When you're stuck in a conflict with your husband's family, it's only natural to expect him to take your side and stand up for you or at least to stand up for how he really feels instead of just going along with whatever his parents want. If you can't get anywhere by asking for his support, you may have to set your own boundaries.
Control, Criticism and Conflict
Your relationship with your in-laws can run into trouble for any number of reasons, but most of them boil down to control, criticism or conflict. You may feel that your in-laws have too much control over your life and your decisions, especially if your financial situation has forced you to ask them for help. You may feel that your in-laws criticize you too much or are disrespectful or insulting. You may simply disagree about too many things, leading to arguments on any topic from religion to politics to your favorite sports teams. Whatever the situation, you want your husband to stand up for you, and it's hard to accept it when he doesn't.
A Rock and a Hard Place
It may seem like your husband just isn't standing up for himself -- or for you. From your husband's perspective, though, he's caught in an uncomfortable position he would probably do almost anything to get out of. If your husband is especially emotionally close to or dependent on his mother, it may feel almost impossible for him to confront her directly even when she is wrong. He may blame you for putting him in a tough position by insisting he do so. Try to avoid blaming him or his parents when you ask for his help with the situation. Instead, talk about your own needs and what he could do to make things work for you. For instance, if your in-laws are too involved in your financial decisions, you could ask your husband to avoid talking about your financial business with his family.
The Direct Approach
You'd be well within your rights to tell your husband you expect him to speak up if an in-law does something truly unacceptable. Let him know that the behavior of your in-laws is coming between the two of you and that you need to be united as a couple. Some people just don't have it in them to confront their parents directly, but your husband may be willing to set boundaries in other ways, such as by limiting the frequency of visits with them or phone calls to reduce the stress on you. If your husband can't or won't set any boundaries with his family, you might have to face that fact and set boundaries of your own. Nobody can force you to spend time with his family if you choose not to, and drawing a line on this issue may lead both your husband and your in-laws to re-examine their approach.
The Indirect Approach
When you can't win a head-on fight, you have two options -- a tactical retreat or a flanking maneuver. If you're living with your in-laws because of your financial situation, do whatever it takes to get out of that living situation and get you and your husband into your own space. You'll get much better results in the long term if you find a way to get your in-laws on your side. Approach every interaction with your in-laws with the friendliest mindset you can manage. Deliberately avoid contentious topics of conversation. On the issues that really matter, such as how you plan to raise your children, make all your decisions based on your own values and don't worry about what your in-laws think. On all the issues that don't really matter, try to win them over.
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- PsychCentral: Husband torn between Parents and Wife
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- Psychology Today: Married to Mama's Boys
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Scott Thompson has been writing professionally since 1990, beginning with the "Pequawket Valley News." He is the author of nine published books on topics such as history, martial arts, poetry and fantasy fiction. His work has also appeared in "Talebones" magazine and the "Strange Pleasures" anthology.