When Your Spouse Won’t Go to Bat For You – In-law Issues

Recently I suggested that I would be writing a post on how to set boundaries, but decided to focus on one common boundary problem—intrusive and critical in-laws. 

in-law-problems

Let’s say you have a mother-in-law who makes a habit of criticizing you to your spouse or in front of others.

But let’s up the ante and say that your spouse does nothing to stop her.

He doesn’t confront his mother. He doesn’t interrupt her. He doesn’t suggest a sidebar with her to respectfully address and confront her offensive behavior. He just lets it continue and basically puts his stamp of approval on the whole disrespectful game that his mother is playing.

So, if this is you, how should you deal with this issue?

Though you might be tempted to “give your mate a taste of his own medicine” by calling him out in front of his mother or others, you should avoid this “tit-for-tat” game. In fact, to do so is like the “pot-calling-the-kettle-black.”  And even though, it might feel good in the moment, it won’t work. It will only backfire on you and in a humiliating way for all to see.

So, guess who’ll end up looking like the “bad guy”? It sure won’t be your mate!

4 Steps for Addressing the Issue . . .

1. Surrender your anger or fear to God. 


Trust him to “convict” your spouse or MIL. It’s not your job to convince your spouse of his guilt. Your job is simply to communicate your boundary to your mate, then leave the ball in his court.



2. Seek the perspective and support of a counselor, pastor or objective friend.


Nuff said.

3. Plan out “The Talk” 
with the help of your objective counsel.

Write out what you want to say and practice it (perhaps with a godly and same-sex friend) until you feel ready to have “The Talk” with your hubby.

4. Bite the bullet and have . . . “The Talk”

You’ll want to begin by acknowledging your part in the situation, even if your only contribution was to withdraw or harbor resentment. Doing this helps you gain empathy from your mate and extends the much needed “olive branch” that enables him to drop his defenses and really listen to what you have to say.

Express your boundary with this formula:

I feel ­­(describe your feelings) when you (describe your spouse’s hurtful behavior and not what you think is his motive) and would like for you to ­­­­(describe desired change). Is that possible?

If you find that you’re not able to amicably discuss the issue using this formula, then you might want to seek the help of a recommended, Christian counselor or pastor to guide you as a couple through this process.

Final thoughts: In this particular situation, I believe the wife shouldn’t initiate this conversation with the MIL. First of all, the MIL is basically acting as “intruder” on this marriage relationship, so the husband and wife should work through this problem together and without the MIL’s input or involvement.

Once you and your husband are unified on the boundary you need to set with your MIL and your husband feels ready to approach her, he should be the one to address this issue and set the boundary with her. It would be best if you went with him to address this, but he’s the representative and advocate for the both of you to his mother. In the same way, you are the representative and advocate to your own parents on your husband’s behalf.

Above all, you must present a united front whenever the boundary setting conversation takes place. If your husband goes rogue on you, do NOT address this in front of your MIL. Simply remain gracious and start these steps over again with your mate until he is able to communicate well the desired boundary.

 

What would you add to the steps I’ve suggested?

 

What are some ways that I can pray for you in this effort?

 

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  • Kimberly

    WOW. There is SO MUCH concentrated in this particular issue. Thanks (again!) for suggesting practical steps toward working through it.

  • messymarriage

    Thanks so much for always coming by to encourage me, Kimberly. And you won’t believe it, but I wanted to add more! haha! Well, I guess I’m just impatient to speak to this subject. 🙂

  • messymarriage

    This is a great subject for a future post! I’ll try to address it there since there’s not enough time and space here in the comment section. And if you want a quicker answer, get my email at my contact page. Thanks for stopping by!

  • alexis @finding prose

    This is SO good. Wish I had read this when I was first married. It would have saved me some energy;).

  • Something we all can relate to I’m sure. Great and important advice!

  • This hits the nail on the head! We all like to feel like our spouse is in “or corner”. And when they act in a “neutral” position, it can actually feel more like a blow from the enemy! Thanks for setting this up in such a way that puts the job back in the Lord’s hands…where it should be. Great post!

  • messymarriage

    Me too! Didn’t have a clue back then! haha! Thanks for stopping by and saying, Alexis!

  • messymarriage

    Thanks for your encouragement, Christina! 🙂

  • messymarriage

    Thanks for your continued encouragement and support, Donna. You certainly always “have my back!” 🙂

  • Emily Wierenga

    it is SO hard not to say anything, to trust God to convict… will you pray for me in this? i need self-discipline. esp. over my tongue. with my hubby. friend, you have taught me so much here… i am so grateful for you in my life. bless you. e.

  • rboerner

    I had a situation over Thanksgiving when I invited my dad and his wife up from Louisiana. To keep this short – my dad and my husband have had many issues together so this was an uncomfortable situation to begin with but my husband was willing to let them come for a visit since my dad has been in poor health and I really wanted to see him. Anyway, my dad expressed to me some anger towards Chris and how he wanted to take him outside and “take care of business”. (Yes, he has some anger issues & that’s the way he handles things) I was extremely worried because my father is not one easy to calm down. As I’m praying for God to help me with words, I felt him leading me to tell my dad that Chris is my husband and if he was going to start a fight with him I would have to choose Chris. (Now this was very hard to me because I’ve also dealt with some feelings of abandonment from my father so I want to please him) The situation ended well – my dad actually calmed down and told me he understood and respected my decision. Very hard for me to do – but man with God’s help and His Almighty power I am once again AMAZED! Thanks Beth for helping people to understand what “healthy” means

  • Kim

    Wise words for a complex issue loaded with emotion! Surrender-absolutely. Have the talk with the husband, not the MIL: I think that is my favorite piece of advice. It really is an issue between the married couple, because he is supporting and siding with his parents against his wife. Ow.
    Thanks for your easy to follow steps when a wife finds herself in these shoes. A great reminder as well of the kind of MIL we never want to be when our children get married!

  • Elizabeth

    Oh boy, I remember some tense in law problems in our early years of marriage. Now we’re in the season of life where only one of our parents is living. The time flies, and in the end you realize you love them and will miss them, even though they weren’t always so easy to get along with!

  • messymarriage

    I definitely will pray for you in this and more, Emily! Thanks for being such an open book about your life and struggles. You’ve inspired me so much and thank for your kind words to me as well! *Hugs*

  • messymarriage

    Wow! What an incredible story, Becky! Thanks so much for sharing it here and for your continued support and encouragement. It really means a lot to me. 🙂

  • messymarriage

    You are more than welcome, Kim! I know it can be confusing knowing what’s healthy and what’s not. I’ve not always known along the way but when I have learned something, I like to pass the insights on to others. Pay it forward–and give God the glory! Thanks so much for your encouragement!

  • messymarriage

    Age certainly brings not only wisdom but perspective. 😉 Thanks for stopping by and weighing in, Elizabeth!

  • Anna-Marie

    Thankfully I don’t have this problem but you give very good advice. Thanks for sharing on the NOBH

  • Genevieve Elias

    I’ve been married to my husband for almost nine years and have constantly battled this very issue. It is a sore spot in our marriage, and I think one of the main reasons is I have done the exact opposite of what you suggest. I forgot to put my anger and fear in the Lords hands. I know that through prayer I often am able to receive peace – this should be one of those time. I will definitely do that the next time I am in the same space as my MIL. I need to let him deal with it, after we have had a talk in which we first begin with a a word of prayer. I’m gald that I decided to stop by this blog tonight. I will definitely be coming back for more!!!

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