.

          • Caro

            Jess (apparently my comment is coming out on top of yours?), I have to admit to being in the “fingers in ears lalalalalala” camp. For two reasons.
            1, it comes too easy for me. When I get overwhelmed, at least at home where my guard is down, I sometimes do literally cover my ears, and start talking to cover up the noise. It’s not DP that I’m trying to drown out, it’s usually a stress that’s coming from inside of me, so as you can imagine, it’s not at all helpful at even drowning it out much less dealing. It’s how I dealt with things as a kid, and it’s like my inner child takes over my body sometimes.

            2, There’s nothing I can do about it. His parents are in their late forties, both so disabled they can barely work, with two dependent children (one of whom will be dependent his entire life, and will almost certainly become OUR dependent when his parents die. Other than telling DP flat out that while we might support him, I CANNOT mother a difficult, disabled “child” my age, I’ve ignored it. (Part of it is waiting and watching as he grows up to see what his potential will be and what kind of living situation will work for him)). What happens when his parents are 60? (If they make it that long. Honestly, our prayers are more to the please let them live long enough for his sister to grow up and for them to see our wedding and first few kids.) No idea. They aren’t planning, they’re trying and failing to plan well for next month. We don’t have a plan, because I simply can’t see what a good plan could possibly entail. Them moving into our studio apartment which we are dipping into savings to pay for, because DP has no work? There isn’t even a bathroom or bedroom door, just a curtain. (Though I love my place, not to dump on it). If they won’t try to plan for themselves, there is literally nothing I could see us doing for them. We can’t afford to support them. We’re only barely, sort of, supporting ourselves.

            When we gave them the money (which they asked for as a loan, but we knew would be a “gift”), part of my discussions with my rabbi was about money, family boundaries, and ethics. I feel like two things he said had particular wisdom: It isn’t ok, ethically by Jewish or secular ethics to take from what our family needs, so we can’t get by, to support his parents. We have to put our baby family first, and then if we can, support his parents. He also said that if it were his parents, even though they are responsible financially, the only way he could/would support them if they needed would be if they moved in with him, and he put all three kids in one bedroom, and then he was in charge of all financial matters for his parents. Only if they needed it so badly they couldn’t manage their own money, but if they were in charge of how the money got spent, he couldn’t support them. It was an interesting idea.

          • meredythbyrd

            A-L: My mom is often the same way. It finally got to the point that she got frustrated because all the clothes she bought me were just off. Like the crocheted vest with a hood and tassle? Not going to wear it! But then she would get sad. I finally told her “I love that when you go shopping you think of me and want to buy me these things, but I would love it more if you spent the money on things that you love on you.” My mom isn’t one to care that much for fashion so spending money on herself would be a good thing for her. It also helps that I now live farther away and she doesn’t mail things much. Perhaps telling her you love she thinks of you but would love it more if she were…? Or just keep giving to Goodwill. That being said, she did buy me the purse I use constantly, so it’s not that it’s all bad, just often so. Good luck!

            Caro– You poor poor dear. This all sounds like so much to have to deal with while you guys are also struggling to get your life started. I totally agree with your rabbi. And hey, it is some years away, hopefully. Maybe things will shake out differently then. Protect that baby family! My grandmother lived with us for years and even though my dad did like her it put a strain on the relationship. Especially when we moved to a different state and lived (all 7 of us!!!) in a three bedroom apartment for a year. Later, when we got older and busier she was much lonelier and she ended up being much happier in a nursing home where people were always around to socialize with. It was the right option for her. I hope you guys are able to find the right option for your family.

    • I’m a stressed-out crier too. Sometimes the tiniest thing will make me burst into tears if I have had a lot of other things building up on my shoulders.

      Kudos to you for recognizing the challenges your hubby might encounter with your family and working through that.

      • Yup, I’ve had that happen, too. My husband is usually like, “OK, what else is wrong?” because crying over dropping an egg is not my usual MO. (Swearing, yes. Crying, no.)

    • Lee. G

      Me too. I cry when I’m confused and don’t understand my feelings. I cry when I’m frustrated. I cry when I’m happy. I cry watching movies all the time. I cry when I bump my head a little bit and I’m having a bad day. I haven’t cried over spilled milk… yet.

      • Rizubunny

        Me too! Any kind of strong emotion gets me. I also cry at NPR. And commercials. Not just sad ones, but happy ones. Or happy stories. Or nice voices on the radio. Yeah, it’s kind of a mess :)

        • Same! When NPR did stories about soldiers (alive or dead) I’d have to turn it off. Especially because my brother was a soldier at the time.

    • “What I tried to keep in perspective was, how I would want my partner to act if the tables were turned. If it was HIS mother giving us so much grief. I stood my ground and stood up for our baby family and it was so hard and it sucked a lot, but in the end it was 150% worth it. And, yes, I realize that because it was a happy ending, that makes this a lot easier to say, but I would still say that even if it hadn’t been a happy ending.”

      Yes, this exactly. Excellent and wise advice Irisira.

    • ka

      Hi, my name is KA, and I’m also a cryer. Especially when angry, or when people are being particularly nice to me. And the Sarah McLachlan animal commercials. Those make me cry and then I get angry. Stupid Sarah McLachlan.

      (Ok, now back to being quiet — when an orphan marries a black sheep there’s not much firsthand experience with in-laws. But rest assured I have bookmarked this for reference in 30 years when I might be an in-law myself.)

      • OH MY GAWD those commercials.

        Getting… choked up… just thinking about it… gahh!

        • suzanna

          Oh, I have to mute the TV and look away during those commercials. Damn you, Sarah McLachlan!

  • North Star

    “Maybe you can allow your mother-in-law to handle a certain aspect of the reception that you don’t have strong feelings about, that way she can get the experience she wants and that’s one less thing for you to think about.”

    This is advice that made my wedding experience with my in-laws so much easier. My mother-in-law straight up told me when we announced our engagement: “I don’t think my daughter will ever get married so I want to be a part of your wedding.” I knew right away what area I needed steer her away from when she started listing stuff she wanted to be a part of–my dress & the bridesmaids’ dresses–as we have very different tastes in that area & these were dresses she wasn’t going to be wearing. I told her these dresses were already taken care of but since she had offered to cover photography & the rehearsal dinner for us, I had her come up with a list of vendors within her budget & who were recommended by friends who had children get married recently. This made her feel like she was contributing to the wedding while staying letting us have the final say. When she asked what dress she should wear to the wedding, I told her to pick the one she felt was best for her–that way she still got to pick out a dress she liked & one that she was wearing, as opposed to myself & the wedding party.

  • Zan

    I can’t emphasize enough how important the talking to your partner thing is.

    Hub’s Dad is a slightly difficult man, which has raised some interesting issues along the way, but we’ve always had lots of small talks about it — not just one big, “OMFG YOUR DAD IS A LUNATIC!” conversation (though that sometimes happens, but at least it doesn’t come out of the blue and we end up laughing about it instead of Hubs feeling blindsided and offended). My Father-in-Law insists that our wedding isn’t “real” since it’s not happening in a Church, and he refuses to call it a wedding and instead refers to it as our “party” or “celebration”. I don’t particularly care, so I let it go, but Hubs and I have talked about it and how it makes me feel a bit disrespected. But not only was talking about it good in defusing that particular issue, but it let us talk about how we’re going to handle all the other conflicts that will inevitably come up down the line: Like how does he feel about the fact that if FIL tries to convert one of our children (who we will be raising Jewish) I will likely flip the h*ll out?

    I could keep going with examples but I guess really there are just two key things I want to add to this conversation,

    1) Talk yuns! Really. Don’t keep your feelings about these things all bottled up. Yes it’s his/her family, but you two are a team and a new family, I think it’s important that you have each other’s back on these things.

    2) And remember, these people raised the person you love and are going to spend your life with — and so if nothing else I think you ought to respect them for that. Even though I sometimes want to pull my hair out dealing with my in-laws, they are overall polite, kind people and at a minimum I am try to be polite and kind in return. I often comment to Hubs that, “It’s not that I don’t like them, I just don’t get them at all — they’re like aliens to me” and it’s true, I do feel like that. But I also know that they feel pretty much the same way about me — the loud Jewish/Athiest/Liberal/ Mexican-American that they have to actually talk to on a regular basis. I’m certain that I confound them on a regular basis but mutual respect — you don’t have to agree, just respect! –goes a long way.

    • Midwest Lantern

      Hi there. I just want to mention that I also had a close family member say that my wedding wasn’t going to be real since it wasn’t in a church. Totally hurtful, but they came around on their own eventually and were really supportive and happy for us at the end — I hope the same turnaround happens in your situation.

      • Zan

        Aw thanks for the support! Still, the truth is that I don’t give a flying rat’s patootie what his Dad thinks about whether or not our wedding is “real”. It’s more an eye-rolling “Seriously dude?!” moment.

        I know FIL is happy for us in his own way and I don’t need anything more than that.

    • My mom told me that mine wasn’t going to be a real wedding because it wasn’t *fancy* enough. She eventually came around.

  • I have to say, I have sort of the opposite problem with my future in laws, they are completely hands off, no interest whatsoever and believe me I have tried to get them involved.

    They’ve told us that they don’t want to be involved in planning or helping, they just want to turn up. In some ways I am glad that I don’t have to anwer to them about my plans or accommodate any of their requests. But in another way it makes me a bit sad. Sad because I know my fiancé really wants to discuss what wines we are going to have with his dad, really wants his opinion on their groomsmen outfits, and what food we’ve chosen and what will go best with the cheese.

    I know this is about a bit more than our wedding though, as it is kind of indicative of their whole father-son relationship, but still……..I thought weddings were a time for families to come together? I don’t want to push it but I feel like a little bit of interest (or hell even some downright noseyness) would go a long way.

    • Some people just aren’t into it. They may change their mind as it gets closer, but as much as we’d like people to be one-stop shopping, they can’t always provide what we want them to because it’s just not in their personality. Maybe they think they’re doing you a favor, especially if they’re dealt with meddling in-laws in their life.

      Just focus on what they do provide for y’all in the rest of your life and ask your friends about the wine and the cheese and the clothes. If that fails, ask Twitter! APW ladies on Twitter are excellent at offering opinions… :-)

    • Rachel T.

      I have the same problem but with my own parents. When we got engaged, my best friend wanted to immediately sit down and talk to my parents about having an engagement party for everyone. My parents didn’t understand why anyone would have an engagement party and said they don’t care if she throws one as long as they don’t have to do anything for it. She wanted to throw it at my parents house, thinking they would want to be involved, and my father was so mad – why would she think she could throw a party at my house? It’s like my wanting to throw a party and asking the neighbors to use their place, was his comment. He really couldn’t understand how his daughter getting engaged was supposed to be why she assumed that. I was crushed; I cried. It hurt like hell. But then I realized this just isn’t their thing. My parents had a very small wedding, no real reception, not a real wedding dress, etc. It just isn’t their thing; they don’t get it. But they love me, and they’re happy I’m happy. They love fiance. I’m learning that has to be good enough, and I go to them for the stuff I can, appreciating whatever little I get from them, even if it isn’t ideal. I understand your feeling sad; weddings are supposed to be a time to bring everyone together and for families to be so supportive, but it just isn’t that way for some people. Maybe they’ll be really great with something else later in life?!

  • FM

    Great advice, generally, but I don’t necessarily agree with the suggestion that you have to deal directly with your in-law who treats you badly. I mean, I think it is great if you are able to do it, but I would guess that’s incredibly hard for most people to do especially in the earliest years of your relationship with them, so I would say that’s still your partner’s job primarily. At least, that is the approach my husband and I take – each is the front line in dealing with our own family of origin (i.e. delivering the team message on boundaries, deflecting attempted broaching of boundaries, etc.). Also, even if you are brave enough to address the in-law directly yourself, it may be more effective if your partner also (preferably lovingly, respectfully, without the sense of ganging up on the in-law and escalating the problem) backs you up so that the in-law can’t discount your perspective as easily.

    • Jo

      I think it depends on the person. For one of the future in-laws, it was much better for me to address it. For others, they saw this as uppity and we had to have C do it. For still others, we needed to actually have the hard conversations TOGETHER.

      It’s weird.

