Are your in-laws ruining your marriage?

By Liz Paul, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

Are your in-laws intrusive, or overly critical of you, or meddlers in how you raise your kids, or how you manage your finances, your social life or your marriage?

If that’s your experience, you are not alone!

I routinely have couples in my therapy room who are at their wits’ end on how to deal with their interfering, though often well-meaning, in-laws.

The first, and most important, strategy to counter this problem is for you and your partner to be a ‘united team’.  You have to agree there is a problem, and agree on how to handle each situation, and to always have each other’s backs.

You must absolutely be on the same page.

If you are not, and your partner chooses to be silent when their parents are interfering, or takes their parents’ side when you are discussing their intrusive behaviour, then you will never solve the problem.  And that will result in you getting frustrated and angry.

And then, if you start to voice objections directly to your in-laws regarding their unwanted presence or criticism, it will just give your in-laws a welcome mat to ‘divide and conquer’ because they will see you as the problem, the one selfish person who always wants everything their own way all of the time.

So you alone can never fix this problem.  Don’t even try.  You will only end up being marginalised by your in-laws, and your partner will not appreciate that you are causing a rift in the family.

That’s why I tell my clients they have to be a team when it comes to interfering in-laws.

What if your partner won’t agree to that?  That usually happens when the person hasn’t yet ‘differentiated’ from their parents – they still need to please their parents for their own validation, and experience internal conflict if they have to make a choice of which their parents might not approve.  They are still ‘entangled’ and are not emotionally evolved sufficiently to understand you should be their priority, rather than obsessively worrying they might hurt their parents’ feelings if they object to their parents’ seemingly-constant presence and advice.

This is a very common problem, and in my therapy room I see many clients who have not yet fully ‘individualised’ and want help to dis-entangle themselves from their parents’ well-meaning – but often suffocating – attention.

The good news is that over time these clients can achieve a more adult relationship with their parents; one that prioritises their own partner without alienating their parents.

Now, let’s say your partner agrees with you that their parents are causing significant problems in your marriage.  What can you do, as a team, to help ensure your in-laws do not sabotage your marriage… no matter how innocent their intentions are?

Here’s some advice I usually give my clients:

  • Set boundaries as to what you both are happy with in terms of time spent with the in-laws… and make your in-laws stick to it. For example, you might let them know they need to call you before popping in, or that going forward your annual holidays will be a time for you and your partner to work on your marriage and therefore the in-laws will no longer be welcome.
  • Occasionally allow your in-laws to have their way, but don’t give them everything they want e.g. allow them to see their grandchild one set day a week rather than every day.
  • Agree with your partner how you will handle invitations to each family event and then let your in-laws know what your plans are for that event e.g. for one event you might attend the whole thing, for another you might be leaving early, and for another you might be unable to attend.
  • Let your in-laws know you appreciate their point of view, but you and your spouse have a different view. For example, your in-laws might have a view as to how your child should be disciplined, but explain that you and your partner are going to do it the way you see best.
  • Give your in-laws positive reinforcement when their behaviour improves by expressing how appreciative you are of their support. This will let your in-laws know they are on the right track to developing a better relationship with you and your partner.


What are the issues for which most people seek assistance?

  • Relationship break-ups
  • Constantly fighting with your partner
  • Loss of intimacy with your partner
  • Communication problems with your partner or child
  • Difficulty parenting toddlers or teens
  • Pre-marriage counselling
  • A child misbehaving
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Family counselling
  • Wanting to separate from their partner amicably
  • Helping the children cope after a relationship break-up
  • Trouble staying in relationships
  • HSC stress for students and their families
  • Relationship commitment issues
  • Problems at work
  • Couple counselling
  • Difficulties with step-children
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Problems with in-laws
  • Substance addiction
  • Facing major life changes
  • Making new life choices
  • Relationship counselling