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In-law relationships

In-law relationships

Indian/asian family sitting on sofa or couch over white background

Why are in-law relationships difficult?

There can be several reasons why are in-law relationships difficult? But the core reasons narrow down to expectations and boundaries. One should set healthy boundaries not only in in-laws relationships but in all relationships. Moreover, unmet expectations can ruin any kind of relationship, but in the case of in-laws relationships, things are even more complicated.

This article is all about in-law relationships. Here I’ll discuss types of in-laws relationships, why they are difficult, how you can make them better and also some books that can help you. So let’s get started.

In-law relationships meaning

In-law relationships fall in a special category within kinship systems and have not been studied widely. On a broader note not kin relationships are described by either blood ties (consanguine) or marriage ties (affinal). We know that blood relationship are bound by genetic lines; on the other hand, marital relationships are bound together by law and code.

Here is a definition to describe an in-law relationship meaning:

“An in-law is someone who is a relative because of marriage, like your husband’s sister or your wife’s father. You can refer to your spouse’s entire family as your in-laws. In-law originally meant “anyone of a relationship not natural” or “not by blood.”


Types of in-laws

Now you are familiar with in-law relationship meaning, let’s have a look at some types of in-laws relationships are as follows:

Parents in law

Parent in law is someone having a legal affinity with another by being the other spouse’s parent. In many cultures, some responsibilities and duties are imposed on people who are connected via this relationship.

Fathers in law

A father in law is the father of the spouse. Those two who are father in law to each other’s children will be known as co-fathers in law, and if there are grandchildren, they will be co-grandfathers.

Mothers in law

Just like the above mother of a spouse is mother in law and mothers-in-law of each other children will be called co-mothers in law and if there will be grandchildren, they will be called co-grandmothers.

Sibling in law

Other types of in-laws are siblings in-laws. Spouse of your sibling, person who is married to the sibling of your spouse or sibling of your spouse is a sibling in law.  Usually, sibling in law is referred to as sister in law for the female sibling in law and brother in law for the male one. Sibling in law is also referred to as the reciprocal relationship among someone’s spouse and their sibling’s spouse. It can also be referred to as:

Brother in law: Brother of one’s husband or wife

Sister in law: Sister of one’s husband of wife

Why are in-law relationships difficult?

Why are in-law relationships difficult? Relationships are not easy, and when it comes to in-laws relationships, these are even more difficult. Tension in the relationship of the spouse with in-laws is associated with increased marital dissatisfaction. This is a sad reality but do in-laws really hate the spouse of their children? And if they don’t, why is it so? Lets have a look at some of these reasons:

You are not someone your in-laws wanted would have liked for their child

Why did you choose your partner? Were you attracted physically to them? Was it their creativity, good sense of humour, Intelligence or something else that attracted you to them? The traits based on which we feel attraction towards our spouse may not be the same as our parents appreciate in an ideal partner for us.

While we appreciate qualities like an exciting personality, a good sense of humour, or physical attractiveness, our folks usually appreciate qualities like strong financial background, a decent family background, a good education and ethnic or religious background. Because of this huge difference in our choices, we may pick mates for ourselves whom our parents would not have decided for us. Because of this, our in-laws may dislike us from the very start and sometimes it is difficult to overcome.

You are way too attractive.

Why are in-law relationships difficult? You may find it ridiculous, but in most cases, the biggest conflicts in mates preferences among parents and adult children occur in traits linked with physical attractiveness like good physical fitness, looks or height.

According to the evolutionary theory, we appreciate those traits in our spouse that because we want good genes in our genetic line. But our parents may not appreciate this, and they have plenty of good reasons not to like a partner who is physically attractive. The same evolutionary theory also says that attractive women are more likely to think about leaving their relationship for those who are more attractive than their current partner. They show more interest in alternative partners. Just like that, those men who are more physically attractive do not invest themselves in caring about future offspring and in some cases can be more problematic according to research.

Unconscious attempt of mothers to discourage long term relationships of their sons

If you ask a mother does she want a stable, healthy and long term relationship for her son, she will say yes.  But during most of evolutionary history, long term relationships were not desirable for men. Both women and men have different mating strategies for ensuring that their genes are transferred to the next generation.

Evolutionarily speaking, for man the best strategy was to pass on genes to the next generation in a series of shorter relationships with different females. On the other hand, it is not necessary that women will get benefit from a similar strategy, so their best strategy would be to find someone who is interested in long term relationship and provide care for the child. But in case of interference of a mother in law in the relationship of her son and daughter in law, it may reflect her unconscious desire to encourage her son to spread his seeds and some mothers take a boys will be boys stance which is extremely detrimental.

This is quite simply not right, and she should encourage her son to be in a committed relationship. These mothers have different thoughts about their son in law and want their daughters to be in the long term and committed relationships. In some cases, mothers-in-law can be a cause of weakened marriage.