    • My fiance and I had a looooong talk about this, sparked by our premarital counseling. I’d always felt like it was me against his father, with his father making snide, underhanded comments (primarily) about my faith or indicating that I don’t have enough soul (I hate jam bands, he’s in TWO Grateful Dead cover bands, therefore I am the lamest, most boring person ever). Mostly I’d ignore him, but then I’d inevitably say something just as snarky in reply. Which is obviously not productive. And when I switched my approach to being respectful and reasoning, he accused me of taking things too seriously, and has basically mocked me for being stiff in front of LOTS of people, on several occasions. I’m a huge joke to him, I guess.

      So after one counseling session, I brought this up to my fiance. And it was hard. He’s very much a “let people be who they are and don’t worry about it!” kind of guy, so he didn’t understand why I would be so embarrassed or upset. And he has a complicated relationship with his family already, so it’s sensitive territory. But I explained that when he didn’t stick up for me, it was almost the same as him saying those things about me in the first place.

      In other words, YES. THIS. “even if you are brave enough to address the in-law directly yourself, it may be more effective if your partner also (preferably lovingly, respectfully, without the sense of ganging up on the in-law and escalating the problem) backs you up so that the in-law can’t discount your perspective as easily.”

    • I still have to disagree. For some people that might work, but generally its best to handle it yourself. I initially had a paragraph in there about letting your partner speak to the in-law for you, but I took it out because there is WAY too much room for error. What if your partner doesn’t understand the situation or says the wrong thing about how you feel?
      If the partner has seen the problem and knows enough of it to say something and you aren’t able to, thn sure. But I think the best way, in a blanket speaking for most situations most of the time, if to handle it yourself.
      Especially since nothing is worse than someone going, “She thinks that about me and she doesn’t even have the guts to talk to me about it??” Then you’ve got a bad situation AND they think that you don’t have confidence, which isn’t true.

      But YES, you’re right, they need to be backing you up, regardless of who is speaking to the in-law. So true.

      • Stephanie

        I think the difference is whether the issue is primarily *your* issue or *your and your partner’s issue* (and I’m speaking roughly because I realize there’s no clear line between the two). For example, the biggest issue (though it’s actually quite minor) with my FMIL is that she wants to be included and know what’s going on, and my fiance and I are relatively private people. We definitely talk to her and include her, but we also have clear boundaries, and my fiance is the one (based on his long relationship and experience with her) that enforces them. We have a similar approach to my parents when it comes to our agreed-upon larger issues. But if for some reason my FMIL or FFIL did something that felt hurtful to me (i.e. they insulted me directly), I think it would be ideal if I was at least part of the conversation (i.e. it wasn’t just my fiance speaking for me). When possible, it’s always best to speak for oneself in a situation where feelings have been hurt.

      • I agree, Alyssa.

        I am currently dealing with a future SIL issue and I am afraid that my fiance will be unable to accurately and effectively voice our shared opinions in the face of a potential snapshow. We have yet to deal with our situation, but feel it’s probably best to deal with it together so that we can both express ourselves and support each other if she lashes out.

    • Caroline

      I always agreed with you, and continued to be frustrated when my partner didn’t address things the way I expected him to. And the issues with my mother in law continued. Nothing changed – until I stood up for myself, and make the hard, awkward, and COMPLETELY rewarding decision to call my mother in law out when she was being inappropriate.

      We’ve had a cordial-verging-on-positive relationship since then, and I 100% attribute it to addressing the situation myself.

      • emmafashionista

        as is so often the case on APW, this passage is a total epiphany for me.
        the hubby and i are on the same page about our baby family coming first, but sometimes, despite our best boundary setting efforts, things get said that are out of line.
        my approach has always been, “it’s his family, he can be the messenger.” my thinking was that this reinforced the boundaries.
        but sometimes, his messaging was off (emma’s feelings were hurt vs. you’re out of line are NOT the same), and it drove/drives me a little crazy.
        it truly never even occurred to me to handle it myself… until i read this post. i think this might be a breakthrough for our in-law relations!
        MIL is visiting next weekend, stay tuned!

  • “you have to be a united front in front of others.”

    This is such great advice for all aspects of marriage. Most people think my husband and I have a blissfully happy no-arguments-ever marriage because I decided a long time ago never to criticize him in front of anybody else, family included, and whether he was around or not. (Complaining about one’s significant other is something I feel like I see a lot, especially in the media, and it makes me really sad.) The fact that people think we have a perfect marriage does not change the fact that we actually don’t, but I think it does do important things like send my friends and family the message that they can’t criticize my husband, either. An external, even superficial, united front does wonders to strengthen the relationship internally.

    • This is something I have been trying to do myself (but not always working out!). Thanks for the motivation.

    • Rizubunny

      I absolutely agree. It’s hard to see couples criticizing and cutting each other down – we disagree plenty, but we handle any tough stuff in private. I don’t think there’s any excuse to make your partner feel or seem ‘less than’ in front of anyone else (or at all, for that matter). It only weakens you both, and the relationship.

      • I will admit, we are not great at this. We tease a lot, especially in front of each other’s friends. I take great joy in commeriserating about his exclusive chicken finger diet and he loves to talk to my friends about my beauty product hoarding tendancies.
        We’re especially bad in front of each other’s parents, the only other people who can understand and sympathize with how exasperating we are. So we criticize, but not in a mean way.
        But I admire you guys who always seem to be in synch. But for those of us who still suck a little at it, I just wanted to say that even if you’re not the perfect couple, being a united front when it counts is what’s important. :-)

        • I am with you Alyssa – I joke about how hockey has taken over the house and he teases about my kichen supply hoarding problem. BUT. Teasing about something small is totally different to me than complaing about a serious problem. I’ll joke about lots of things, but nothing I have a serious issue with, because to me, that’s not fair.

          Also, I think parents are a bit different. There was one thing about David’s behaviour I was having trouble figuring out, and talking to his mom helped, because she felt the same way about this specific thing, and we talked about the best way to help him deal with it. (Vague enough for ya?) But I could use his mother, the woman who’s known him his whole life, to help see how we could get him unstuck. And I’d do it again.

        • We tease a lot too, especially around each other’s families. I think it’s a totally different animal than fighting over anything serious, though, especially because teasing and sarcasm are such huge parts of our senses of humour. I’m sure it’s hard for people on the outside of our relationship to understand sometimes, but it comes from a place of deep love – I would never tease someone if I wasn’t close enough to them to know their reactions, and I know Eric’s reactions well.

        • I agree that there’s a line somewhere between criticizing and teasing. We tease A LOT, and sometimes one of us will go too far. I think the fact that we’re never intentionally critical helps us realize and point out when that happens, so we can reevaluate and get on the same page again.

        • We tease too, relentlessly sometimes and especially with our families. But our teasing has become more of a funny banter than criticism, though it’s taken some time to find that groove. But we, too, are always on the same team when it counts.

    • suzanna

      Totally, Sandy! This was a decision I made when I first met my fiance, and it was based on all the crapadoo that I’ve witnessed coming at my brother and sisters for complaining about their partners. Maybe it’s specific to my family, but it’s like they’re all just WAITING for someone’s partner to eff up, so they can jump all over them. Practically wanting an excuse to be mad at someone. Just WAITING for a marriage to fail, basically (lots of divorces over here).

      So I made a point of only presenting my sweetie in good light from the get-go. They think he’s freaking made of gold, and are therefore totally sweet to him. It makes life so much easier.

    • I decided long before I met my husband that I wasn’t going to be someone who took my relationship problems to other people. Because then when my partner and I had worked out the problem, the outside people might still be holding a grudge and wouldn’t have been there for the working-out part of the problem. I didn’t want to tell my mom about problems I had with boyfriends and then end up marrying one of them and having her still hold a grudge for something I’d obviously gotten over a long time ago.

      If we ever do need a third-party with our problems, it would need to be an objective third-party. Which excludes family and friends.

    • Barbra

      I think there is a happy medium here. I definitely make a huge effort not to complain about my partner in public, but at the same time, I think that acknowledging the tough stuff in relationships is important. When we had some problems after moving in together, I was helped tremendously by remembering a conversation with one of my friends about having a rough time with that transition.

  • calum

    What about propsective in-laws that do not acknowledge your relationship, refuse to visit your house and will not be attending your wedding because they think you are going to hell?

    • Sooz

      Ouch, that’s tough! sending you hugs and affirmation, since I don’t have any helpful suggestions for that level of family stress.


    • Abby C.

      Hugs to you, Calum honey! Hang in there!

    • Sadly, I doubt there’s too much you can do about them in that situation . . . other than standing firm with your partner and moving wholeheartedly in the direction that you two feel is best, regardless of their actions.

    • Class of 1980


      That happened to a friend of mine. Her in-laws did not attend her wedding.

      She was divorced with a five-year-old son and she was a Methodist. Her mother-in-law had been a Protestant and converted to Catholicism. The only way she would attend the wedding was if my friend converted and they had a Catholic wedding.

      Needless to say, my friend didn’t convert and the in-laws didn’t show up. It was particularly sad because the groom was his parents’ only child.

      His parents maintained their distance until their first grandchild was born. At first, they came to visit, but wouldn’t stay overnight in the house. But little by little, they came around and embraced my friend completely.

      In the end, they said they were sorry for not coming to the wedding and that they regretted it. Now they have two grandchildren and they are devoted to them. And they LOVE their daughter-in-law.

      This does not predict what your in-laws will do, but you might want to get your fiance to hint to them that they may regret their actions years from now.

      • Sam

        This also happened to a friend of mine. (The parents refusing to show up because she wouldn’t convert/ have a catholic ceremony). In the end it was the in-laws Catholic Priest who told them to suck it up and go, or they would live to regret it.
        Support can come from the least expected places ….

        • Calum- Obviously your future in laws are overreacting. I hope that at the least your fiancée stands up for you and your relationship to his parents when needed. He is the one that needs to try to make amends (not you) If he has any relationship with the priest/pastor/minister (whatev) of the church that his parents attend perhaps he could talk to the priest person about it. I doubt that many church leaders would encourage this estrangement.

          Tell them to take the plank out of their eyes. (ok maybe not too helpful) WWJD (go to the wedding obviously- and make more wine when it runs out too)

          Also, [hugs]!

        • Class of 1980

          Yeah, I can understand wishing someone would convert, but I don’t understand expecting them to.

          I also didn’t understand why my friend’s MIL gave herself the privilege of deciding her own religion, but didn’t think her daughter-in-law had a right to decide her own.

          File this under “Irrational Demands”.

          • calum

            I think this comes from the idea that one’s religion (ie: for the MIL, her religion) is ‘clearly’ the correct one.

      • calum

        It always makes me feel better to hear happy endings to this kind of story. The things people are adamant about today might seem not nearly so important in the future. And grandchildren seem to soften many people’s inlaws!

    • Jo

      UGH. Sometimes, people stink. I’m so sorry this is happening.

    • Trin

      Calum, I wish I could give you a hug!

      I have very religious parents, and a year and a half ago I decided to move in with my boyfriend (of now three years). My parents were furious and heartbroken when we told them we would be living together, and we were basically shunned for a few months. (I made my decision expecting the shunning to go on for years!)

      Thankfully, my parents love my boyfriend, and they’ve somewhat adjusted to the fact that I’m “living in sin” (though we don’t talk about it). They definitely wouldn’t visit our house. And I’m pretty much resigned to the idea that when my boyfriend and I do get married, I shouldn’t expect any support (especially financially).

      All said, though, how can I regret moving in with the love of my life? I know that I made the right decision then to choose what was best for me over the possibility of losing conditional parental love.

      I wish I had known of APW when I went through everything with my parents. Team Practical buoys me and encourages me to be grateful for my baby family.

    • I’m so sorry that you have to deal with this. I don’t think any of the above tips are going to help you in that situation, but I think this is a case where it’s really important that you and your partner stand together and support each other. Hopefully your partner’s family will eventually realize that you’re awesome (I don’t know you, but I am quite sure that you are, in fact, awesome) and will at least be able to respect and acknowledge you and the relationship you have with your partner.

    • Pew pew pew! Don’t let those people stray you from the path of what you know is right, for you, for your partner, for anything! Sending positive energy your way… and sorry you have to deal with that.

      • calum

        Thanks Kinzie! I post one tiny comment and half of APW turns up to shameblast. That’s why I love this place :)

    • That’s horrible, and I feel for you sweetie.
      Stay supportive of each other.
      And you might consider counseling. Not because anything is wrong, counseling isn’t always for that. It’s just that this is a hard situation and you might need a third person to help you both through it.

