A mother-in-law looks unhappy at her son's choice of partner

How to deal with difficult in-laws

by Eharmony Editorial Team - June 15, 2012

There are plenty of mother in law jokes but if you are really struggling with your in-laws it is no laughing matter.

It is a wonderful thing to be with someone you love but no relationship exists in isolation – there are usually lots of other people on the peripheries and one of the most challenging is often the relationship you have with your in-laws. If other friendships cause problems in your relationship there are usually some quick and easy remedies which can be applied but when it comes to in-laws the situation is often a lot more complex. Here are some suggestions which might help.


One of the most important things to remember when you are dealing with your partner’s family is that the relationships between them – and how they treat each other – was established long before you came on the scene. No matter how dysfunctional it may seem to you – or different from how your own family relate to each other – this is somebody else’s family and you have to respect that. Accepting this will go a long way towards helping you accept them. Try not to be too critical or defensive and look to your partner for guidance on what they need from you when dealing with them.

Try not to make it about you

It is all too easy to let difficult relations with in-laws seep into your relationship, especially if you feel that your partner doesn’t defend you or support you in your view of their parents. The reality is that any conflict will put your partner in a very uncomfortable position because no matter how difficult their parents are there will be a certain amount of loyalty towards them.

Instead of talking to your partner about how hurt, frustrated and angry you feel about the situation which could cause a rift between you two – ask them how they feel about it and what they think you could do to make things easier – they know these people better than you do.


A common area of conflict is holidays and extended visits. If you find it difficult staying with your in-laws consider staying nearby, maybe in a local B&B, that way you can spend time together but also retreat to your own space when you need to.

If your in-laws come to stay with you, and that is an area of conflict, it might be worth suggesting that they would be more comfortable in a local guest house – again it makes the time you are together more manageable if there is some distance between you.

If your in-laws live nearby it can be much harder to have boundaries if their family pattern is to be in each others business and homes all the time. In this case it is important to talk to your partner about some ground rules – maybe certain days of the week when you have an open door policy but that they respect your privacy the rest of the time. Having an agreement that your partner is happy with is very important as you don’t want to appear to be standing between them and their family.


Jealousy is common amongst partners and parents and can be the root cause of many difficulties. It can occur in all sorts of different ways – mothers jealous of their son’s partner; men feeling threatened by the older man who still has a strong hold and influence in his daughter’s life; women feeling like they are criticised and judged for not living up to the standards laid down by their dominant mother in law – whatever the set up, jealousy can be a corrosive force in family relationships.

As difficult as it can be the best antidote to it is compassion and understanding. Jealousy isn’t a rational feeling. If you suspect that your in-laws are being difficult because they are feeling usurped, or left out, try to imagine how it must feel from their point of view – perhaps they are afraid because they think their influence is going to become less important, or over-protective because they want to make sure you are worthy of their child’s love. Imagine if it was your child – wouldn’t you feel the same way?

Fake it to make it

Sometimes we just don’t get on with some people – there is a clash of personalities and no matter how hard we try we simply cannot make it right. The fact is that while partners may come and go in a persons life we get one set of parents and if you cannot find a way to be warm and civil towards your in-laws it is going to cause problems in your relationship.

As far as possible treat your in-laws with common courtesy and let your partner take the lead in deciding how much contact you have with them. Even if they seem to upset and hurt your partner at every visit it is not your place to interfere and defend them – be a source of support rather than another source of conflict.