There is a competition for attention and resources

History suggests that when multiple women are reproducing within a family at the same time, their offspring have a lower chance to survive, may be because the food was divided among more relatives. In-laws conflict may arise because of increased competition for resources among daughter in laws and mother in laws.

Nowadays, these kinds of conflicts are not quite as common in terms of resources, but still, mother in laws perceive that they are somehow competing with their daughter-in-laws in terms of attention and time of their sons. Some researchers also have suggested that older women feel neglected because of their poor relationship with their partners. They also feel like they will be excluded by their son/daughter and their new partner.

Distancing yourself from in-laws

Distancing yourself from in-laws is not a good thing. It will be terrible for your spouse because they love their parents. You will never want your spouse to do the same with your own parents. We cannot deny the fact that relationships with in-laws can be a bit tricky, but the dynamic can vary from family to family. Some families accept new spouses with warm hearts and open arms, but in some families, they are seen as a threat. If you have a good relationship with your in-laws, consider yourself lucky, but if it is not like that, you can still work on it for the sake of your spouse.

However, it is one thing to have different opinions and another for the relationship with in laws to be  toxic. If your in-laws do not like you but do not try to hurt you, it is fine, but if their behaviour is toxic, you don’t have to handle this. Here are some signs that indicate your in-laws are toxic, and you should think about distancing yourself from in-laws:

They try to turn you two against each other.

If your in-laws always try to turn everything into a terrible game of “she said, he said” it is a big sign that they are trying to bring negativity in your relationship with your partner. Honestly, it can cause some horrible confusion in your relationship. This can weaken your marriage terribly.

What you can do: The solution to this problem is very simple; you and your partner need to act like a unit because you are a couple. It is a fact that you cannot control or change what your laws say. But it is a fact that you can control your reaction to what they do. Do not take anything they tell you seriously as they might be manipulating the facts, but do have a conversation with your spouse about what they have told you. Never let it get in your head. Moreover, always wait for your partner to explain what he has to say to you.

They try to interfere in your decisions as a couple.

There are in-laws who are way too involved and pushy but in an endearing and loving way, and they don’t mean to hurt you. It can be annoying a little, but it will not be detrimental to your relationship. But if your in-laws try to involve themselves in your decisions and want that their suggestions in your decisions to carry as much weight as yours, there is a problem. Whether you are discussing about buying a new home or talking about when you should start having a family, no doubt, they can give their opinion, but it is not their place to force you to act upon that.

What you can do: Here, you have a few options. If you want to directly deal with this, it would be better that you and your spouse talk to them and explain that their thoughts and suggestions are valuable to you and you appreciate their input, but this is the decision you two should make on your own. In the case you want to maintain some peace with them make sure you are diplomatic and respectful, it would be better to not think much about what they say; simply smile and nod your head and decide what you think is better for you as a couple.

They make you feel bad about yourself intentionally

Your in-laws may not like you without any reason. Unfortunately, just because they are adults, that does not mean they will act like grown-ups. Instead they do and say things that will hurt you. They will try to get under your skin intentionally, and you will feel like you can’t do anything about it.

What you can do: I know this situation is very difficult for you, and you may even feel like you are not good enough for your partner. But you need to keep in mind that it is not about you. You are a good human being, and there is nothing wrong with you. It will not be easy for you to spend time with someone who is continuously hurting your feelings. And if you try to explain to them that their actions and words are hurting you, they will think of you as an overly sensitive person. In this situation, distancing yourself from your in-laws is the best option for you. This is especially imperative when you have tried to communicate to no avail that you want the negativity to stop.

They do not respect your privacy.

It has become their habit to drop by unannounced. In a joint family system, things become even more complicated. Your in-laws may never give you space to have your own private time. This is the most terrible thing. Your mother in law may try to hijack every Sunday along with your father in law when they know that it is the only time when you two can enjoy your private time.

What you can do: It is not easy to tell someone to not visit often as it may sound standoffish and rude. But in case your in-laws are actually impeding on your pace, and private time it might become necessary to do so. Explain to them that you appreciate them for spending time with them, and it seems loving, but it is also important for you and your mate to spend some time alone. It is wise that you get your spouse to communicate this to alleviate pressure.To make it not rude, coordinate and set a date every week or month when you can spend some time together as a family.

They pretend that you do not exist.

There are all kinds of horrible in-laws out there. But in-laws who act like you do not even exist are the worst among all. They talk about you like you are not even here. They will ignore you at all kinds of family events. Most of you will prefer to be treated rudely rather than treating you like you don’t even exist.