    • bumblebee611

      Hugs, Calum … I’m in a similar boat except the ILs hate me, refuse to acknowledge the relationship, and may well still come visit and continue to snark about me to my fiance (as they already do on the phone). It’s unclear whether they are coming to the wedding, as right now my fiance’s mother is refusing to speak to him if he calls from my place (we don’t live together yet). I could go on but won’t; it’s just too hard and humiliating to even write about. Hang in there and know you’re not alone.

      • mish

        Oh man, the snarky comments are the worst. My favorite is when my FMIL tries to guilt trip my fiance about how if he picked a girl like me then she must have failed as a mother. She claims she disapproves of the marriage for religious reasons, but over time it has become very obvious that the actual issue is her inability to let her little boy grow up.

        The best advice I can give: stand together and set boundaries to protect yourselves. Counseling helped a lot too.

        • All I have to say to that guilt trip is “WHA??!?!?!!!”

          And woman, you are a saint for dealing with it.

        • bumblebee611

          Mish–thanks for your supportive words. Clearly you know how terrible this feels and it’s so good to know I’m not alone. I’m so sorry you have to hear this (especially through your fiance). My FMIL does not openly guilt trip my fiance about how if he picked me he should feel guilty because she failed as a mother; it’s just about the coldness/withdrawal/punishment of him if he actually let’s on that he’s with me. When we told her we were engaged she rolled her eyes, made a sarcastic comment, and changed the subject. Some of her issues are clearly about race but on some level, she’s been this way with every partner he and his brother have ever had … apparently when his brother announced, with fiancee, at Christmas that he was engaged, she stormed out of the room and pouted for hours. Oh, did I mention he’s 40 so we’re not talking about letting go of your baby boy who is too young and inexperienced to make a decision!? AAUGH!!!

    • bumblebee611

      Calum-I forgot; if you didn’t see it, someone above recommended Toxic In Laws, and I second that. It’s been immensely helpful for me in this extreme situation that isn’t covered by the typical “oh, your FMIL wants lillies at the wedding but they make you sneeze what a crisis” advice.

      • calum

        Good idea! This is more of a “My FMIL will cry if the invitations say “marriage” instead of “civil union” advice situation.

        • bumblebee611

          Ahh, Calum, are you battling homophobia here? I am definitely battling racism (among other forms of hatred) on the part of my future in-laws (mostly FMIL) and yes, I think the problem with the traditional advice is that it is all about something you could do/ways to meet your ILs in the middle/compromise. But really, with the toxic ILs, the problem is that the only thing that will make them happy is if your relationship is over. The book really focuses on how you cannot change someone else’s behavior and you aren’t responsible for their choice to behave the way they do. The book also focuses exclusively on het couples, but does have some discussion of interracial marriages and family opposition (which I think could be helpful).

  • I have recently put my finger on exactly why I don’t have huge warm and fuzzy feelings towards my future mother-in-law. And don’t get me wrong, I do like here, I think shes nice, and generally great fun. But I have always found it really difficult to be in a sustained conversation with her, and I hadn’t been able to figure out why.

    And I have realized, after spending a bit of time with her solo the other day to book rehearsal dinner stuff, that its because she can’t help but to offer me advice. Advice on most things, I can handle and take in stride, but advice about my career? When you don’t know anything about my field? That rankles a bit.

    I know she does it with the best of intentions though, and because she wants our baby family to be a success and for us to be happy. So now that I have pinpointed the problem, I hope I can just try to let it go, unless it crosses some line and is no longer friendly advice. Because she is certainly not doing it to upset me, or even because she thinks I am not capable of handling it.

    Phew, talking that out with myself on the internets just made me feel loads better. Go Team Practical!

    • Stephanie

      My FMIL does the same thing. She’s a pastor’s wife, though, so I’ve accepted it as just something she DOES. She gave me career advice on which master’s program to pick, and I was like, but I dont WANT to be a librarian… FMIL said, “But the program is all online!”…seriously? I should do a program I have no interest in because it’s online?

      Or when I wanted a lovely plum purple and golden brown as wedding colors, and she said, “That’s much too depressing. Why don’t you pick red?” Or, “The only thing I have to say about your wedding dress is that you be completely covered. It makes men uncomfortable when you show your cleavage.” Or, “I hope you don’t expect me to help out with the wedding because I have finals that week.” (As do I, my fiancé, and 3 out of 4 wedding party members, although everyone is in grad school.). I just want her to shut up. Can I Superglue her mouth? Just kidding…

      • Eeek, thats sounds less like advice and more “let me superimpose my values onto you.” And in a bit of a tactless manner.

        If she can’t trust a grown woman who is marrying her son to have a reasonable opinion on appropriate attire…? Really? That bugs me a lot.

        I have found sometimes that avoidance is a great policy, if things are really stressing me out and I just need some space.

        • Class of 1980

          I don’t like her remarks either, but I’d cut her a little bit of slack on the wedding dress remark. She’s a pastor’s wife and really, there are some tasteless dresses available now. I don’t think it was personal.

          Granted, I’ve never seen one on APW, but they exist. ;)

          My generation wore string bikinis so obviously we weren’t too conservative. Yet I’ve seen wedding dresses that floor me with how inappropriate they are. Nothing wrong with a little cleavage, but some of the stuff out there is … out there.

          • I am so with you on the heinousness and inappropriateness of many things out there available for purchase. Undeniable.

            I guess my thought was that the lady in question has presumably met her son’s fiancée, she might have an idea of her style and know whether such a statement was even necessary? Or maybe could have explained her feelings about revealing dresses in another fashion?

          • Stephanie

            Let’s just say she covers her neckline up to her collarbone… I showed her the dress I picked, and she didn’t say anything. Yay! FH is on my side about this, which is super helpful and wonderful. :)

      • Noemi

        It is so interesting to me that I am not alone in my family’s unwanted opinionated-ness. It is coming from my side, and luckily my fiance doesn’t hear any of it unless I tell him about it, as they take care to be perfectly well behaved in company, but let loose when it’s just me. I am dealing with their comments, but it is so hard to just let it roll off my back. Opinions about diet (“You have to fit into your wedding dress! No more dessert!”), our future choice of home (“Cleveland is so dangerous, it’s like Detroit– nobody goes out at night!”), and their predictions of divorce (“Your wedding only happens once– until all your other weddings!”). It’s exhausting because I find it hard to stand up for myself, and I am just so glad to hear other people in similar situations– and despite all the negative comments, we are still very excited to be getting married!

    • Susan

      My mother in law is the same way! I felt overwhelmed by her advice when we were house hunting and planning the wedding. After 5 years of being with her son, I figured out why it bothered me so much:
      My parents are supportive but hands off with me. I’m the youngest of three with a sizable age difference. I think by the time I grew up, my parents just figured out that kids will do things their own way. Conversely, my husband is the eldest. I don’t think his parents are used to seeing him as an adult or to relating to their children as adults.
      I worry that they’ll never see us as independent and responsible adults. I try to remind myself that we are young (mid twenties) and that we’ll prove ourselves over time as we continue to make good decisions. I also cross my fingers that this shift will happen before our first child/their first grandchild or I’m afraid she will drive me insane.

      • Amy

        Sigh, this is my husband’s issue with my parents. They loooove to give advice, especially my mother. It drives my husband batty. I’ve had many, many years of learning to ignore it. He’s still coming to terms with the unsolicited advice all the time thing. I’ve asked him to try to just accept the advice in the spirit it was given (honestly, they’re just trying to help), be non-committal but polite, and vent to me privately later. So far it works. Mostly.
        We also pick our battles. After many years of grief and arguments I now have a policy of not allowing my mother in the kitchen when we’re cooking. It sounds harsh, but she can help by bringing food, setting food out, and washing up, but having her watch me cook and then trying to “help” = tears and yelling. Better for all if she gets a cocktail and chills out on the couch. Even my father has come to see the wisdom of this approach.

        • It makes men uncomfortable when you show your cleavage?! Ha. Right. Granted, I know some men who do feel this way, only because they want to be looking but know they shouldn’t. Generally I think it makes women feel uncomfortable.

          Besides, I trust you, a grown woman, to know how much cleavage is too much. You’ve been getting dressed for years, right? And you know that a wedding isn’t a club, or anything like that, so you probably know how much cleavage you’re comfortable with. Honestly, covering too much up shows that you’re uncomfortable with your body in my opinion. And that is what makes me uncomfortable. My SIL did this (they’re super religious) and she now hates the dress.
          Sorry, your FMIL sounds nice, but even in that niceness there are some things that would have made me rankle too.

          And the online thing! Ha! I hear you. Actually, this sounds a bit like my own mother…

      • I know what you mean about seeing us as adults. We are both the oldest children, which affects how our respective parents treat us in different ways.

        Part of what bothers me about all this advice is that it seems to me she would be dispensing it to her children and not to me? More because if anyone between me and her children has it figured out, it would be me. And it might be more appropriate she give extra advice to her youngest son, who appears to need the assistance (desperately.)

        On another level, maybe that is actually why she ends up bringing it up with me – because of her children plus me, I am the only one whose job situation she can relate to.

        Sigh. Not that my parents don’t give their own unsolicited advice, its just that I have a way of dealing with that already.

      • suzanna

        “I also cross my fingers that this shift will happen before our first child/their first grandchild or I’m afraid she will drive me insane.”

        Oh, Susan. I am so sorry, but no. A thousand times no. I hope to cod I am wrong, but when you throw kids into the mix, the advice rate goes up by 843%. Ask some pregnant ladies how much advice they’ve heard in one day just from random passersby. Grandparents? Hoo boy. Their kids will always be their kids, which is kind of sweet, actually.

        You might wanna work on boundaries before the babies. I’m just saying.

    • Bridette

      My mother gave me some great advice. She said that when they were first married, my grandmother used to give her cooking, cleaning, child-rearing advice that she would never do. (cutting the mold off bread and then eating it. Superheating things that were past the expiration date, letting children play with knives are a few). She said, I just smiled, did whatever she was telling me to do when she was watching me and then turn around and undo it later. She knew that the woman was impressive – she just disagreed. She still has a wonderful relationship with my grandma and the other women in my family are at constant battle with her.
      In terms of the wedding, I like Ariels cut and paste responses for advice – though it probably works in every situation – especially the last one. Thank you so much for your advice but we decided to go in a slightly different direction. We can’t wait to have you there!

      Good luck!

    • ElfPuddle

      My future mom-in-law is the same. Along with the advice that I don’t need and don’t want, I get the occasional bit of groceries because she just thought we might want ____. I can shop, really. And, no, I didn’t want _____.

      I wish I could tell you it’s getting better, but she’s really hard to train. I’m working on it. Slowly and surely, maybe in the next 20 years it’ll be better? Sigh.

    • Jane

      I totally relate to this! I’ve been married 2 1/2 years and am just now finally coming to terms with my MIL’s advice-giving tendencies. The more I get to know her the more I believe that she genuinely means well in giving advice–I think it is her way of her trying to show love and show that she cares (though for a long time it made me feel like she thought I was incompetent). She’s a very with it, financially savvy, and somewhat anxiety-laden person, and I think she would feel bad if we were to make any major financial/career/etc. mistakes that she could have helped us prevent. I’m learning to accept the fact that even though we’re in our mid-twenties, my husband will always be her little boy in some sense, and that’s okay. (I mean, my MIL still cries when she watches home videos of her kids as babies. It’s probably an act of compassion on my part to put up with her advice–I’m sure she just wants to feel needed.) I suppose there are worse things in life than a little bit of in-law hovering. :)

  • clampers

    I set boundaries early in our relationship. My partner’s mom really wanted me to fly in for his sister’s wedding reception, but we had only been dating a few months. This was also during Christmas break, and I only get to see my own family a few times a year. I remember my partner telling me, “My mom INSISTS that you change your ticket to come home early for the reception.” And I just said no. I told him that I’m flattered she wants me there so badly, but I really value this time with my own family so I will have to regretfully decline the invitation. Hey, that seriously did WONDERS for the boundary-setting. His family is borderline “it’s all about us” but that really set the tone for the rest of our relationship. No more INSISTING for me!

    But I did luck out with the in-law sitch…my partner’s family is awesome and so much fun, and obviously my family is awesome and so much fun…we all get along really well and there’s really no drama.

    • Fiorentina

      “My mom INSISTS…”

      Whoa. Good for you on setting those boundaries early.

