A marriage is the union not merely of two spouses but of two families—each with its own beliefs and ways of being in the world. The resulting relationships can be some of life’s richest, but, for a lot of people, they can also be some of the most confounding. The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” columnist, Lori Gottlieb, receives many, many letters about in-laws and the various challenges they can present.
The troubles go in all directions. Parents struggle with their sons- and daughters-in-law; those sons and daughters struggle with their parents-in-law—and also with their brothers- and sisters-in-law. As Lori writes in one column, “You say this is an issue with your husband and your son-in-law, but as you describe it, the issue involves the entire family. Each of you, in your own ways and to various degrees, seems to feel resentful.”
Relationships between two people are complicated enough on their own. But in-law relationships happen through someone else. These are relationships that, by their very nature, tie multiple people together. Any conflict will touch all of them, and they’ll all bring their own feelings to it.
Lori’s task in advising her readers about in-law relationships is to guide them through this complexity. She writes about how to deal with many different participants in a family system and how to have tough conversations with each of them—not only the in-law causing whatever conflagration is at hand but also one’s own spouse, and sometimes other adults involved too. Each conversation requires effort to hear and be heard; each provides opportunities for pain and conflict, but also for growth and healing. And that growth and healing can go a long way: Because these relationships involve so many people, any improvement won’t touch solely one person and their in-laws but the whole combined family—for generations to come.
They are judging me for not being a good mom, for not having a job, and for not losing my pregnancy weight fast enough.
Everything about her rubs me the wrong way.
She told me she would never want a child like my daughter.
Any time I want to talk with my daughter about an issue between us, she tells me she doesn’t have time and it’s not a priority for her.
I can’t help but think he’s the cause of the growing rift with my relatives.
After a weekend of not speaking to me, she collapsed and cut my wedding night short, and I don’t know how to deal with the resentment I still feel.
I think my grandson needs some help, but I’m not sure how much advice I’m allowed to give as a grandparent.
Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.