How to Deal with Disrespectful In-Laws

Proud Italian son introduces his fiance parents
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As soon as you decided to get married, visions of having more family members to love danced through your mind. You’d have an extra set of parents to impart their wisdom from years of experience and some siblings-in-law to hang out with . . . and maybe even become best friends.

Then reality hit. As soon as you got to know them, you realized that what you got was something completely different. The people who raised the most terrific person in the entire universe have shown you that your dreams were nothing more than a fairytale.

Your in-laws not only don’t like you, but they also show you absolutely no respect. Or just as bad, they flat-out ignore you. In their minds, you’re an intruder, and you stole their precious child away from them. All those fun and lively family dinners you imagined are not likely to ever happen.

This is a difficult position for anyone to be in because you want to be on friendly terms with these people, and you have someone in common that you both love very much. So what do you do? There are actually several ways to handle disrespectful in-laws.

Show a United Front with Your Spouse

Chances are, your spouse is aware of the tension, without your having to mention a word about it. Discuss your position and how disappointed you are that these people don’t show you the respect you deserve.

Your spouse may not understand, and you may not come to a total agreement. But it’s important for the two of you to display a united front when you’re around the in-laws. Have a calm discussion with your spouse about how to handle this, be willing to compromise, and honor your end of the deal.

Don’t disagree with your spouse in front of the disrespectful and offensive people in his family, or they will have an opening to rip at your relationship with the person you’ve vowed to spend your life with.

Conflict Engagement . . . or Not

You may want to stand your ground and tell your in-laws that you don’t appreciate their rudeness. However, this may escalate the conflict to a level that is even worse than before. But you know that you’re in the right, and they’re the ones who are being disrespectful, so you feel the urge to stand your ground. Addressing the issue directly may let them know you’re not backing down, but it can also intensify the awkwardness of future get-togethers.

The other option is to avoid conflict by not resisting when someone says something rude. When your mother-in-law criticizes the way you clean house or prepare a recipe, simply smile and ask her to share her methods and recipes. If your father-in-law makes a negative remark about your career, resist the urge to defend your life’s calling. Maybe you can ask about his career to take the focus off yours. If a sister-in-law or brother-in-law gets snarky when your spouse’s back is turned, change the subject. These people might not get the hint, but you haven’t lowered yourself to their level of disrespect.

Do your best to keep the conversation light and off of topics that are likely to trigger dissent. When you see the other person become tense, be willing to quickly change the subject.

Avoid Public Conflict and Drama

When you’re out in public with your in-laws, try to keep a healthy amount of distance between you to prevent embarrassment in front of others. This may have you sitting at the opposite end of the table in a restaurant, but it may be necessary to keep from losing your cool.

Set Rules and Boundaries With Your Spouse

If you live near your in-laws, have a chat with your spouse and come up with some rules and boundaries that apply on both sides. Here are some examples of some of the rules:

  • All visitors, including yours and your spouse’s family, must call before each visit to prevent invading your personal space. If they live nearby, no one is allowed to unexpectedly drop by.
  • Family members (including you) should never criticize without a solution. Even then, think before you speak and decide whether or not it’s worth it to say anything.
  • Avoid topics that set off fireworks on either side.
  • If you have children, you and your spouse have the final word with discipline and permission, and the in-laws are not to override them. This is where you need to be firm because you are ultimately responsible for your children.

Maintain a Sense of Humor

While you might not want to make in-law jokes with your spouse’s family, you can still have a sense of humor. Don’t take everything someone says to heart. Remember that the most important thing is that the person you married loves you, and that’s what really matters at the end of the day.

Don’t Whine or Play Victim

When you and your in-laws have issues, do your best to keep the matter in the family. Whining, complaining to others, and gossiping about them may create an even worse rift—especially if they find out or catch wind of what you’re saying.

Rather than play victim to the disrespectful ways, stand firm and try to find common ground. If you can’t do that, you might address the issue head-on. Sometimes the problem stems from miscommunication.

Here are some things you might say to lower the level of tension:

  • “This is how I’ve always done things, but I’m interested in hearing a different perspective.” 
  • “It appears that we have some cultural differences. I’d love to hear about your culture, and if you’re interested in mine, I’ll be happy to share.”
  • “You did a wonderful job of raising (your spouse’s name). Thank you for always being there for (spouse).”

Getting Along on Special Occasions

Holidays and other special occasions often stress people out and bring out the worst in them. Go into the situation knowing this, and you’ll probably be able to deal with whatever happens with a cooler head. If you’re hosting a family event, try to incorporate the traditions from your own family as well as your in-laws’. Have a talk with members of your spouse’s family and encourage their input. If they cooperate, that’s great. If not, their disrespect is on them, not you.

Important Consideration

One of the most important things to remember is that you can’t control other people’s actions. If they’re rude, keep your chin up and follow the manners you know are right. These people may or may not come around and give you the respect you need. But if you do the right thing, you can live without regrets.