Dealing with Difficult In-Laws (1)
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Although mothers-in-law bear the brunt of the “difficult in-law” tag, family in-law problems come in many different guises and are not restricted to mothers, or even to females. Let’s take a look at some examples where a marriage is under siege due to problems with extended family members.
Helena and Dave are a busy, working couple in their early 30s with no children. Both hold responsible jobs and work long hours. Dave’s brother, Dean, is single, changes his job regularly to follow his main interest—surfing—and is an easy-going, genuinely fun guy. People enjoy his company, including Helena and Dave. But Dean is causing problems in Helena and Dave’s marriage. He is chronically short of money due to his irregular employment and borrows money from his brother and seldom pays it back. Helena is becoming increasing furious with Dean, particularly as she hopes to give up work shortly to have children, and wants to save as much money as she can in the meantime. She expressed her feelings to her husband, but Dave calmly dismissed her fears, saying they hardly missed the money, and besides Dean is fun to have around. Helena is beginning to resent Dean, and finds it increasingly hard to be civil to him when he visits. When she made a sarcastic comment to Dean recently about his money problems, Dean laughed it off. But later, Dave became angry with his wife for being rude to his brother. Helena now feels even more resentful of her brother-in-law.
Claire has a three-week-old daughter and is struggling with feeding problems, and lack of sleep. But Claire’s own mother seems to be her biggest problem. Grandma Julie drops in at any time of day, without notice, to see her “Baby Bella”. Although Claire has given out hints that she would prefer a phone call first, her mother just ignores her and says that as a grandmother, she should be able to see her granddaughter any time she likes. Claire has started to exhibit signs of postnatal depression recently and cannot deal with her intrusive mother anymore. She has asked her husband to step in, but so far he has said nothing to his mother-in-law. He believes Claire is just “over-emotional” at the moment.
Elise’s mother-in-law recently showed a movie to her four grandchildren while she was minding them for the night. The movie was rated for ages 15 years and over. The grandchildren were aged 11, nine, eight, and six. Elise was furious because her eight-year-old was upset when she came home. On investigation, Elise found that the movie contained oral sex scenes and was entirely unsuited to an audience of children. Both Elise and her husband, Carl, confronted his mother over the incident. The mother-in-law stated she had done nothing wrong, as she believed that what children don’t understand goes over their heads. When told her eight-year-old granddaughter had been upset by the movie, she simply repeated that she couldn’t see a problem. Elise and Carl went home frustrated and angry by the whole incident and the lack of a suitable resolution.
In our next article on difficult in-laws, we will look at why the first two couples are in an unhealthy family dynamic, and why the third couple is further down the track to solving their dilemma.