      I bet that it went along way in establishing healthy boundaries not just with your in-laws but in what sorts of the things you and your partner can ask (or insist?) from each other. That’s awesome that you’ve been able to have a great relationship with all your extended families.

      • clampers

        I think you’re right. I never thought about that though! I think it really helped set the tone for the whole “united front” thing Alyssa talked about in her post. My partner and I are our OWN team now, not anyone else’s. We’re not going to let our families dictate our relationship.

        I guess if I have advice to give on this boundary-setting topic, it would be, “Set boundaries early.”

  • I have to say that I honestly lucked out and love my husband’s family, and feel fortunate that my small family of four has expanded to a family of 16 (including siblings, their husbands, and their kids). That doesn’t mean they don’t drive me nuts sometimes (or often), just like my own family does. I think that’s the key – we are both very conscious of our own family’s quirks, and so we can understand if those quirks are driving the other one crazy. And sometimes, I am much better able to handle his family, and he is much better able to handle mine, so we balance each other out and keep each other sane (or remind the other when we are being completely unfair to our mothers).

    • Jo

      I think for me, it was really important to switch from the “my family/his family, my friends/his friends” mindset to “our family/friends, with one of us as the originator” place. It seemed to help me wonders, because then my attitude wasn’t “you’re on test and if you eff up you’re out!”, it became “you’re family. If you do something I dislike, we’ll work through it!”

      • Jo that mindset switch is exactly what I have been trying to achieve since we became engaged but I’m finding it really hard. The thing I’m finding is our families are very different.

        My family will always put both our names on invites, ask both of us to join them for dinner, or a birthday celebration and always treat us as a couple (I mean we’ve been together 5 years already, so we are already a baby family).

        For my family, we’re H&C. But for his family it’s just C.

        Any invitations, emails, Christmas cards are only made out to him, and usually he has to ask if I’m invited, to which the response is usually along the line of ‘if that’s what you’d like’. I am finding it very hard to think of his family as our family when his family don’t consider me part of their family, whereas my family definitely consider him part of the family.

        When we became engaged I then thought this might change, but it hasn’t. I don’t know if they’re waiting for us to be married? But that seems a little hypocritical of them as Cs sister isn’t married to her partner, they have been together 3 years less than us and they ARE treated like a couple. I do discuss this with C but he just says that’s how they are and not to take it personally. I am taking it personally!!!! Families are confusing!!!!

        • Stephanie

          I would have a follow-up conversation with your partner along the lines of “I know that this is the way that your family is, and they’re not trying to be intentionally hurtful, etc., etc. However, when they don’t invite us both, I feel sad/hurt/etc. because their not including me makes me feel like I’m not part of your family. As part of choosing to marry you, I really want to consider your family as my own, and this will be increasingly difficult (and I will continue to feel hurt/out-of-place/etc.) if they continue this pattern of behavior once we’re married. What do you think we can do to work on this?”

          Also, maybe ask him how he would feel if your family was cold/indifferent towards him–whether or not that would affect him at all. It might not be something that matters to him, but it also might help him to see where you’re coming from?

          I don’t know–you’ve probably tried something along these lines. But it seems to me that even if you are doing your best to be patient, this is an issue that is adversely affecting you and that you want to continue to communicate with your partner about (to work on finding the common ground, as Alyssa said).

          And you’re right that families can be so confusing!

        • Aw, honey. I agree that maybe getting some perspective on why they are the way they are, or why they treat your relationship differently than his sister’s might be good.

          I know for my family it took me saying outright to them that this relationship was a big deal to me, because I’ve dated several guys I’ve brought home before, so they wanted reassurance this was it before they invested.

          You could also let him know that the imbalance in your families is somewhat hard for you. It’s been good for me, though, to just say to myself that the way I grew up doing things isn’t how they do it, and it’s not a reflection on me. Period.

  • Abby C.

    Ah, unfortunately the in-law drama, at least so far, has mostly come from my folks, not from his. My mother ran a criminal background check on my fiance and tried to use it to convince me he was lying to me about the date of his divorce. (He wasn’t, I’m just terrible with dates and had mistakently relayed the wrong information to my mother in the beginning. But still, why didn’t she just ASK?) I sent both my parents and my fiance a long email about my thoughts on the subject, and while I don’t think my mother really apologized, the issue has been dropped and both Mom and Dad have warmed alot to FH over the ensuing months.

    His family has been incredibly welcoming to me, on the other hand, despite the fact that I’m the second daughter-in-law they’ve had to welcome, especially considering the first one bailed out and left at possibly the worst time.

    • clampers

      Holy shiz, I can’t believe she ran a background check on him!

  • Lakelady

    This post could not have come at a better time for me. I’ve actually been contemplating writing in about my future MIL for a while now, but just haven’t found the right words. My problem is basically just that I do not like my MIL at all and I don’t think she likes me all that much either. She is an extremely hands-off parent (totally unlike my own), which is both good and bad for wedding planning. As one commenter above mentioned, it’s cool to be able to make all the decisions, but also sad to see that she really just does not care. Especially when my parents care so much and are so helpful. They love my fiance and tell him/me that all the time. They consider him a total part of our family and have for a very long time.

    Worse than that though is her utter selfishness and complete self-absorption. We saw her recently and she talked more about the royal wedding than our own. She kept commenting about what type of cake Will and Kate were having, what type of dress she was going to wear, etc., etc. and literally has not even asked those questions about our own wedding. I don’t expect it to be the most important thing in everyone’s life, but hello, her own son’s wedding should be more important than one of two people she does not even know! (side note, she is also skipping her other son’s college graduation because it’s not “special” since he doesn’t actually walk across the stage. And also “too expensive” except it’s in a small, cheap town and she drives a BMW.)

    I used to have a very difficult time hiding my disdain for her, but now I usually just do not respond to any of her ridiculous comments. When we first got engaged we agreed to switch holidays off every year. This would’ve been her year for Christmas but after spending an absolutely terrible Thanksgiving at her house last year, I told my fiance that I will never go to her house for Christmas and if that means we don’t to my family’s either, then so be it.

    In the end, this has actually been a very empowering experience for us to say, we are adults and our own family now. We have both risen to protect it and set the necessary boundaries. Thank for you discussing this today, it couldn’t have been at a better time!

    • Bridette

      Bummer – when you send her a comment though, I would try and give her the benefit of the doubt. When we first started planning, my mom was like this and then I finally broke down in tears asking why she wasn’t more excited, she said that it just hadn’t sunk in yet, it didn’t feel real (we only dated 8 months and don’t live in the same city). That stung a bit but a year and half later, she calls me three times a day to talk about wedding details…I miss those days.

      Also, my fiance’s mom said that mother of the bride plan everything and the groom’s mother’s job is to shut up and wear beige. seriously. When I told her it was okay to be involved, she started up but until then, she was pretty hands off.

      Good luck – she sounds difficult….take deep cleansing breaths :)

      • Lakelady

        Thanks, I like the deep cleansing breaths! Need to try more of those. :-)

      • Vmed

        My fmil says that- “My job is to shut up and wear beige”

        …mostly I appreciate how laid back she’s been. Except for how it makes her seem uninterested.

        You know, I just realized that I’d been worrying that she wasn’t saying anything because she had opinions about how frivolous it is to discuss aesthetics. But she probably just doesn’t want to step on my toes. Huh.

        • I had to ask my mother in law a few times for help before she realized that I actually meant it, and wasn’t just being polite. After that? She was a rockstar. She just didn’t want to overstep some sort of MOG boundaries I didn’t know about.

    • Class of 1980


      You should tell your future MIL that it’s really too bad that Will and Kate won’t be sending her an invitation since she’s so invested in their wedding.

      Sorry, I couldn’t resist. ;)

  • Jennifer

    Ahh. I only have a mother-in-law, and she is a sweetheart who adores me. But she’s also in a nursing home, largely because she completely neglected her health for decades despite her family history. But all her stuff is still in our house, which we bought from her, and which is decorated pretty much exactly as she picked everything out 30+ years ago. I am completely surrounded by mother-in-lawness everywhere I turn, even though she’s not actually there. My husband is loathe to change much because with her health in decline, he can’t handle any sense of trying to get rid of her, which I do kind of get, but as petty as it sounds, it’s been absolutely the most difficult thing about our engagement and marriage so far. The identity issues wrapped up in this are huge.

    • Jo

      That is HUGE.

      I lived w/ C in his grandparent’s house for a long time, and we were going to buy it from them and let them live there until they died. And we couldn’t change anything until they died. We had two rooms. It made me feel like I was suffocating.

      I really hope you guys can talk about it and come to a mutually good place.

    • Bridette

      Ooh that is hard. Though I will tell you, cleaning out my grandmother’s house was so much better cause she was still alive to tell us where she wanted things to go (fur coat to me cuz I live in Texas, crystal to my cousin cause she lives on the beach – very logical). But really, if you get along, what if you got her involved? What if you told her you were thinking about ‘restoring’ the house and wanted to get her opinion…is it okay to move things? Is it okay to paint a room a beautiful green or whatever? (I wouldn’t do this behind spouse’s back-just ask him if its okay to talk to his mom about)

      If she wants to do it, your fiance will probably be on board. Remember, she likely has stuff there that she never liked in the first place and has certainly accumulated extra stuff. My grandmother threw away knick knacks I thought she loved. She said her mother-in-law loved them and she wanted to throw up everytime she saw them :)

    • ellobie

      Woly moly, I don’t envy you a bit! My husband’s brother bought their parents’ house when he got married. My SIL has SUCH a hard time doing any decorating because both her husband and the parents are stubborn about changing anything. There’s also some hoarding tendencies going on, so she cannot get rid of anything (srsly, like the plastic kitty-cat shower curtain that MIL bought 20 years ago? When SIL got rid of it, MIL asked for it “back” because she just loooooved the cats and wanted to trace them to use in some “other” project. o_O Crazytown)

  • Class of 1980

    From experience here …

    If you are redefining boundaries with your in-laws, be prepared to be in it for the long haul. They’ve been living in established patterns that long predate your appearance in the family. It may take repeated enforcing for them to “get it” and to take you seriously.

    And sometimes you may have to resort to remedial training. Old assumptions and habits die hard.

  • Here is my take on in-laws, I have had 34 years with my parents, working it out, and only 5 years with my in-laws (the majority as the girlfriend), so it is going to take time. And since we are only 5, I still feel like they might put me in time out, but also starting to get a little more rebellious as I sneak cookies out of the jar.

    • This is the BEST description I have ever heard! (or read…) It makes me laugh, but at the same time– wow. Truth.

    • Class of 1980


    • Susan

      This is awesome! I’ve been thinking about our marriage as a baby (it’s handy when you have a niece the same age as your marriage!) but I didn’t think of my relationship with the in-laws the same way. It’s silly but it really helps! Thank you!

    • This is hilarious! And so true! I will have to think about my relationship with my future in-laws in the same manner.

    • LOVE it. And the you!

    • Lydia

      Honestly this is perfect…my inlaws sometimes treat alcohol as the devil and while we were dating we would get regular lectures about how much we drink (aka: more than one beer, GASP!). Wine is a big part of my family’s holiday celebrations, we eat, we drink, we laugh, someone shares something inappropriate and we all laugh harder. This past year was our first married Xmas and we spent it with his family. I snuck my cookie from the jar and just kept opening bottles of wine and guess what?! They drank and had a blast! It was so fun and no one got a lecture, I couldn’t believe it…

      Hmm, I don’t have a booze problem but this makes me sound like I do! Oops.

  • kristen

    because my fiance and i chose not to live together before we are married, and because we needed to save money for our wedding, i moved in with his parents.

    it has been five months and i can honestly say that it has been one of the best things for me. i am learning how to be family with them and it’s been soooo good.

    i know that not everyone could do this, but moving in with parents (yours or your partners) can be a great thing – for saving money, support, and just growing to be family with one another! it really is true – that you don’t just marry your spouse, but the entire family.

    • Amy

      My husband (then-boyfriend/fiance) moved in with my parents while I was traveling a lot for work. It made a HUGE difference in his comfort level with my family and vis versa. The only drawback that I’ve noticed is that my parents started viewing him more like one of their kids, and my older brothers viewed him as a kid brother instead of as a peer. (I’m several years younger than both my brothers and my husband.)

      Overall, I am glad that he had the opportunity to live with my family, but if you go that route, you might have to deal with some growing pains later.

