When you walked down the aisle and heard those wedding bells chime, you may not have realized that by saying "I do" to your spouse you were also saying "I do" to his family. In other words, that lifelong commitment you just made came with a lifelong commitment to those people most important to him—starting with his parents. While this can certainly be an easy transition for some, most newlyweds find that adopting a second set of family members can be a bit overwhelming and difficult. But don't forget that it can also be a difficult process for his family members, too. "Up until you came along, their son or daughter was all theirs, and they didn't have to share their child with someone else and their family," explains Wendi L. Dumbroff, MA, licensed professional counselor. "Some parents make the transition to becoming an in-law better than others while some never quite get the hang of it, no matter how long their child has been married."
So, how do you know who's tougher to budge—you or his parents? To help you decide, we asked two relationship therapists to share the most obvious signs that your in-laws' overbearing ways may be holding you back from familial bliss.
They get in the middle of arguments with you and your partner.
Sooner or later his parents (and yours) will realize that your marriage is just like everyone else's: In short, it isn't perfect. You're going to disagree from time to time, and there's a good chance his family will overhear you bickering at some point. If they try to get involved, even with the best intentions, they're wrongly involving themselves in an area of marriage that's meant for the two of you only, says Dumbroff. "It's one thing to argue with your wife or husband, but it's a whole other thing when you find yourself arguing with their parents as well," she explains. "This is likely to escalate things with your partner rather than creating a context for repairing the spat."
They stop by whenever they please, without checking to see if it is good for you.
No visitor should turn up unannounced, unless it's in a case of urgency—and this goes for both sets of parents. Boundaries need to be communicated directly, explains Marni Amsellem, Ph.D., consultant in a private psychology practice. "If, despite your stated desires to the contrary, they are still dropping over for unannounced visits, expecting to have lengthy nightly phone calls, or anything else that may not work for you, this is not just you being sensitive."
They expect you to be present for certain events without asking you.
Unless you committed to dinner at their home every weekend, they shouldn't expect you to show up with a bouquet of flowers. "If both partners are okay with attending these events, there is no problem at all," says Dumbroff. "However, if your mother-in-law insists you and your family be there for dinner every single weekend, and one or both of you don't want to be there, it can cause a lot of tension and create fertile ground for arguments."
They still behave as though their child still lives under their roof.
It can be hard for parents to grasp the fact that their son or daughter is now someone's spouse. If they're still doing things for them, like making doctor's appointments, taking clothes to the dry cleaners, or shopping for underwear, they're overstepping their boundaries. "If they're acting this way, you may feel pushed out or that your role is being usurped by them," explains Dumbroff. "It may also feel that they are judging you, and your care is, in some way, not good enough for their child."