CBT and Dealing with difficult In-laws

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I had an interesting experience with a client recently who came to see me for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in London. I knew we had to address ‘relationship’ and how CBT could help, but it was not CBT for Couples we needed to talk about. The issue this client had was her relationship with her family especially her in-laws. 

Here is some advice that might be helpful to you how cognitive behavioural therapy can help.

You love your partner/spouse, but their family drives you crazy.  You put up with them as best you can, but end up rowing with your partner afterwards. You can’t agree about visits to/from the in-laws, get stressed beforehand and have a screaming match later.

Sounds familiar? If it does, you’re not alone, and CBT can help.

CBT and interfering in-laws

This is the classic problem this client had was increasing low self-esteem related to her spouse’s parents ‘Whatever I do doesn’t feel good enough’. How you work, keep the house, bring up the children all come under the scrutiny of your partner’s family, which can leave you feeling criticised. It was a matter of my clients increasingly feeling of low self-esteem which CBT is useful to help regain to build your confidence.

One way CBT recommends is to short-circuit continual unwanted advice is to seek it actively.  People usually offer advice that you haven’t asked for because they feel left out.  Of course, we all think that our way is best, and that may be a part of it.  But there’s no harm in asking your mother/father/brother/sister-in-law how they would do things.  You don’t have to follow the advice you’re given, but people feel much better about themselves (and you) if they feel that you’ve listened to them.

My in-laws are always “dropping in”

If your in-laws make a habit of coming to see you uninvited and this doesn’t suit you, you need to explain gently to them how you’d prefer to arrange visits.  This is a good opportunity to use the CBT “xyz” formula.  For instance, “When you drop round unannounced, I feel that I need to spend time with you/give you my attention, when I may need to do other things.  So, I’d prefer it if we arranged in advance when you’re going to come so that I can give you more time.”

You may wish to discuss with your partner what you both thinks is reasonable about visiting.  You may not want to see your in-laws more than once a month, but your partner may want to see them every day.  If this is the case, CBT recommends you both need to put yourselves in the other one’s shoes so that you can work out a compromise that’s fair to both of you.

CBT and roping in your partner

If things are unbearable, CBT recommends you consult your partner about how to handle the relationship.  Don’t get into a row – no-one likes to be piggy-in-the-middle between two people that they love but who don’t love each other. You can with success use the CBT ‘xyz’ formula on this occasion, as well.

Just explain where the difficulties lie and see if you can work out solutions together.  The chances are that whatever annoys you about your in-laws may well have irritated your partner at some point.  But they are bound to feel protective to their family so don’t rush in with all guns blazing. 

Work out some ground rules between you and your partner that you can both be clear about to each other and your in-laws.  And remember that your partner probably finds your family just as difficult as you find theirs!

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