What you can do: Well, honestly, if they act like you do not exist, you should do the same diplomatically; there is nothing wrong with that. Distancing yourself from them would be best. But if you want to be on good terms with your in-laws, it would be better to have one on one conversation with them. They would not be able to ignore you if it’s just you and them. If you feel that nothing gets better even after having this conversation, let them know you would not be coming around much anymore. You do not have time to be mistreated and ignored. This can be extremely damaging for your mental health.

How to deal with sisters-in-law?

After marriage, you become a part of an entirely new family, and you will never want to upset them in any way. Whether it is necessary or not, you want to feel accepted in this new family. If you have a sister in law, you might want to have a good connection with her as she is your partner’s sibling, knows your spouse well and may have been through similar situations in life. It would be like having a friend. But most of us face a lot of problems with her, why is it so? There are evil gossips, ego struggles, comparisons  and individual expectations etc. etc.

Having a healthy relationship with sister in law can be a good thing for your own relationship. Here is how to deal with sister in law:

Understand being her best friend is not necessary.

The first thing you do wrong is trying to force it. You want everyone to like you, including her, so you try so hard to be her best friend, but that is not the right thing to do. Understand that your family dynamics are shifting, so if you give each other space, it will prove beneficial for you for a long time. Just because you are not best friends does not mean your relationship is not healthy. Be open within your own and her comfort zone. Moreover, there also should not be awkwardness; try to keep things light.

Misunderstandings are common

There always are misunderstandings in a new relationship. And being a person getting married to someone’s dear sibling can make things even more complicated. But if when there is conflict, it will be better to give her the benefit of the doubt; it is the most initial step towards developing a healthy relationship with your sister in law. Did she say something that crossed a line? Try to process it by assuming she did not mean to disrespect you. Try to be direct in your communication.

Respect her relationship with your spouse

How to deal with sister in law? This is the most important thing. Every relationship is incomplete without respect. A survey was conducted on over 126000 couples, and the result showed that 46% of women and 42% of men were unsatisfied in their marriage because of their in-laws. It is not a big surprise. Family can influence your relationship positively, negatively and neutrally. The quickest way to create problem in a relationship is by trying to divide your partner’s loyalty. Accept your sister in law as someone your partner loves and respect their relationship, as this existed long before you came into his life.

In-law relationships book

Books are excellent in helping you learn something new and practically using it in real life. In-law relationships book can help you in dealing with your in-laws in the best possible ways.

If you are wondering what the best in-law relationships book is, let me share some examples with you:

In-Law Relationships: The Chapman Guide to Becoming Friends with Your In-Laws

It is a book by Gary Chapman. He has shared seven principles for encouraging those who are struggling in their relationships with in-laws that affect spousal relationships. If these principles are followed in real life, the result will be healthy relationships with in-laws.

In-law Relationships: Mothers, Daughters, Fathers, and Sons

It is a book by Geoffrey L. Greif and Michael E. Woolley. In this book, they have described healthy ad successful relationships with in-laws. They have also covered distant and troubled relationships with in-laws. This book will help in reading your relationship with in-laws carefully and helping repair these relationships if needed.

In-law relationships quotes

Here are some best In-law relationships quotes:

  • “A mother gives you a life; a mother-in-law gives you her life.” ― AmitKalantri, Wealth of Words.
  • “My feeling about in-laws was that they were outlaws.” ― Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
  • “[S]ince the dawn of civilization, getting in-laws has been one of marriage’s most important functions.” ― Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered
  • “True oneness in marriage can not be experienced if you allow in-laws to penetrate the circle. If necessary, let them become out-laws. It is crucial that you establish boundaries” ― DeBorrah K. Ogans, How Do I Love Thee: Food for Thought Before You Say “I DO”Marriage.
  • “I stayed with my wife’s mother during the war. I understood the war because I fought with my wife’s mother.” ― Vaslav Nijinsky, The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky.
  • “As much as I like my sister-in-law, I didn’t want her two cents. This was a conversation for siblings, with in-laws as invested observers.” ― Elisabeth Egan, A Window Opens.
  • “Intimacy in marriage should be between the intimate spouses. Family members should not insert themselves unnecessarily.” ― Mitta Xinindlu.
  • “Having a baby changes the way you view your in-laws. I love it when they come to visit now. They can hold the baby, and I can go out.” ― Matthew Broderick.
  • “It’s great if the in-laws themselves put up boundaries. But if they won’t; it’s up to their grown kids to do it and enforce them.” ―Phil McGraw.


In-law relationships can be very complicated sometimes because not every family accept new family members with open arms. They are scared sometimes because they are not sure if this new person is good enough for their loved one. They can be mean sometimes. But if you are willing to work on it, you may get success in building a healthy relationship with them. In case after all your efforts you feel like there is no progress, it would be better to keep them at a distance or have family therapy

So this was all about in-law relationships; I have tried my best to share useful information with you. I hope so you will find it helpful in building a healthy relationship with your in-laws. HAVE FAMILY THERAPY NOW.

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