Mother-in-laws have been lambasted for many years, usually by comedians seeking to built rapport and get a good laugh, but they are a part of all our lives in one way or another. Some of you may have wonderful, supportive in-laws who respect you and your partners as individuals with their own relationship and parenting styles.
But for many, in-laws can be a real source of irritation. It could be an overly intrusive mother-in-law. Or an extra critical father-in-law. Perhaps your son-in-law isn't what you hoped for. Or maybe your daughter-in-law doesn't want you involved with her family. Whoever the in-law is, it can be a real cause of relationship stress for many couples.
There are a couple of main reasons that I see as an NLP Couples and Family Therapist. The first is that perhaps the mother/father-in-law aren't ready to let go of their son/daughter and the second is that the son/daughter isn't ready to let go of their mother/father.
Let's look at the first reason in a bit more depth
All couples and families go through a life-cycle which starts with independence. Their parents (couples grandparents) bought them up within their own life-cycle and once the child reaches independence and is ready for their own relationship they begin their own cycle. So the in-laws go into the relationship with their own beliefs about themselves and relationships based on what they have experienced themselves. Each brings their own set of beliefs to this new relationship and merge their individual beliefs into one (coupling). They then go through each of the steps (raising young children, raising adolescent children) before they get to launching (their child leaving home).
Where problems arise is when the parents haven't successfully passed through each of these stages and so they get stuck at the parenting stage. This results in them continuing to play a very active (sometimes called interfering) role in their child's life and relationship. The problem is then passed down to their own children who learn this behaviour from their own parents which leads us nicely into the second reason.
Children who aren't ready to let go of their parents
A child whose parents have not successfully transitioned through their own life-cycle will often lack confidence in their own ability to make their own decision and therefore rely on their parents to make choices for them. They hold the relationship belief that they need their parents and that they are still responsible for them. Their self esteem is low and they can often struggle to find relationships that last because they aren't ready to "fly the nest" so they choose unsuitable partners which, as the relationship unfolds and declines, further fuels their belief that they are only safe and secure with their parents.
In either situation, this can cause a lot of tension for a couple. If one partner has successfully been through the life-cycle, they can feel frustrated with their partner for not "cutting the apron strings". Their partner will often report every detail back to their parents as well which can cause trust issues and anger that they have gone outside of the relationship to discuss problems. Parent in-laws can also feel annoyed that their son/daughter in-law doesn't want to ingratiate themselves into their family and instead wants to create their own (which is perfectly normal and healthy).
Many couples separate due to the issue of in-laws because it can rip apart the very fabric of their relationship. Healthy relationships are between two people and whilst it is important that family members get on, it is unhealthy and unhelpful for relatives to play too active a part in someone's relationship.
Couples who are struggling with in-laws would find couples therapy really helpful in allowing them to explore these issues and find a compromise to help them move successfully through to the coupling stage where new beliefs can be developed together. Beliefs which better suit their family.
What are your experiences with in-laws? Good or bad I'd love to hear about them.