Taming In-Law Criticism Everyone's got an opinion. Some you're able to shrug off and move on with your day. Some come from your in-laws and require professional help. BY DR. KAREN SHERMAN
Of course loving your in-laws and agreeing with them are two different things.
My mother in law happens to be the most arrogant woman on earth. She visits which is fine, but feels very comfortable constantly dropping comments about how things are done in our household—as if it were perfect where she lives, in fact, the place is a mess! She also has the nerve to make this comment: "The kids would be really special if they were well behaved." Look, I am all for my family spending as much time as possible with us and the kids, but please behave like you have some common decency in someone else’s house! Please help.
You fall in love with someone and make a commitment to that person; making it work is tough enough. But you may have also heard the expression that when you marry someone, you also marry that person’s family. Though the level of involvement with your significant other’s family members may vary, at some point in some way, these people will be a part of your life. Especially during the holiday season, it’s likely to become a concern since it’s a time for families to get together.
The situation you write about is understandably very upsetting. No one likes to have someone come into their home and hear criticisms—especially when you know that the person doing the criticizing is guilty of the very same points (s)he is commenting on. And, of course, what makes it particularly difficult is that you probably feel a sense of being trapped because you don’t have the freedom to respond in any manner you’d like given that this is your spouses’ family.
My general approach to life is that you cannot control anybody else or anything. What you can control is your reaction. Based on that premise, here are several suggestions:
1. Before the upcoming visit, you and your spouse might want to talk about the problems that have come up in past visits and think about some strategies to deal with them. If there is a way to structure things so there isn’t too much sitting around or "free time," that may help.
2. Given that the offensive behavior is coming from your spouses’ family, your spouse could very possibly become defensive about the situation. In other words, if you complain a great deal or present the issue harshly, you might find you and your spouse on opposing sides of this issue. Clearly, that is only going to add to the stress. To avoid this, ask your mate about their reaction to the comments. If you both see it the same way, that’s great! If not, you’ll have to validate (understand) your mate’s perspective, but gently explain yours.
3. Follow the rule that blood talks to blood. If you both decide and are comfortable with something being said, have your spouse do it.
4. Generally, it’s a very unhappy person who has the need to be so critical of others and put them down. Try to draw on your compassion and not react at all.
5. Create a distancing tool by making a game out of the situation. Set up a "pool" with your spouse as to how long it will take before your mother-in-law makes her first remark or how many remarks she’ll make.
6. If your mother-in-law makes comments about your kids in front of them, in some light-hearted tone, respond with a remark that says, "Grandma isn’t around kids so much so she doesn’t realize how lucky she is to have you." Make sure you check with the kids later to ensure that they aren’t hurt by her statements. If they are, let them know how special they really are to you.
Though this is a challenging issue, collaborating with your spouse will not only make it work but also bring the two of you closer together!
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is co-author of Marriage Magic! Find It! Make It Last.
You can also hear more from Dr. Karen Sherman on the Hitched Podcast.