    • Ha! Ironically, the only 2 pieces of advice my mother has ever given me about relationships are 1: don’t ever let anyone make you feel badly about your history, because everyone has one, and 2: don’t EVER live with your in-laws.

      But then again she lived with hers when she was pregnant for the first time and my dad was at sea (Navy), so I’m sure her emotional state at the time was off-center.

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      My fiance lived with my family for a few months too. In our case, it was because he was working near their house, he wasn’t from the area, and I was off at grad school in another country. My parents now view him as just another one of the kids, which is fantastic. My sister refers to him as “the older brother [she] never had”… which is only problematic because she actually HAS an older brother!

    • kristen

      then i guess i AM one of the lucky ones! :)

      my future-in-laws are amazing.

      i should have mentioned two things:
      (a) i’m not just out of college, moving back in with family. i’m 30.
      (b) my future-in-mother-in-law is also my boss.

      it might sound crazy, but it’s been the absolute best thing for us. reading these comments, i realize how blessed i am that my fiance’s parents are so wonderful.

    • Since we each moved back in with our parents, my partner has eaten dinner with my family at least a few times every week, and I think it’s done wonders for their relationship. He’s a million times more comfortable with him, and it’s led to some really good discussions between them. We’re hoping to get our own place soon, but it’s been really nice to have him be so comfortable around them after years of his feeling awkward.

      I’d love to help improve things between his parents and myself now that we have this opportunity, but just having me over for dinner becomes this huge deal rife with anxiety. I wish they’d realize that me stopping over for pizza doesn’t mean they have to buy special drinks and find extra room at the table and make huge production over it. I can just grab a slice and eat!

  • “I can’t be the only one who gets so mad that they cry. Please tell me I’m not…”

    You’re not, don’t worry. I’m not a big crier but when I get really angry the tears just pour down my face, which makes me angrier.

  • Kay

    I really can’t stress enough the importance of putting yourself in your partner’s place when discussing in-laws. My FH’s mother is a notoriously difficult woman. She’s been incredibly welcoming to me, which is very nice, but dealing with her can often be frustrating. She gets on FH’s nerves probably just as much or more than mine, but the other day I was expressing some exasperation about her, and he said, “Don’t be that way. She’s my MOTHER.” At first I was upset, since he complains about her all the time, but then I thought about the times when I’ve been irritated by my parents, and even though he was taking my side, my FH’s comments about them have rankled. I had exactly the same, “Hey, that’s my MOM you’re talking about!” moment. And then I completely understood where he was coming from, and I adjusted my attitude.

  • “That’s part of being a family, backing up your husband or wife at the family rodeo.”

    A thousand times yes. I want to get a tattoo of that. Possibly on my forehead.

    I have a bit of a weird relationship with my MIL… And over the last year or so I’ve been trying to do a lot of the things laid out in the post, such as not freaking out and yelling to my husband “your mom’s a b*&#@!” and instead identifying what it is about her behavior that really bothers me and makes me feel so rotten. Basically, I’ve realized that I feel very threatened by her (strongly stated and ever present) opinions (about everything under the sun). Part of it’s me, and part of it’s her, and it just combines for not-so-good situations at times. BUT the good that has come out of all this is that I’ve realized I really can talk to my husband about it (again, as long as I’m not exploding…) and he’ll actually listen. And now, after many conversations, we put up a united front. Somehow her opinions don’t feel so threatening when I know I’ve got someone in my corner.

  • I’m overall very very very lucky with my in-laws, but I wanted to add that I think sometimes folks have a hard time talking to their partner about his/her parents because we’re used to just being able to vent/babble at our partners about problems we’re having and just have them hear it. With parents, though, you have to be more sensitive– like as sensitive as you might be about addressing an issue you have with your partner. It often takes honesty and hard work and understanding to be heard in those situations, but it is worth it!

    Secondly, I’ve been gaining some insight into how difficult it can be for families to invite someone new into the family as my (baby) brother has started dating a really cool lady. Even though she’s great, it changes our family dynamic and that can be more difficult for some than for others. I for one, I’m embarrassed to admit, have felt a little miffed when she’s around because my brother is waaaay into her and isn’t dorking around with me, per usual. I’ve identified this as my problem and am getting over it, but for some people, Mother-in-Laws for instance, I think it is harder to let go of their ACTUAL baby. So, I also think kindness and compassion for them is key– we don’t really know what it’s like to be in their place. And I think sometimes it actually helps to open up the workings of your relationship a little more so they can see how much you really do love and respect and want the best for their baby.

    • Class of 1980

      Yes, good point. They are letting go of their actual baby and it’s got to be the hardest thing in the world … especially if they have always been close.

      If you intend to have children, you’ll be in the same position some day and it will be hard.

      • Amy

        I’ll make a mental note of that, and try to remind myself of it when my MIL is randomly petting my husband’s arm and asking if I’m taking care of her baby. Sigh.
        Maybe its just me, but that oddly possessive touchy-feely behavior with parents squicks me out. That is a grown-up person you’re referring to, not your infant.
        It bugs my husband too, anyone else deal with something similar?

        • Claire

          Ooooh this. Yes. My husband’s mom occasionally does this weird routine where she’ll run her fingers through his hair and pepper his face with little kisses while cooing, “you’ll always be my baby first, won’t you?”. It’s totally creepy and makes everyone uncomfortable, including him. I just remind myself that besides that she is fantastic to us both.

        • Bridette

          yes and yes

          but my mother does it to me and is starting in on my fiance and that definitely weirds me out. him too.

          his mom is always hugging on him and I never really know what to do so I awkwardly look around and talk to his dad :)

          • Class of 1980

            Parents usually feel an all-consuming love for their babies and it doesn’t go away.

            Some of them just never learn to express it in a more dignified manner. ;)

  • “(I can’t be the only one who gets so mad that they cry. Please tell me I’m not…)”

    You’re not. Then I get even more mad, because I’m drying and the other person thinks I’m just upset, not mad. So then I cry more. Yeah, it’s a horrible and vicious cycle of tears.

    As far as in-laws go, I haven’t had any problems. I really, really lucked out in the in-law lottery. I love them, and they love me. I even hang out with my MIL on my own. I’m an exceptionally lucky lady.

  • Sam

    I feel I am one of the lucky ladies who can say she adores her future in-laws. From day 1 of meeting them as girlfriend to the day we got engaged they have been wonderful and supportive to both FH and myself. My FIL even sent a huge (and slightly embarrassing) email to his colleagues and extended family (they live mostly in India) telling them how excited he was to be welcoming me to the family.
    My family situation is MUCH more difficult, and totally confusing for FH. His parents have been married for 40 years, have four children and have lived in the same house for almost 40 years. His sisters, and extended family are spread out, and while the family describes itself as close, its not the same definition as my family. My mom is on Husband number 3, I’m an only child and on my Dad’s side an only grandchild. I’m lucky enough to have 3 parents who ADORE and support me, and grandparents, aunts & uncles who feel the same way. That leads to issues b/w FH and I, because I’ve moved away from them to live in his home town … and it hurts. I feel very, very connected to my own family in ways he doesn’t understand. I come from one of those families who define themselves by their belonging to that family. I have seen it cause issues with other in-laws and it worries me. FH and I talk about, all the time, and while he “likes” my family, her certainly doesn’t love them – yet.
    So we talk, we share holidays and try to connect our families (which seems to be working – our moms love each other). But it will be a long, interesting journey, creating our baby family and joining the two, very different families.

  • I wish I wasn’t about to run to a meeting, because man do I have a lot to say about this. I called off my relationship with my ex-fiance several years ago because the family issues were so bad I realized we could never make the relationship work. No amount of crying, talking, therapy or soul-death would have made it work.

    And then I lucked out and my husband’s parents are amazing and his extended family adorable. I couldn’t be happier with my inlaws now.

  • Communication is huge. Both my husband and I are completley open and honest about our feelings about our families. I do not get along with my SIL at all. The woman blew up at me, and tried to tear me to shreds with really hateful things and her attitude. I never got an apology for this. My husband got mad at her, but forgave her, and I was expected to just pretend it didn’t happen. I told him I didn’t want to see her anymore – it was fine if he did, but I couldn’t do it. I tried to be a bigger person and let bygones be bygones, but she is not a changed person and I don’t trust her – not one bit. She’s incredibly rude towards her mom and even her own friends at times and is the most two-faced person I’ve ever known. She is two-faced to scary degree and when you talk about people smiling sweetly to your face one second and then you turn around and it’s daggers – you can see the change in her face immediately. It drives me crazy that everyone just ignores this. I know eventually I’ll have to be in the same room with her again, but I’m putting it off especially now that she’s pregnant with the first grandbaby (for monetary reasons – I sh*t you not – she told my husband her wedding was more of a business arrangement) and her attitude is twice as bad as it was. I don’t know how I’m going to let go of my anger enough to be in the same room with her and not say something scathing.
    Sorry for the rant… the point is, I’ve talked to my husband and he tries to be understanding, so that really means somethings to me. He’s seen her at her worst and he understands my feelings – to an extent. I also love him because he’s a forgiving person, and I can only hope that I can get to that point and forgive her once and for all – apology or not. Really, it’s just sad that she’s such a hateful person. That isn’t much of a life is it? I don’t want to be the same person who is holding on to such negative feelings – it would make me no better than she is.

    • Rachel

      I have to be truthful here, because my sister is one of those hateful rude people you’re talking about. When you’re in the family, and you’ve been around it your whole life, it’s not that it doesn’t make you so angry you swear you could rocket to the moon and back without losing steam. Trust me. The reason the family doesn’t do anything is because we know her, so we know she’s not likely to develop the self-awareness to even think of how she’s hurting other people, which means she won’t change.

      I feel for you. And if I had one piece of advice, it would be this: kill her with kindness, and just let all her stuff go. If she treats everybody like this, it’s not personal against you; it’s her issue, and maybe one day she’ll be forced to deal with that.Until then, all you can do is just dismiss her.

      • Thanks for the response and advice… I agree you’re probably right and that is most likely what the case is. My sister actually was never as bad as my SIL, but I confronted her and we were estranged for a while, but now really good friends again. So I guess that’s why it’s hard for to me watch because I come from a family who tells it like it is and if one of us is out of line we tell each other.

  • Jo

    This is lovely and wonderful! YAY Friday.

    Our parents are rad, and we are lucky that we both come from families that are aware of boundaries and discuss them. It helps us talk about ours and form them. The biggest issue for both of us is being logical about it instead of immediately jumping to the defensive. It’s also important to not want to destroy something about the family, but maybe to shape it so that it fits your new family as well.

    Luckily, both of our families are nuts at about the same level so we can’t say one or the other is worse or better. :)

  • Marina

    One of the best moments of wedding planning, looking back on it, was this one time I was complaining to my partner about something his father did relating to the wedding. And my partner looked at me, and laughed, and said, “Welcome to the family.”

    I guess on some level, the meaning of family is kind of tied up in all those annoying quirks that get your goat, but you put up with them anyway because it’s family.

  • Laura

    This is always so tough. H and I discovered while wedding planning that we really only had one truly sane parent among us. My father. The other three were at turns pouty, absent, irrational, non-communicative, and generally a pain in the ass.
    There wasn’t much we could do about it all. Luckily we had each other, and an open line of communication. Did it hurt my feelings when H was annoyed with my mom? Absolutely. But I knew it wasn’t about me, and that honestly, she is kind of annoying sometimes! Same went for his dad, who made me cry more times than I’d care to recall.
    You have to talk. Let your partner know that you’ve been hurt/annoyed/confused by their parent. Have the discussion. And understand that while the things you say might initially make them defensive, they’ll most likely come around and you’ll find a solution.

  • Oh, in-laws. What fun. I know I’m lucky that my in-laws are sweet & they love me very much. I really do count my lucky stars. Still, it’s not all sunshine & roses. I really don’t know where to start. My MIL is the Queen of the family & she expects her sons to listen to her & follow her instructions even though both are married with families of their own. It’s frustrating! It causes so much unnecessary drama in both relationships. I’ve learned that she will not change but I can change my reaction to her. I try to breathe & stay calm while still letting my hubs know that it is not okay & he needs to deal with her. Sometimes I get weary thinking about a lifetime of this.

  • Little Unique Snowflake

    I love my in-laws. They love me and they’re thrilled I’m marrying their son. What I don’t love is how they treat each other, through me.

