How to Successfully Cope with In-Law Anxiety
According to Terri Apter, psychologist from Cambridge University, approximately 75% of married couples experience frequent and extreme in-law conflicts (Fulbright, 2013).
Are you experiencing in-law conflicts that cause you to experience anxiety/panic attacks? If the answer is “yes,” it may be time to re-evaluate your coping strategies. Truth-be-told, some in-laws can be quite…taxing, while others can be downright terrible. Sometimes it is a clash of personalities, while other times it’s just a plain old clash of wills. Regardless of who is to blame or what the reason is - these conflicts can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. In other words, if you have to mentally prepare yourself before visiting or talking to your in-laws, it is time to make some changes in the way you communicate with them, and how you respond to them when you feel attacked, criticized, and/or judged. It is important to note that if your in-laws are having issues with you that have no warrant, it is their problem – not yours.
Do not allow their hurtful comments to rattle you; instead turn to your support group (i.e. close friends and family) for suggestions on how to effectively cope with in-law anxiety. Most of all - stay calm! Remember, your in-laws are going to be a part of your life forever, so don’t be too hasty to burn bridges (especially if you have children or plan to have children). Try to work through your issues, but don’t be afraid to ask for help, if you need it. You are not alone in your dilemma. In fact, many married couples experience in-law conflicts that lead to anxiety. If you are wondering how to successfully cope with in-law anxiety, you have come to the right place. This article will teach you how to cope with anxiety, so that you can improve your in-law relationship, and banish your uneasy feelings for good!
Determine the Cause
If you want to successfully cope with in-law anxiety, you will first need to determine the cause of your fear. For instance, if you experience heart palpitations, headaches, profuse sweating, a shortness of breath, and/or chest pains at the mere thought of talking to, or visiting your mother-in-law, try to figure out why you feel that way. Did your mother-in-law do something or say something that caused you to feel uneasy or apprehensive? If so, when did this event occur, and what exactly did she say or do? Does your mother-in-law make you feel welcomed, loved, and supported when you are in her presence, or does she make you feel self-conscious, depressed, or unworthy?
Once you figure out what is triggering your in-law anxiety, you will be able to address it with your spouse and in-laws. So, how should I address it? Well, start by “getting in touch with your feelings.” In other words, determine if your concerns about your in-laws stem from actual negative experiences, or “stories” that your spouse and/or his or her siblings have shared with you. For instance, does your mother in-law constantly comment that your house is unclean, your food is bland, your appearance dowdy, etc.? If so, these comments are triggering your anxiety. Talk with your spouse, and develop a plan to address your concerns with his or her family. Be respectful, but also express to your in-laws how they are making you feel. Nothing will ever get resolve, if you don’t at least try to resolve it!
Voice Your Concerns
Next, you will need to voice your concerns, as mentioned previously. This may be one of the hardest things you will ever do, but it is necessary, if you want to eliminate your in-law anxiety. First, talk with your spouse about the situation – they are his or her parents, after all. Share your concerns, and any negative experiences you have had with his or her parents. Ask your spouse to talk with his family privately about your concerns – before you talk to them. If that does not resolve the issues, sit down with your spouse and develop a plan to talk to his or her family about your anxiety. If your spouse dismisses your concerns or sides with his parents (even though he or she knows that they are causing you psychological distress), then you may need to re-evaluate your relationship.
Your spouse should be supportive towards you, especially if his or her parents are being unkind to you (for no reason).When you confront your in-laws, with your spouse by your side, be respectful, and refrain from making accusatory statements, rather try to phrase it as: “I feel…” “I would like….” In other words, stay away from language like: “This is all of your fault.” “You are mean and hateful,” or “You want us to break up because you feel that I am not good enough for your child.” If addressing the issue with your in-laws does not help, it may be beneficial for you to limit your contact with your in-laws to phone calls, texts, or emails. In addition, you may want to restrict your in-laws from visiting your home, at least until the animosity dies down. Most importantly, do not “force” your spouse to choose between you and his or her parents. Why? Well, because it is mean.
You have to remember that your in-laws are your spouse’s parents. He or she loves them, and although you don’t, you cannot interfere in their parent-child relationship, or you may be the one that gets burned. Explain to your spouse that he or she is free to visit his or her family at their house, and he or she is also free to call them on the phone, but you will not be visiting or calling them until they show you more respect. Give it some time, and try to resolve your issues with your in-laws again. If that does not work, it may be best to keep your distance until they approach you in a friendlier manner.
Hash It All Out
Another difficult step that is necessary for successfully coping with in-law anxiety is to hash it all out. In other words, confront your fears. Fears only have power over you, if you allow them to fester. If you confront them head on, they lose their power, and you are freed from worry, doubt, and anxiety. If your spouse has tried to talk to his or her parents on several occasions to no avail, gather up your courage, and schedule a time to talk to them on your own or with him or her by your side. Plan to meet your in-laws in a public place, so that the situation can be contained, if emotions run high. Try to stay as calm and respectful as possible as you share your concerns with them. In addition, once you have finished explaining to your in-laws how they make you feel, allow them to respond. Do not interrupt them, and try to see their perspective, to a certain point – they love their child and only want the best for him or her. You may believe that you are the best; however, parents tend to be extremely critical towards spouses, even when the criticism is baseless.
In addition, you may one day be the same way with your own child or children, so try to look at the situation from an objective point-of-view, if possible. Once again use “I” statements like” “I feel anxious when I am around you because…” “I have heart palpitations when you come to my home because I feel that you are constantly judging it.” Or, “I feel very inept when you question my parenting skills. We love our children very much, and only want the best for them. It would be a tremendous help if you could support us as we navigate through the “ups and downs” of parenthood.” Once you and your in-laws have expressed your concerns, make an agreement to work together to resolve the issues. Explain to your in-laws that a healthy relationship will not only benefit you and them, but also your children and their grandchildren.
Remain Calm & Collected
Lastly, you will need to remain calm and collected, when speaking to your in-laws. It is important that you are able to remain calm in the face of in-law stress. Staying calm and collected will help you ward off anxiety and/or panic attacks. If you are unable to hold back your anxiety in the presence of your in-laws, remove yourself from the situation, take a couple of deep breaths, close your eyes and imagine a “happy place,” and return to the situation when your anxiety subsides. It is important to note that if you start to feel faint, or experience heart palpitations, profuse sweating, breathing difficulties, severe headaches, chest pains, or severe fatigue following an encounter with your in-laws, contact a physician or mental health professional for an evaluation.
- Dr. R. Y. Langham
Family Education. (2015). Ten basic rules for dealing with in-laws. Retrieved from http://life.familyeducation.com/in-laws/family/48061.html?page=2
Fulbright, Y. K. (2013). Have in-law issues? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mate-relate-and-communicate/201310/have-in-law-issues
Kennard, J. (2009). Stress & the in-laws. Health Central. Retrieved from http://www.healthcentral.com/anxiety/c/1950/85468/stress-laws
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