Being a Great In-Law

One of the biggest sources of conflict between South Asian couples is the perceived over-involvement of in-laws. This belief that in-laws are “meddling” in the relationship is a perception that both men and women alike seem to feel. In the book “Multicultural Couple Therapy,” Mudita Rastogi notes that in her counselling work with South Asian couples in the United States, it was rare for the couples to not mention in-law problems, and that it was common for them to cite the in-laws as the main source of the relationship problem. Women typically mentioned feeling judged or persecuted by in-laws, while men felt in-laws meddled in their relationship with their spouse.

No doubt that there are many well-meaning in-laws out there who don’t even realize the destructive role they play in a couple’s relationship. Unfortunately, there are also some in-laws that know they meddle – and don’t seem to care – that are also out there. What they all – both the well-meaning and the other types – need to realize is that their actions are making their child unhappy – given that child is in a relationship marked by conflict (and who can be happy in such a situation?). And this is made even worse when there are grandchildren in the picture – given they are exposed to the conflict. So these in-laws need to ask themselves – do they want to expose their children and grandchildren to such unhappiness – when they are in a position to do differently?

And really, it doesn’t require much to be great in-laws, as opposed to meddling in-laws. What it ultimately takes is letting the couple deal with whatever issues they have without getting involved. As adults, these couples have the ability (or will eventually learn it if given the chance) to deal with issues in their relationships on their own. If an in-law is always stepping in to try and “fix” things, then the couple doesn’t have the opportunity to deal with it – on their own, the way they should. So, while having a connection to extended family is important in South Asian culture, so too is the need for couples to learn from each other as well as to have the opportunity to grow individually and as a couple.

Of course, there’s another side to this issue of “in-law meddling,” – where some in-laws may see no other option but to get involved.  For example, there are some people in marital relationships who are abusing alcohol or drugs, abusing their spouse, abusing their children, or are engaged in illegal or immoral acts – in that case, when their child or grandchildren’s safety is at stake, then in-laws definitely have a right to get involved – even if it’s perceived as being “meddling” by the person engaging in such activities.  Obviously in such a situation, whatever complaints that person has about their in-laws isn’t important because they are doing wrong – and it may be the in-laws who are most capable of making that person accountable for their actions.

So if you want to be a great in-law, always ask yourself what the reasons are for you to get involved in your adult child’s relationship. If you’re doing it for good reasons – keep it up, but if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons – STOP! Remember, being a great in-law will strengthen your family BUT being a bad one may end up destroying it.