    Z comes from a family of divorce and remarriage so there are really four main players in his parental life: Mom, Dad, Stepmom, and Grandma (dad’s mom). Mom left when he was little; she stayed in the picture, but unreliably and from afar. Grandma raised the kids for a few years until Stepmom came along. Stepmom was the one who really raised Z. Both Mom and Grandma resent her for “replacing” them, though, so (from what I’ve been told and the little I’ve seen) they’ve been Absolutely Awful to her over the years. With capitalization and alliteration. I’d go so far as to call it emotional abuse. Dad won’t stand up to his mother so the behavior is still ongoing, albeit subtly.

    They’re all wonderful separately, to me and to Z. When together, they’re generally polite and amicable to each other on the surface. But when I do something seemingly innocuous (to me) like run invitation wording by them, Stepmom replies that it’s fine, but that she has trouble sharing any sort of acknowledgement with Z’s Mom… and then goes on about how Mom made her life miserable for years and hurt Z. It’s a conversation she brings up repeatedly. Mom replies that ‘s fine so long as her name is on there… but she has a history of showy meltdowns when she perceives that her role as “mother” has been usurped. These are not isolated reactions.

    I’ve talked to Z about it, about how uncomfortable it all makes me, and how I really don’t like being put in the middle. He tends to tell me that I’m right and then talk about how much he owes Stepmom for raising him, and how awful Mom and Grandma have been to her. (To make things more complicated, Z has an older sibling who never really accepted Stepmom and is fully loyal to Mom and Grandma).

    I come from a blissfully straightforward family. I don’t know what to do with his other than try to keep Mom, Stepmom, and Grandma in their own separate boxes. Which clearly isn’t possible at our wedding. It’s hard having factions vying for my loyalty by turning me against the others over something that has nothing to do with me, has been ongoing for two decades, and is unlikely to end.

    • Sam

      I am so sorry to hear you’re in the middle of this.

      I have a stepfather and a father, and a grandfather, who sadly behave in a similar manner. No one likes or respects the other and all played a role in raising me. How I have handled it (and I acknowledge it’s different b/c they’re MY relatives) is to remind everyone that their role in my life has and always will be important (standard line) BUT I also require everyone to not discuss the other in my presence.

      My dad is not to speak badly about my stepdad/ grandpa. I strictly enforce the “If you can’t say something nice, please don’t say anything at all.”

      I don’t know if you’re comfortable taking this on, but it has really worked for me. It makes me feel better and it has a way of silencing the other parties.

      Your situation really doesn’t have anything to do with you, but to be honest, neither does mine. It has to do with THEM, and the way they feel about themselves.

      It is an awful and uncomfortable situation but it is manageable when you remind everyone that they truly are appreciated and loved, that they all have a right and a role, and that you both wish to have them all at your wedding. It has worked for my difficultly blended family!
      Oh, and good luck!

      • Yes! Exactly what I was trying to say below! (You beat me to it while I was writing my comment)

      • Agreed! Some of my fiance’s family members really hate each other (and others just resent one another…so many degrees of negativity), but we have a not-entertaining-this policy. If someone starts ranting about another, we don’t acknowledge the ranter. No reassuring smiles or head-nodding or anything. Eventually they’ll elbow one of us to join or do something to take it to the next “notice me!” step, and then we’ll tell them we love the person they’re talking about and have no desire to make disparaging comments behind his/her back. When they (miraculously) say something nice, we agree wholeheartedly and basically lay the praise on.

        No amount of assuaging ever works. We just neutralize that ish and make them realize they’re not getting anywhere with us.

    • Have you tried politely requesting that in-law X not discuss in-law Y with you?
      “I’m really sorry for what happened (how you feel, etc.)but Y is going to be part of my family too and I just can’t discuss them with you.”

      My husband’s parents are currently going through a divorce (papers were filed almost 2 years ago). It has helped us a lot to set boundaries as to what is acceptable to discuss. We don’t tolerate slander of other family members. We can’t mediate between them either. I don’t think it is fair to put a child in between parents (or people that raised them). Neither my husband nor I should have to take sides about issues such as whether we agree that a divorce is even necessary (one parent doesn’t want it.)
      It still sucks, like who will we invite to Easter? “Mama” came last year so do we invite “Papa” this year? But when it comes to husband’s (and his sister’s) graduation in June both parents will probably come. They will have to decide between each other what is appropriate. We refuse to do the back and forth: “Mama said she would come before so you can stay after the ceremony”

      • I agree. Stay as neutral as possible and let them know how much it hurts that they are putting you both in between. Hopefully they’ll be grown up enough to see that make you two suffer for past wrongs is not fair.

  • Laura

    If anything, my future MIL is too laid-back! She had two boys, and she’s not the type to get emotional or wear dresses and makeup–totally the opposite of my mom. She is definitely not trying to take control over wedding planning, which I appreciate… but she doesn’t seem to care about the wedding at all. One of my fiance’s female friends asked his mom recently if she was excited for our wedding, and she replied that she hadn’t really thought about it. She didn’t hug me when we told her we were engaged (though she did stop by the next day and gave me a hug). They are a very non-touchy/feely family, but it’s definitely weird for me. I know that I’m very lucky that she’s so low-maintenance, though, as I have friends who have the stereotypical “MIL from hell.”

  • LBD

    I like my fiance’s family. I have not always liked his siblings’ partners, but it’s just a hey, we have absolutely nothing in common, and that’s okay. He’s totally a momma’s boy, so it’s definitely a good thing I like his mom so much. We have had clashes in the past regarding him wanting to reserve all his vacation time for visits to or from his family. I was all, “Hell no, you have got to give me a few days because you and I need to go on a vacation just the two of us!” It’s less of a problem now that he has more vacation. Honestly, I really really consider myself lucky I have no issues with his family, because I worry I’d have a really hard time getting him to support me against them.

    It’s my family that’s more of the problem. And unfortunately, as we’ve been together since we were 18, and I was still well under my emotionally abusive mother’s thumb when we first met, many of those hurts are very old, and formed during a time before I was able to stick up for us, or before I even knew where our relationship was going. And it’s not really even my partner’s hurt as much as it is my own, because the comments were never said to him directly, just to me.

    They make with the open arms now, when they realized he wasn’t going anywhere, and the comments have mostly stopped. However, my fiance feels as someone else in the thread said, no matter how nice a group of people are to you, it’s really hard to feel comfortable and cozy with a group of people who think you’re going to hell.

  • Rachel

    Oh goodness, I cry at commercials and movies like it is nobody’s business. Every time an animal adoption commercial comes on the fiance dives for the remote to change the channel because it will either result in my crying or begging to adopt yet another cat or dog.

  • Bridette

    One more addition to the discussion of in-laws. The united front is very important but remind your spouse that most of the interaction they have with you is through his/her stories and complaints. He/She needs to adopt the royal we/our. If he portrays you in a certain light, they will make a exaggerated version of that portrayal.

    I realized that my future sister-in-law and I are a LOT alike…similar family values and traditions, similar career, similar reaction to their family…except their family thinks she is standoffish and odd and they love me. I kept asking my fiance why so I can prevent what I can. He can’t figure it out…in fact, until I came along, he never appreciated her as a person. Now he sees the similarities and likes her more.

    and then I figured it out…its because whenever her husband is around the family, he tells them that Jessica wants him to come home (leave early) or they can’t go to Easter because her family requires them to be there. After spending a lot of time with them, I am confident that he is making a LOT of these decisions and just blaming them on her – or they are making them as a couple. More importantly, she has no idea. He makes her out to be ‘the heavy’ and she has no idea that they think of her as cold and demanding, when the opposite is true.

    so – tell the story to your spouse and caution them that blaming it on the spouse can result in more hurt and confusion by your family. Good luck ladies!

    • YES. And this is why it’s not a good idea to always use family (or even friends) as a sounding-board for fights. They are there to listen to the fight, but they don’t see the amazing apology and make-up. If you only talk about your partner to bitch, it’s no wonder they may not care for them.

      • I can’t exactly this enough!

  • Jen

    This is neither here nor there, but I laughed out loud at Misty. Misty! Ok, I’m still laughing about it. :)

  • Jillian

    Wise words again Alyssa. I don’t really have in-law issues since my future mother and sister in law are pretty cool ladies and we get along just fine.
    I just wanted to comment and say that for some reason, the fact that you named the fake sister in the post “Misty” had me cracking up.

    Also just wanted to add a thank you for the advice you gave on how to tackle an in-law issue. By working through it with your partner and being direct and respectful to your in-laws. On other wedding sites I always read : “If there’s an issue with your in-laws have your fiance handle it, it’s their family”. That’s just asking for a breakdown in communication if you have to tell something to your fiance, who tells it to his family, gets their response and relays it back to you. That’s a game of “telephone” I really don’t think is necessary.

  • This is a tough one for me.. and actually, my husband Matt, too. My in-laws are nice people, but Matt’s mom can be pretty ridiculous. Matt’s the “baby” and only boy in the family, so she still (even though he’s nearly 30), treats him as “baby Matthew” and can get very VERY clingy. She was a hot mess during the mother/son dance (which we pretty much had to do unless we wanted to hurt her very deeply. It was the one thing we gave up because it was not a battle worth fighting.)

    My sister-in-law also was going through a divorce literally right as our wedding was around the corner. It put a SERIOUS strain on our relationship with Matt’s family because during one of the happiest times of our life together (we’d also just bought our first house together), all the attention was going to his sister and it was all very negative, all the time. It was really difficult to have no support from the majority of his family. I will say my other sister-in-law (who married us), and brother-in-law were beyond supportive and without them I don’t know we’d have made it through everything. His Dad is pretty easy to deal with but I also work in the same office as him so sometimes that can be hard to deal with when we feel like we need space from them… Oh and it doesn’t help that his two sisters also have some serious anger issues towards one another (and have for years) so we often were getting stuck in the middle..

    Meanwhile, Matt’s relationship with my family is a bit easier on him because they all live back in Boston (vs. his family living here), but he can have a hard time with my Mom. She can say some very mean and hurtful things (esp. about my weight, awesome!), and Matt has a really hard time with that because he wants to protect me…

    Overall, in-laws are tough. You love them dearly, but I think you have to pick the right battles. Some things are just not worth fighting over. It causes more pain and anger than it would to just let it go. My biggest problem is learning to pick the right fights with his family. It’s something I’m still learning and I’ve been with Matt for almost 8 years. Disagreeing about how to handle them has caused arguments and then we finally realized how unhappy it was making us. We’ve finally distanced ourselves from everything and live in our happy bubble.

    But all that being said, I still love them regardless of how much pain/annoyance/anger they’ve caused me… because they’re now family.

  • Rachel

    First off, thank you lovely ladies for talking about this openly and respectfully. Society has painted in-laws as devils, and it’s not necessarily true.

    I want to add something that I feel is really important, and that is addressing in-law issues EARLY and OFTEN. My husband’s step-family is vulgar and one of his step-siblings abused him. Several of these family members have also been extremely vulgar and disrespectful with me. (I just feel this is important to illustrate where the line on this gets drawn.)

    Before we got married, I told my husband that if the way his family behaved toward me didn’t change, I would ask him to attend family functions by himself. He understood why, and he agreed to cross that bridge if we came to it. I genuinely feel that I wouldn’t have been able to marry Dan and his family if I didn’t think I could divorce his family without losing him, too.

    As I said, though, I’m talking about extreme circumstances, as in, we’ve tried every sort of intervention and defense, and it turns out the ONLY option is retreat. I just feel it’s important for people to discuss whether the baby family can stand tall if the family of origin fails.

  • For me the drama is over. It was big drama and crying drama and sobbing and stupid drama and David’s family has apologized and I’ve accepted and we’re all getting along. Getting along means visiting every few months when we’re in the area and sending postcards to the nieces and nephews and generally all the trappings of friendliness. The thing that I am having such a hard time dealing with is truly forgiving them. David has 21 years of relationship with his crazy younger sister. He know what it’s like to love her and get along with her so getting back to that place is a lot easier for him. I’ve known her for two years and most of that she’s been heinous, so how do I move from this to geniunely liking her (love is going a bit far)?

    • You keep working at it. Because you have the rest of your lives to deal with it. Sucks, but it’s true. And hopefully she’ll grow and learn to stop being such a heinous heifer. :-)

    • Arachna

      Sometimes love is a lot easier than like actually. It’s way hard to like someone who is horrible to you but … we love people who are horrible to us all the time. I would try to think (more accurately ‘feel’) about her through your fiance, think of her entirely from the perspective as his sister, think of her as 5 years old and interacting with him etc. get him to tell you a couple stories and you can fee a sort of deep affection for her that has nothing to do with her actions. My 2 cents.

