As much as I love my husband, I feel like the relationship I have with my in-laws is making this marriage difficult, because at the end of the day, he’ll choose his parents’ feelings over mine.
I don’t want my daughter growing up to see us fighting about her grandparents, as I did with my parents. Many times I’ve found myself holding my tongue to keep the peace. I want to set clear boundaries with my in-laws but also have a great relationship with them.
Do you have any insight for me?
Many people experience differences with their in-laws over issues like control or perceived criticism, but I imagine that for you, these differences take on greater significance because of your childhood.
You say that it took you a while to find a partner, because you wanted to be with someone whose parents you got along with well. Vetting a potential partner not just for who he is but also for who his parents are might have felt safe to you—a way of protecting yourself from the kind of conflict that hurt you so much as a child—but it actually put you in a more precarious position, for two reasons. First, having a good relationship with your in-laws is nice, but it won’t heal your childhood wound; only you can heal that (for example, through therapy). And second, coming into a marriage with the fantasy that things will always go smoothly with your in-laws set up that relationship—like any relationship with such high expectations—for failure. Few close relationships of long duration escape the reality that the people in it come into conflict from time to time. The important question in any relationship isn’t Will there be disagreements? It’s How good are we at repairing them?
If you can separate your need to heal something from your childhood with what’s happening now, you’ll be able to approach the problem in a way that feels better not just for you, but also for your husband and his parents.
You can start by considering that people don’t tend to behave in a vacuum. A question I encourage people to ask whenever they feel hurt by someone’s behavior is What would cause this person to act in this way? Understanding what the emotional stakes are for them might make their comments sting less personally, and will also help you to handle the situation more effectively.
So: Why might your in-laws be making these comments? To me, that the troubles began right after you had the baby is notable, because you might be seeing an aspect of your in-laws that’s related to how they feel about being grandparents. One possibility is that they don’t realize they’re being offensive. They might think they’re being helpful, even if they come across as critical. For instance, I doubt that they say the words “You’re a bad mom,” but according to your letter, that’s what you hear. Perhaps in their minds, they’re offering opinions (which, admittedly, when unsolicited, can be annoying) because they believe that, having already raised a child, they have information that’s useful to you. They might also believe that because they are so close with you, they have carte blanche to share their opinions. Perhaps they feel that the closer people are, the less they need to stand on ceremony and hold back. Of course, healthy relationships are built on healthy boundaries, but some people mistakenly conflate love with not needing to have boundaries.