FEB 07, 2023 AT 08:29 AM
You have met the man of your dreams. He is everything you could want in a husband and you are anticipating having a wonderful long life together. There is one small snag. His family. Over the months and years after your fairytale wedding, it becomes more difficult to keep the peace. Whether they are meddling in your life, using passive-aggressive behavior to try and manipulate you, or being downright antagonistic, your marriage is taking the strain.
The Independent had an article on Friday, the 15th of January 2016, which tackles this problem. Relationship counselor Ammanda Major has this to say. Dealing with your spouse's family can be fraught with challenges especially if you did not get along from the start or something happened to ruin the relationship down the line.
Many couples have been through less-than-ideal family dynamics. Stacey Colino on Psycom lists these signs of toxic family members:
- The way you see yourself is different from how they see you.
- They accuse you of false actions.
- They try to emotionally destabilize you.
- They refuse to take responsibility for their harmful actions.
- They manipulate you and make you feel guilty.
- They belittle or humiliate you.
- They bully, harass, insult, or criticize you.
- They lie or spread rumors about you.
- They are openly nasty towards you.
- They gaslight you, making you feel unsure of the facts of their bad behavior.
- Your relationship suffers because of their problems.
Basically, their behavior erodes you and your relationship.
How It Affects You
Other than feeling moody and having your self-esteem and confidence affected, Colino mentions these other emotions. You question your decisions, are unable to think clearly, are unable to voice your opinions, and feel anxious around them. Grief and sadness may be added to your emotions as not only is your relationship with your family by marriage affected, but it almost always causes discord in your relationship with your spouse.
The infamous difficult relationships between married couples and their mothers-in-law are well known. There are many jokes, memes, and articles about and studies on this family dynamic. New York Post had an article by Adriana Diaz in their April 18, 2022 edition entitled 'Its Not Your Fault Your Mother-in-Law Hates You'. Diaz mentions that these sometimes difficult relationships may be evolutionary.
The researchers concluded that 'inlaw' conflicts may stem from each person unconsciously protecting their blood relatives. In essence, "acting in the interests of their genetic kin." The other possibility is that the parents of one party did not choose to have relationships with another family related by marriage. Especially between mothers and daughters-in-law, there may be conflict as each tries to achieve the position of the matriarch.
Why Conflicts Arise
An article in Psychology Today states that conflicts arise with in-laws due to the following reasons:
- The reasons your spouse chose you as a life partner may be different from the traits your in-laws may have chosen. For example, your partner loves you for your sense of humor, intelligence, and beautiful hair, whereas his parents may have preferred a partner with a certain social standing, religious or ethnic background. You are not the partner they would have chosen for their son.
- You are too pretty. This may sound crazy, but evolution seems to predict that we value the trait of good looks in our partners because we want those good genes in our future children, whereas our parents may think that the more physically attractive our partner is the more likely that they may leave the marriage when finding another more attractive partner. More good-looking men may be too attractive to other women and less inclined to stay the distance in their current relationship with their daughter, and less inclined to invest and care for a family.
- Another evolutionary theory is that of competition. Historically there may have been direct competition for resources and attention. As women matured younger and started producing children from an early age, their mothers-in-law were probably still producing children of their own. This then put her daughters-in-law and grandchildren in direct competition for sometimes scarce resources. Nowadays, this competition is more likely for attention, especially if a mother has relied on her son for various tasks or his attention.
Here are a few other common reasons why conflict occurs within families:
- Different personalities. Families as with other people expected to get along have multiple personality types that may rub each other up the wrong way
- There may be conflicts from the past that continue to rise when tensions are high.
- Even the best of relationships may suffer due to poor communication skills.
- When in-laws and their married children are living in the same space, there might be confusion about the roles and responsibilities of each person.
How to Reduce Conflict
You must be sensitive to the fact that a husband feels in the middle between his wife and his mother if there is conflict. Although the traditional marriage vows state that a man is to leave his father and mother and be joined by his wife, this does not always happen in real life. Especially as our parents become older and less able to take care of themselves, we feel obliged, whether out of love and affection or a sense of duty to take care of them.
Conflict Resolution Strategies
Jennifer Herrity wrote an article in November 2022 that details a few conflict resolution strategies.
- At times, temporarily, avoidance may be the best strategy when all parties need some time to calm down.
- The win-lose strategy. This is when conflicting people want to win disputes at all costs. This is not the most satisfactory way of resolving conflict.
- The win-win strategy. Finding a mutually agreeable solution.
- Compromise – The lose-lose strategy. Each party is willing to give up something to resolve the conflict.
Here are some strategies for more permanent solutions to conflict.
- Acknowledge that there is conflict. Frequently, to try and keep the peace, one or both parties try and ignore that there is a problem in the first place.
- Problem definition. This means figuring out what caused the conflict in the first place. All parties need to be prepared for this before it can be resolved.
- Meeting on mutual ground. Be it a public space or another environment where all parties feel safe and comfortable.
- Everyone should have the opportunity to talk. If necessary set some ground rules before the discussion eg. No-one is allowed to interrupt when someone else is talking.
- Identify and agree on solutions. Let this be a well-thought-out process.
If these steps do not resolve the conflict through discussions between yourselves, a mediator or councilor may be brought in.
Conflicts with in-laws and your spouse's family may be some of the most difficult to resolve. On an evolutionary scale, there may be remnants of the will to protect blood relatives, preferring their children to pair with more suitable mates that have the necessary traits to bring up a strong, healthy, well-adjusted family, to continue the genetic line.
Conflict may arise through competition, especially when extended families live in the same location. Other reasons for problem relationships may be personality clashes, old arguments being brought up again, poor communication skills, and confusion around roles and responsibilities.
Whether the ill feelings were from the start or progressed after some time, they may be difficult to resolve without some conflict resolution strategies. In the short term, avoidance and the win-lose strategy may be employed but should be temporary until a more permanent solution can be found.
The most satisfactory resolution is one where all parties agree to either give something up to keep the peace, while acknowledging the problem, being prepared to meet on mutual ground, and allowing everyone to have their say. If this does not resolve the conflict, a mediator or therapist may be brought in.
If the only problem in marriage stems from conflict with your spouse's family, and for the most part you are prepared to do the work to repair it, one should remember that your spouse comes first. It is unfair to blame them for their family's bad behavior. At the same time, however, it is also important that your spouse puts you first, makes the effort to set boundaries, and is active in conflict resolution.