  • Anon

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, and this may have already been covered… but advice on inappropriate comments/touching/kissing by in-laws? How have you handled that? As in, and Uncle-in-law who gets too close, and wants to kiss me hello/goodbye on the lips? I can barely stand cheek kisses.


    • Edelweiss

      Ohh…our family has one of those. It depends on how inappropriate the situation is, of course, and how it makes you feel. If this is something that is seriously inappropriate and/or makes you deeply uncomfortable you should firmly address it with the offender and inform your partner and if nothing changes, you have every right to take whatever steps you need to in order to protect your body. (In my opinion, but I’m not an advice-whiz like Alyssa).
      BUT if it’s more like my family, I will say if you are experiencing it, you are probably not the only one, so finding a way to vocalize what’s happening. Mention it to a few other women and after you have others’ that are aware of it, you can create a little brigade. They’ll hear when the comments are inappropriate before actions take place and can help yu make a light joke to diffuse the situation and prevent it from going any further. In our instance after the Uncle-in-law was publicly, but humorously shamed a few times, he started to back off. It worked well, for us, because the actions stopped, but it was handled without drama. Again – I want to emphasize that in our case it was limited to comments, eyes where they shouldn’t be and light, inappropriate taps. These were things we didn’t like, but felt they were in our realm to respond to and control.

    • Morgan

      I have two experiences with this. One is with Drunk Uncle Bob. We all know Bob’s a drunk groper, and by the time I was an adult, I knew to avoid him by late evening. (He was never bad to his nieces the way he was to his sisters in law, which is something, I guess.) Everyone knew it, we all just didn’t talk about it or stay within touching distance for long.

      My ex’s grandfather grabbed my butt during a hug once, and got a lot of purposeful sideboob during hugs. I just stopped hugging him, or would do it in front of his wife so she wouldn’t try anything.

      It wasn’t worth the confrontation for me in either case. Just duck, cover, and make sure that your partner knows about it and can help you bail it out.

      But. I’m a non-confrontational type, and I’d rather deal with a bit of sideboob touching that the awful, endless fallout that saying something would have caused. Your mileage will vary, as I’m not claiming this is good advice, just what worked for me.

      Good luck, because it’s creepy and gross.

    • Talk to your partner. If the family knows about it, go to another female in the family and ask how they deal with it. If they don’t, ask how partner would feel about approaching it head on. Some people are weirdly affectionate and don’t know it makes others uncomfortable. Try suggesting an alternative rather than just denying what they’re offering, but only if it’s truly just cultural/social difference. If it’s creepy, figure out a way to avoid. WITH the partner.

  • e.

    having good relationships with my in-laws was something i wanted from the get-go, long before i knew we’d be moving so close to them (8 miles away since we got married, after being half way across the country the whole time we were dating!). my mom was never able to get close to her in-laws, ever. they were in the ‘my child is grown and no longer my responsibility’ camp, except where it came to things like not allowing one of their daughters to be invited to my parents wedding b/c she’d gone off and married someone of both the wrong race and wrong religion. and that definitely set the tone. i was never close to any of my cousins and although we’ve never talked about it, i know my mom would have liked to have been closer to her 3 SILs, especially since she only had a brother. its not something i wanted to carry forward, so made all the effort i could and was fortunately met with equal effort. The best part is, I married someone who just has one brother and no sisters. His brother’s wife has one brother and I have one brother. Which made it really easy for the two of us to get close (it helps that she’s someone i would probably be friends with anyway.) its great having another in-law by marriage, even though we both get along with our MIL/FIL, there are always those things you just don’t get because they aren’t your family from birth.

    as far as boundaries are concerned though, i’m having more of an issue setting them with my parents (mainly my mom), who are definitely struggling with the fact that for the first time, i’m more than a couple hours drive away and they (read: my mom) think we see my in-laws all the time (we don’t). she decided that because our first anniversary falls on a holiday weekend, that its perfect timing for them to come out and visit. without even asking if its a good time for us. its not (my husband will be working the whole time, giving us maybe a few hours to spend together), but she interprets that as us not wanting them to be part of our family. and she refuses to have anything more than a passive-aggressive attitude toward it, meaning we will eventually have a huge blow out fight that will leave me feeling like crap. can’t wait!

  • I’m always worried about my parents being the crazy in-laws. My fiancee’s family is really nice, really close, and really normal. My parents are divorced, my mother is clinically depressed and a “grand southern matriarch fallen on hard times” (as I describe her), my father is completely unpredictable, and is living with a woman who has narcissistic personality disorder and refuses to have anything to do with me because she’s convinced I am secretly scheming to get my parents back together.

    I love my parents and am actually very close with both, but it’s always a very delicate and emotional tightrope walk between them, especially now that we’re planning a wedding. My fiance’ has been perplexed by their dynamic and I feel bad for throwing him into it…he has to keep reminding me that it’s his choice to be joining my family.

    I just think it’s worth noting that sometimes the in-law problems are not necessarily about the way they are treating you, or your marriage, but that they may have this whole bag of personal problems and drama that you’ve never had to deal with before and that suddenly becomes yours.

    • Edelweiss

      I’m seeing a lot of comments like this – and I feel the same way. I’d love to hear any more advice about how to negotiate this for your partner and in-laws – when the in-laws are the not crazy ones and your parents are crazy. Something a little more concrete then “put yourself in your partner’s shoes” (although that is helpful), but also gives you ways to explain and communicate without talking trash about your parents to your in-laws.

      • suzanna

        Edelweiss, I know my parents are crazy, for sure. From Day 1, I’ve promised my guy that he never has to deal with them. Ever. Period. If they say or do something disrespectful, *I* deal with it, not him.

        I’ve combined this strategy with the above-mentioned strategy of presenting my fiance as a perfect shining gentleman of perfection. You combine those two things, and shazam! Crazy parents don’t have any material to work with.

        • Edelweiss

          Thanks! I’ve been doing something similar. Although sometimes it’s hard for the intended to stay out of it, he does. How do you communicate about the demands/actions of your parents to your in-laws? Having them in the same room makes me incredibly anxious, and there are times when I’m at the in-laws and a call from my parents pulls me away emotionally. I don’t want to seem like I’m gratuitously bad-mouthing my parents to them, but I’d like to give the in-laws some context.

  • Rachel T.

    It seems everyone has in-law issues. I honestly started wondering that a few months ago and started asking around to my friends, friend’s parents, etc. Everyone had something to say. I guess it’s pretty universally difficult. I am no exception there.

    The fiance and I lived with his father one summer before we were engaged, the summer between college and real-life. That was a rough summer for me because I was really immersed in his family, and I have this thing where I like to help out as much as I can. I am very open and friendly, easy to talk to, etc. I have always known this about myself, but the problem is that fiance is similar to the male stereotype of not talking much, being pretty closed off with his emotions, etc. This became very difficult because he comes from a very nasty divorced family with some strong anger on either sides. The summer we moved up there, his parents, after 10 years of basically hating each other, started talking/dating and sleeping together again. You can only imagine the amount of unreleased anger, sadness, frustration, and confusion this wrought for him, not to mention within his family. It was particularly difficult because the divorce ended due to an affair of one parent with someone else in the family’s spouse. It was just bad all around, so when this started again, since there had been anger for a decade over all of it, it was bad. Explosions everywhere! Tears! Screaming! Bad bad bad.

    I got put in the middle. His parents didn’t know how to talk to him about it or tell him about what was going on, so they told me seconds before they showed up to dinner with us… together. I had 10 seconds to prepare him so that he didn’t give them the look of WTF that he gave me. I didn’t want their feelings hurt. From there, a summer of boundary-inappropriate and boundary crossing conversations occurred until I was full-on in the middle of every family discussion and situation imaginable. Thankfully, we only lived there for the summer, and thankfully, I talked fiance into talking to his family about his feelings instead of just me. It took a year for everything to calm down, and it’s still not over, but at least I’m not involved in it, at least fiance has had his say and said his peace, and most importantly, at least we no longer live there so we can keep our noses out of it!

    In planning the wedding, it will be difficult. We can’t have a family engagement party because it’s just better to keep the family’s away from each other as much as possible. I’m nervous of course about the fighting that may occur because people just can’t seem to stop, but I also know that fiance has instructed his groomsmen to handle those family members when they inevitably start stuff. They will be escorted out because this is one time, one event, where we don’t have to put up with it.

    Outside of planning, I still have issues with boundary-less conversations, but I have learned to tell his parents when they try to talk to me about fiance that they need to ask/talk to him themselves. I try not to “help” them so that I can keep myself out of the family drama. It made for awkward conversations for a while, and sometimes I feel like they don’t like me in a way that I wanted them to, but I’m realizing that’s okay. I will be a part of a new family, and there are members of the family I ADORE and others who are rather difficult. I agree with Alyssa… you just have to learn to work with what you have, work with people in a way that is least painful and most effective for both of you, and focus your time and energy on your new baby family. We may not be married yet, but fiance and I have spent a lot of time since that summer talking about communication, how to talk to one another, and most importantly what we want for ourselves and our marriage. It was a blessing in a very dark and anxiety-inducing disguise.

  • Katie

    I feel like this may have already happened (I’ll need to search the APW archives…and don’t have time at the moment!) but it’d be great to get some mother-in-laws to write a post about their experiences with their sons/daughters-in-law from their perspective. How the transition was for them, advice from their point of view…

  • Ashley B

    I too am struggling with my future in-laws. They were very vocal in their disapproval of me to the boy, but act super sweet to me whenever I’m around. They’re also very demanding of our time, which is made harder by the fact that both his and mine parents live 15 minutes away. Holidays are a ball of stress and tears! But it’s been incredibly helpful seeing how everyone here has dealt with their own in-laws. I definitely need to start working on setting boundaries and managing my expectations. Or move to another state. Either way.

  • Brilliant post! Spot on!

    My parents always got along with their in-laws, so I grew up thinking that’s how you did it, you got along.

    There are always bumps when you’re putting people together, especially in something so volatile as a family, but you work through the bumps. We’ve both had some bumps while getting to know the other’s family, but they’re definitely smoothing out.

    It’s very easy to misunderstand what someone is doing if you don’t have a life time of background to help you understand. So we’re relying on each other’s life time of experience to help us get through it.

    One important thing to remember is that you have to have each other’s back. You need to stand united. While we haven’t had to stand up for each other to our families, there have been a few outside attacks and it’s been very comforting to me that my husband’s response has been that if they can’t be nice to his wife then they don’t get to be part of his life.

  • Morgan

    Please tell me I’m not the only one watching “Bethenny Ever After” on Bravo?? Although I can’t relate to her childhood at all (mine was very happy and loving and wonderful), I can totally relate to that guilty feeling when I don’t want to spend time with my fiance’s family (specifically his mom). Although both of my parents have good-sized families, they are all on the other side of the country so I grew up spending major holidays with just the 4 of us (parents, me, brother). And I love it this way. We got to be as lazy or as involved as we wanted, there was no sleeping on couches or hotels for Christmas…it’s completely comforting to me. However, I think because I’m not close with my extended family I have weird issues about acting “love-y” with people I’m not completely comfortable with.

    My fiance’s mom is the complete opposite. She’s ready to hug anyone and everyone and call you “sweetie” throw a huge dinner because you came over. This is not me complaining- she’s the nicest person and everyone loves her. I love her. BUT, it can just be a bit much for me. It’s a lot of hugging and kissing and food just because we stopped by for the afternoon (we live 20 minutes away). It makes me uncomfortable, and then I feel guilty because her KINDNESS is making me uncomfortable?? How nuts is that??

    I realize that it’s my issue, not hers, but I noticed it starts to affect the wedding planning process. My mom suggested I invite her over when I was planning on trying on dresses with my MOH and mom. I was so resistant to the idea and I couldn’t figure out why. I knew that my mom and best friend would be happy about dresses, but also just give me really good practical advice about what looked good and why. All I could see was my fiance’s mom “gushing” over everything (my mom and I are not “gushers”). But what’s so bad about that? Anyway, I’m trying to work on it, and I did end up inviting her over that day.

    I think I missed some of the earlier comments, so maybe it’s been addressed, but I guess I’m coming from the perspective of the problem coming from ME, not from THEM.

