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What to Do When Your Husband Can't Say No to His Parents

by Angela Ogunjimi

Every family is blended -- you're part of your spouse's family and he's part of yours. But navigating your way around family dynamics that have been in place long before you came on the scene can be a challenge. If your spouse hasn’t quite cut the apron strings or your in-laws interfere too much for your liking, laying down ultimatums or arguing won’t help. What will is patient persistence, fighting for the good of your marriage and playing smart.

Get Real First

Start by being completely honest and vulnerable with your husband about how it makes you feel when he gives in unnecessarily to his parents. Men are task-oriented and need a concrete path to success, so set it up for him and shower him with rewards when he works hard to please you. Say it feels like he puts them before his own family. Say your mother-in-law feels like the other woman. Tell him you need him as much, if not more, than they do.

Negotiate

Look him in the eye and ask him to consider giving not giving in to a single “want” of his parents until all of your family’s needs and wants are taken care of. Give him a caring script to recite to his parents when they’ve maxed out on the asks in a given time period. Something like, “Mom, Dad, I love you but my family needs my time right now so I’ve got to take care of them.” Customize it to what makes sense in your case. If you have to, agree on a number for visits and calls, too, but be reasonable. Your husband loves his parents and it’s not in your best interests to harm his relationship with them.

Let Him Run Interference

In “The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage,” licensed family and marriage therapists argue that when parents need to be confronted about a problem behavior, let their child do the confronting. That means as the daughter-in-law, you need to sit back and let your husband tell his own parents to back off a bit. The point is to protect your marriage by not creating a hostile relationship between you and your in-laws. Andrea Syrtash, author of “Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband)” says this strategy also helps define roles. It sets your husband up as the custodian of sorts for the relationship you two have with his family. If things aren’t going well, he knows ahead of time that it’s his job to fix it by standing up for you and your needs while maintaining honor for his family of origin.

Play Politics

Understand that asking your husband to say no to his parents will be difficult for him, and it’s not going to happen overnight. If there's discord between you and your in-laws, he's caught in the middle. But by developing a kind, mutually respectful relationship you may be able to be honest with them about how you're feeling as well, without causing strife.There is a chance they don’t know they’ve asked for a favor from your husband on the precise weekend you’ve scheduled something important. Let them know what and when your priorities are on a regular basis and you may find the problem largely solves itself.

Another Strategy

Play it even smarter by asking them for “advice.” For example, tell the in-laws you’ve placed a deposit on a hotel for your anniversary weekend and your husband’s taken the time off work but you’ll lose out on a special surprise you’ve planned if he has to come over to snake their toilets, again. Ask what you should do. The good thing is, if you play this tactic right, you may make friends with your in-laws as they come to understand you more and feel more connected to you as they dole out the wisdom you’ve asked for.

About the Author

Angela Ogunjimi has been a prize-winning writer and editor since 1994. She was a general assignment reporter at two newspapers and a business writer at two magazines. She writes on nutrition, obesity, diabetes and weight control for a project of the National Institutes of Health. Ogunjimi holds a master's degree in sociology from George Washington University and a bachelor's in journalism from New York University.

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