Recently I received this Ask Dr. Seth e-mail, and the individual who wrote to me talked about a fear that the division between the writer and the in-laws might get worse. The fear was that the tension would mount to the extent that the couple would have to split up because there was never going to be love or acceptance from the in-laws.
Tensions between a member of a couple and his or her in-laws marks one of the oldest rivalries in the book. Countless men and women have difficulties navigating their relationship with their in-laws. In fact, many books have been written about this subject to help people cope better with this situation. One, in particular, is called "Toxic In-Laws," which was written by my friend Dr. Susan Forward. This is a great resource and you can easily search for it online.
I responded individually to to the writer who talked to me about this problem, but I want to share some thoughts with the rest of you in case this is a problem you are dealing with, too.
The number one factor to keep in mind is that you and your partner are separate people, and that you will have a separate relationship with the in-laws from the one your partner has with them. Re-shaping your expectations, something cognitive-behavioral therapists call re-framing, can be very helpful in this case. Make your goal that you be able to communicate critical needs with your in-laws, not that you be close to them or be loved by them. Often, affection and love will come after many years once the in-laws have accepted that you are there to stay.
Whatever you do, resist becoming emotionally reactive. Do not act out on your frustrations and don't expect your partner to be terribly understanding of your situation. After all, you're talking about his or her parents, and he or she often feels stuck in the middle of the tension. It's not a competition for the love of your partner, so don't engage in behavior that suggests that it is.
Finally, find an outlet so that you can vent your frustrations. In addition, get helpful ideas about how to deal with your situation. The self-help section at your local bookstore is a great place to start. Fianlly, it never hurts to find a trusted friend or seek out a counselor. Understand that this issue is going to take a lot of patience on your part, so make that a goal you start working on today.