    • Class of 1980

      No, you aren’t the only one. I watch that show too. I was thinking about it reading some of the posts. I often feel sorry for Bethennys’ husband always being put in the middle. But I get where both sides are coming from. It’s tough.

    • I can totally empathize. I actually come from the big family and I loved that experience growing up but at this point in time, I prefer my nuclear family … er, preferred my nuclear family when I still had one.

      When you’re planning, I could see that your comfort level would be to prefer, the select group of people who are going to give you the kind of feedback you’re looking for and share the experience with you and don’t necessarily feel comfortable anticipating the overemoting that you’re not yet at home with.

      I’d feel the same way. Yes, I’m happy about marrying my partner. But I’m not wanting fawning and so I’m not going to try on dresses with people who I know are super happy for me but also can’t stop themselves from fawning either. One hand: love them, other hand, can’t love the reactions. No offense to them at all, just an observation!

  • Morgan

    Okay, I’m going to stand up and be the voice of doom and gloom. Now, I have the best inlaws in the world – my FIL is even building a wet bar for our basement. I would have appreciated them even had I not dealt with what follows, but now? I am vocal in my happiness of them.

    My ex fiance, who I’ll call X, came from a totally messed up family. His mother was emotionally incestuous and liked to try and see him naked. His father was a physical, emotionally and mentally abusive man. X was torn between hating them and desperately needing their approval. I spent 6 years sitting in the middle. The father hated me and eventually admitted that he would have been nicer to me had he found me sexually attractive. His mother liked me, but didn’t know what a boundary was. We started dating at 20, and I didn’t yet know about boundaries and what you could change and what you couldn’t. He was still so enmeshed in the dysfunction of family and couldn’t see a way for us to be a team in front on them – instead he’d sometimes tear me down to get approval from his parent. It was awful, and we saw them more than once a week.

    We fought about them constantly – screaming crying fights every 3 months or so. I routinely tried to change my personality to please them. I tried everything. I ended up having cripling anxiety attacks and in therapy.

    It was a huge reason why we broke up. Sometimes, you can’t bear with your inlaws, especially if your partner can’t support you. I did love him, but I realized that it would be soul death for me to stay in such a dysfunctional web of relationships. (The extended family was almost as bad.)

    So. For all the middle of the road awful inlaws that are worth suffering through, I want to be the one that says that sometimes, they are a deal breaker. Sometimes, you have to break your own heart and leave, because sometimes things *can’t* get better. And that sucks. Immensely. Somethings can’t be fixed.

    But I did leave him (long before the altar, thankfully) and in short order found and fell in love with my kind husband and have been supported by his awesome family. I am very lucky.

  • Anonymom

    Holy Frack! I was blessed with an amazing MIL and my parents and my husband got along after some boundaries were set. HOWever, I am about to become a MIL myself and this posting and all your commentary is really giving me stuff to think about. It is a bit odd looking at this from the other side of the fence!! Thanks for all the insights – I will do my best and trust the B&G to let me know that which I am screwing up!!

    • Kathryn

      Ooh – you should write the what-it’s-like-from-the-other-side post!

  • Yeah, I have in-law problems. And sometime in my 20s I turned into a stress and anger crier which is so not excellent. Thank goodness for stress blogging.

    My future MIL HATES me. Like, it seems to physically pain her to talk to me sometimes.

    Unfortunately for us all, future FIL passed a few years ago and that event gave her hatred more intensity. And ever since she found out that I let her son know that I knew she had zero respect for me, she went crafty at hiding it from him. Only from him, though.

    After the first and only meeting of the parents when we got engaged four months ago, my dad’s evaluation was: “Be careful. You’re not her favorite daughter in law.” In my-dad-speak, that means: “I don’t want to hurt your feelings if you haven’t figured this out for yourself but she hates you.”

    To her, I am the in-law problem. I’ve been supporting my parents very nearly entirely since college. And while I’ve been fighting to become stable enough to support them AND bring in enough income so that paying nearly a full salary to support them goes unnoticed. Suffice to say, in this crap economy, that healthy six-figure income I thought I’d force myself to make by now hasn’t materialized.

    And so, in her eyes, I continue to be a liability and worthless. As is my family. She makes it very clear that she considers me not at all.

    You can forget the wedding – she doesn’t give a flying flick about that.

    I’m not looking forward to spending the rest of my life listening to BS gems like:

    “Why doesn’t your dad just get a job doing {insert whatever the eff she’s come up with that day despite never having met him or knowing he has to take care of my mom full-time because she has been sliding into some form of dementia}”

    “How does your family get 50 or 60 people together for parties on a weekend, don’t they have jobs?” {because she demands an explanation for why the eff I have a large family and how the hell they all know me. Because it’s *totally* unnatural.}

    The worst part is, the family seems to accept her nasty little snipery. At a holiday dinner, her actual DIL was tired and, yes, whining a little that she was tired. Uh, justifiably so: they have a special needs infant they have to tend to around the clock. Yes, they have help, and a lot of it compared to less fortunate people but it’s still *tiring*.

    MIL? Snaps: “Well this is what being a mother is. It’s your job to sacrifice for the rest of your life so suck it up and deal with it!”

    …. W.T.F.

    I honestly don’t even know what to say to that or anything else she says anymore. Most of the time, I just hop onto Twitter and leave the talking to my partner because I suspect my temper will boil over and I will lose my ever-loving mind. Healthy. I know.

    It’s that well-trained part of me that says: Don’t yell at people in transient situations – it’s not worth it. Get the mad out first, talk later. But there’s just no talking to her later. She doesn’t give a damn about my opinion or my thoughts. So there’s just the … get the mad out.

    And the sad thing is, as my own family disintegrates and my heart shatters over that, knowing that I’m marrying into a family whose matriarch values me less than their dog that died last year … well. You know. Suck.

    • That really, really sucks. I wish I had anything helpful to say, but I don’t. I’m sorry you’re going through this.

    • ellobie

      Urrrrrgh. What a miserable woman. No words of advice, just try to focus on your happy and feel bad for her that she does not have an empathetic bone in her body.

      • Revanche,

        I feel so awful for you- that is such a terrible situation to have to deal with. How does your fiance feel/act about it?

    • yep

      Ya know, tell her one day just how you feel sorry for her that she has to reflect her self esteem into words that hurt others instead of creating a beautiful relationship with someone who would take the shirt off their back to make sure they were warm.

  • excellent topic & advice alyssa…your column is my favorite :)
    i have NO problems whatsoever with my in-laws, but i have seen myself slipping into not talking about what they do that hurts my feelings (i.e. NOT coming to visit Isaiah for the entire 4 years we’ve lived in this new state) and makes me upset and i wind up slowly creeping toward resentment until i just air it all out with isaiah and then everything is magically better.

    i feel like sometimes partners don’t give each other the benefit of the doubt…they don’t trust that their partner will be on THEIR side above all..or they give too many ultimatums about family…or they tell them everything and then the partner doesn’t stick up for them. stick sticky situations we’ve seen friends in more than once per sitch. it’s not pretty if you don’t find out early if you and your partner are on the same side and start trusting and what not…

  • Laura

    Thank you for another timely post.

    We just recently got engaged (though I’ve been sneaking onto APW for a few months now …), and last weekend we visited his parents and sister for the first time since getting engaged. We got in at about 8 p.m. Friday night. Hello hugs, congrats to his sister on baby #2 … and nothing. No “congratulations” to us or any mention of the engagement whatsoever.


    I didn’t want a big-deal production — I’m seriously not like that. And this weekend was more about visiting the new niece. But maybe some acknowledgement of this huge commitment we’ve made to one another? It didn’t help that they also haven’t spoken of it during the multiple phone conversations he’s had with his family over the last couple of weeks. It’s like they’re trying to ignore it … “Maybe if I ignore it they won’t be engaged anymore”?

    His sister and mother eventually said something over the weekend (I had to start the conversation with his mother. Her response: “Oh yeah — I should say congratulations.”) But … this is going to be a long, slow, and probably painful-at-times process. I’m grateful for the sane support this site provides!

    • ellobie

      Oh geez. That blows. And it’s exactly what my family did to me & my (now) husband. We live in Chicago; brother&SIL, sister and Mom are in Virginia. About 2-3 weeks after our engagement, we headed to VA to visit and celebrate with them and with my many friends who live there. We had a big dinner out with friends, some of whom drove 2+ hours to get there. Everyone was super duper excited for us and it was a blast. My mom’s friends even came, but she didn’t! Later, she claimed she didn’t think she was invited. BA-loney. A couple nights later, we had “family dinner” with just us, sister, mom and brother&SIL. No one even mentioned our engagement. No congratulations, no wedding talk, no “let me see the ring!” no nothing. Thanks guys…

      Still, we had a lovely engagement and super duper fun wedding. :) Too bad for my family they are lame (sister completely excluded, she is awesome) and didn’t have nearly as much fun.

    • Wow, I kept thinking that it was just me that earned lame behavior like that. My partner’s sister said absolutely *nothing* to me about it even though we spent an entire weekend with them, except to make the comment “oh, so he went with that ring.”

      She and I have been friends more than half our lives. Yep, doing the math, we have been friends sixteen years and we’re going on 29-30 now.

      I mean, I get that this is our happiness and not theirs, but it’s a little weird. None of us are asking for a confetti & surprise party-sized congratulations are we? A simple acknowledgement and hug would do. And that’s too much to muster. Ah well.

      So Laura, the kind of nice thing about it? Two less opinions to contend with in the planning process right now. The painful part is knowing it’s because neither future MIL or SIL give a crap (future MIL told partner to just do a Vegas wedding to get it over with) and that they could choose to try and give their opinions later on anyway which may not be welcome. But for right now, I’m going with looking at the bright side that I don’t have opinions I’m not asking for.

  • For the most part, I am very lucky with my future in laws. I absolutely adore my future father in law: he is kind, thoughtful, attentive, respectful and incredibly welcoming and we have a GREAT relationship. My fiance told me his dad has never been a hugger, until I came along. I get along well with his mother too, though she is very different from me. Passive, tentative, somewhat pushy (in a passive aggressive way) and very sensitive and emotional, especially about my future sister in law- my fiance’s older sister. While a small family, they have struggled continuously between mom’s mood swings and tendency toward negativity and sister’s demanding, selfish, tantrums. Both my fiance and his dad are SO unbelievably tolerant and patient, but I fear it just enables the women…now that we are engaged and planning our August wedding, the emotions have come tumbling out, and because my fiance tends to avoid and ignore, both women are targeting me. The saddest thing is that they both just want to have tight, close knit, family, but their behaviours just push us away.

    I come from a “broken” family (and I put that in quotes since we are really anything but), but have amazing relationships with all of my sibs and both of my parents. And, there is surprisingly little drama between my divorced parents; we have all had to unite through births, deaths, crises and tragedies, so we function rather well. But, it seems that my intimacy with my family is coveted by his. Rather than reach out in a positive way that garners healthy relationships (and friendships), my fiance’s sister only contacts us when she wants something and then complains that she is last on the list of people we want to spend time with. She wants a close relationship with her brother, but her selfishness knows no bounds, and he doesn’t feel he can get through to her. Now, she’s involved me to a point where I am nearly ready to let loose and serve it to her… it’s unbelievably exhausting just trying to wrap my head around dealing with this, let alone actually dealing with it. I realize things could be much much worse, but regardless, it’s frustrating….

  • JC

    I know this is over a year late, I just stumbled across this website, but I have had some major problems with my future in-laws also. FH and I started dating when I was 16 and he was 18, and even though on paper I am everything that his intensely catholic and family-oriented parents want for their son (I’m also catholic, successful academically, and always encouraged him to do whatever he wanted to), they still had serious problems letting me in, and things got really bad after he went to college and we still didn’t break up. One time, I saw them at our local starbucks and walked over and waved and his dad literally looked at me and drove the car away, bf in the car and all. His mom also “jokingly” said in a card for me when I graduated from high school, “break up with FH”. Now we are 23 and 25, and they are still working on accepting me. I think that they have come to terms with the fact that I am not going away and won’t stand in his way from anything that he wants to do with his life. It took lots of tearful conversations with him and blow ups between him and his parents, but I have realized that the root of the issue is not wanting their little boy to grow up, not ME. They would have done this to any girl in my position. The realization that I shouldn’t take it personally has improved our relationship immensely, and I’m hoping that through the wedding planning process things continue to get better.

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