You’ve met the person of your dreams. They are smart, they are attractive, they make you laugh, they are the person you want to call when anything good or bad happens, they are your very best friend—in short, you’ve found yourself your soul mate. There’s just one small problem…their family.
Now don’t get me wrong, when you first got together with your S.O., you were excited to meet their family. You have spent years developing the relationship with your own (now tight knit) fam, and were elated to extend this circle of connectedness, love, and support through marrying into their family as well. But, as it turns out, his or her family is not overly thrilled about you, and in fact, can at times be downright disrespectful.
Apart from feeling super disappointed, you are just at a loss for what to do. You love your partner and you want to be a part of their life in all ways, which means being around their family. But at the same time, being around them makes you feel horrible about yourself. You’re constantly defending your beliefs, why you do things the way you do and fending off backhand complements that are designed to dig at you. So what do you do?
First off, realize you are absolutely not alone. There are so many people out there who are also dealing with disrespectful in-laws; trust me. From overbearing parents who still treat you and/or your partner like a kid, to the mom who can’t let go of her baby, from the parent who treats you like the enemy, to the sister-in-law who makes you feel like you’re in high school all over again. If you can imagine it—or even worse, if you have experienced it—rest assured that multiple someones out there have and are also dealing with it as well.
That said, while knowing you aren’t alone can definitely help boost your spirits and give you the courage you need to make some positive changes when it comes to your in-law situation, you also need tangible things you can do now to be proactive about changing your situation. Hence the steps listed here...
Assess the situation
The first thing you’ll want to do is take stock of the entire situation. Yes, you already know you are being disrespected, but I’m talking about going deeper than that. You want to figure out exactly what your in-laws are doing that is disrespectful. You won’t be able to move forward if you just have general grievances or you can’t tell them specifically what it is they are doing that you don’t like.
Additionally, determine what sort of outcome you are looking for. Obviously you want the disrespect to stop, but are you looking to then develop a close relationship with them, or would you settle for being able to be in the same room and just be civil to each other? Once you’ve determined this, you can move on to the next step.
Create Healthy Boundaries
Create boundaries to address specific situations you just pinpointed when assessing your situation. For example, say one of the ways your mother-in-law disrespects you is by coming into your home and re-arranging the way you have things set up (or even adding or taking away from your personal decor without asking). The next time she does this, you could pull her aside and say something to the effect of “I really appreciate your style, but I’d like to decorate and organize my own home without any help”.
Or, for more serious situations, (for example, your in-laws making jokes at your expense, demeaning your job, etc.) letting them know outright, right after they make the comment, that you do not like it when they say those things and would appreciate it if they wouldn’t do that anymore, can be effective.
The point with all your boundaries is to let your in-laws know you’d like for them to stop the disrespectful behavior and you will not tolerate continuing to be treated in that way. This will usually require a moment (or even a whole conversation) that is uncomfortable, but it will be worth it in the end to have shown up for yourself and advocated for the respect you deserve.
Don’t budge even a little bit on your newly established boundaries
This is extremely important—just as important as establishing boundaries with your powers in the first place. This is because when you set a boundary with a person, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee they will respect this new boundary. In fact, your in-laws have already shown they don’t have a problem disrespecting you. Therefore, at some point—likely sooner rather than later—you are going to find that your in-laws are beginning to test your new boundary.
Call it habit or just plain stubborn mean-ness, but it will happen. And when this occurs, if you give them even an inch of wiggle room, they are going to end up running an entire mile with it, bringing you right back to where you started. As Psychology Today puts it, “Unless you stand your ground, your in-laws will work to have things their way”. Be strong, be firm, and remember you are the authority figure of your life and requiring basic respect from those you engage with is not too much to expect.
Talk With Your Partner
Even if you have laid out clear boundaries, stuck to your guns, and not budged an inch, (you’ve really been the picture of consistency), sometimes the in-laws will persist with disrespectful behavior. This is when it’s time to really get your partner involved. Now, ideally up until this point they would have been backing you anyway and supporting you in all your newly established boundaries. However, when they personally address their parents or siblings about the disrespect, it can hold more weight. After all, they don’t disrespect your partner and they may be more open to hearing about their flawed behavior by someone they love.
Reassess Your Boundaries
Hopefully by this point your boundaries are being respected and the issues have been solved. However, if you’ve hit the point where boundaries are just being blatantly ignored, despite both you and your partner’s best efforts, it’s time to reassess your boundaries and the situation. For example, say one of the ways in which you are disrespected is by your in-laws consistently criticizing the meals you make for regular family potluck parties they throw. You’ve spoken with them about how you’d like them to stop making these comments, have said you would prefer if they just didn’t say anything at all. You have held your ground consistently. Your partner has talked with them about it. Yet despite all of this and saying they hear and respect you, they keep right on doing it.
In this situation, instead of trying to enforce your boundary by calling them on their behavior, try changing yours. Stop bringing any food to these potluck dinners. Make this your new boundary; you don’t bring food to family potlucks hosted by your in-laws. And when your in-laws ask why you’ve stopped, politely let them know it’s because the previous boundary was continually crossed so you changed the situation yourself.
Additionally, this would be a great time to reassess your goals for your relationship with your in-laws as well. If you have tried many tactics to gain respect and it still isn’t coming your way, maybe it’s time to loosen—you can’t really cut because they are still your partner’s family—ties.
Loosen Those Relationship Ties
You’ve tried everything and nothing has worked. You actually like your in-laws even less now, if that’s possible. But you aren’t willing to walk away from your relationship because of it. So what’s left to you? Loosen the ties to their troublesome family members as much as possible.
You can do this in many ways, starting by limiting your interactions with them. The next time there’s an optional family event where they will be in attendance, don’t go. If they invite you and your partner over for dinner, tell them no. It is not good for you or your partner for you to be around people who bring you down and zap your energy, so avoid these situations when and wherever you can.
You can also try keeping your distance if total avoidance isn’t an option. During a family event you can’t get out of, try to keep your distance from the troublesome in-laws. Sit as far away as possible at the dinner table, don’t initiate conversations, and keep eye contact to a minimum to discourage conversation.
Apart from simple avoidance, you can also consider meeting on neutral territory, for those few times direct contact will be required. Think about letting them pick a coffee spot, meeting at a park, or even a restaurant. The point is to limit the number of issues that could arise: Possible comments about you in their home, or comments about how you keep your home.
Lastly, if your in-laws are still unmanageable after all of this, under no circumstances should you accept help from them, and I don’t just mean money. If they offer to help you in any way, just say no. Why? For starters, you wan’t to limit contact. Secondly, if they help you, they will have something to both hold over and against you, and that is not a good feeling even between the best of friends. It is certainly not something you want from someone you know doesn’t have a problem tearing you down.
What managing your disrespectful in-laws really comes down to is boundaries. Setting them both for your in-laws as well as yourself, and sticking to them. If your boundaries are crossed, this needs to be acknowledged and corrected straight away. If boundaries continue to be crossed, a new situation needs to be created all together.
Essentially, standing up for yourself and being your own best advocate is the fastest way to gain the respect you desire and deserve.
One Last Thing to Remember
Always come from a place of love and consideration. Understand that while they may cause frustration for you, they are still your partner’s family whom they love. Make sure your partner understands you are not asking them to choose between you and their family. Encourage your partner to continue to have a relationship with their family, but also ask for understanding for your situation as well.
While you won’t stand in the way of your partner’s relationship with their family, they shouldn’t stand in the way of you standing up for yourself and practicing self-love by avoiding situations that will cause you harm.
The most important thing is for you to be happy. You should be filled with joy and light so you can share and spread your positive energy within your own relationships (including with your partner), so they can grow and thrive. Don’t take away from this by forcing yourself into situations that are hopeless and make you feel poorly.
In looking out for yourself, you are allowing growth and beauty to occur within your relationships that do matter. And just as you understand they still love their family and want a relationship with them, so too should they understand your aversion and related boundaries against seeing and engaging with them.