Highland Avenue NW in Norton, Virginia is so unremarkable a thoroughfare, it does not even qualify for Google Street View. Surely the good folks of Norton wished it stayed that way, but Bryan Wampler tarnished the area when he murdered his wife and his mother-in-law before committing suicide. Never let your strained relationship with your in-laws take you down the wrong road.

Whose Marriage Is It Anyway?

Marrying your wife necessarily includes some potentially weighty baggage, such as an unpleasant mother-in-law and a gruff father-in-law. Experts writing at FamilyEducation recommend setting firm boundaries from the very beginnings of your marriage:

  1. Maintain a healthy relationship with your wife, placing your own parents and her parents behind and below your own marriage
  2. Keep a united front in dealing with both sets of in-laws
  3. Set boundaries about visits, family events, and holidays by making clear that in-laws cannot drop in unannounced or every day
  4. You set limits on your parents and have your wife set limits on hers; avoid confronting your in-laws
  5. Accept the person in front of you; your mother-in-law is not a TV character, a caricature, or a comic strip, she is a real person with pluses and minuses
  6. Try to be flexible; if you and your wife planned for one thing and your in-laws suggest an alternative, do not turn it down outright
  7. Avoid issues you know will cause arguments or upset feelings
  8. Be kind; you can often defuse a curmudgeon by being unwilling to engage in conflict

Unintentional Infliction

In law, negligent or unintentional infliction of emotional distress refers to personal injury lawsuits in which one party behaves so carelessly, the other party is grievously wounded mentally or emotionally.

Many in-laws stand accused of this behavior. Their behaviors have been cultivated over their lifetimes. They may be unaware of how their voiced opinions, beliefs, and actions are hurting you. Consider:

  • Your backgrounds could be vastly different for racial, religious, cultural, economic, or geographic reasons
  • Your in-laws may have lived and worked in a very tight sphere that excluded even the hint of ideas and beliefs you hold dear
  • Ignorance, rather than malice, may be behind much of what they do and say to you

None of this is an excuse for boorish, offensive, rude, or willfully ignorant behavior. You have every right to stand up for yourself—and your wife will think more highly of you if you do—when your in-laws cross lines.

If your religion, work ethic, culture, ethos, or family background is unfamiliar to your in-laws, offer to educate them (politely and without condescension). Invite them to share in your traditions. That puts the responsibility for strengthening the relationship on them.

Intentional Infliction

When in-laws deliberately attempt to interfere with your marriage, you and your wife must unite and acknowledge the reality. Some signs of this, according to TheMomKind website:

  • They actively talk you down to their daughter
  • They try to exclude you from family events
  • They force their daughter to choose between them and you
  • They triangulate, wedging themselves between you and your wife
  • They routinely invade your marital privacy
  • They overstep boundaries, often treating you and your space as extensions of the nuclear home in which their daughter grew up

Setting Boundaries with Your In-laws

Had enough of intrusive, rude, sabotaging in-laws? You and your wife may be able to set things aright if you follow some of the advice offered at FatherResource:

  • In planning, decisions, and discussions with both sets of parents, always make clear that you love them but you put your wife first
  • Both of you must acknowledge her parents have caused a major rift in your marriage—you two must operate as a team in front of your in-laws
  • Reinforce your first loyalty is to your wife, not your parents or hers (and expect her to do the same)
  • You and your spouse need to make clear you will not listen to insults, slander, gossip, or criticism of either of you, from either set of parents
  • Have and voice hope your marriage can endure
  • Use a marriage counselor or therapist to unburden yourselves
  • Respectfully implement boundaries
  • Make clear that, if necessary, you will work hard to have a good relationship with your wife but you will not have a relationship with your in-laws

Is It Too Late

If you and your wife feel your relationship has deteriorated so far that separation and divorce are looming, you should consult a family law attorney. But before you take that step, consider:

  • Your marriage is about the future; your parents and your in-laws are about the past
  • Allowing in-laws to dictate your future happiness may indicate character weakness in other areas, such as your work, friends, and affiliations—do you really want others dictating to you for the rest of your life?
  • Consider your troublesome in-laws as a gift to help you build patience, understanding, and kindness, says VeryWellMind, who also counsel to look for happy moments, find common ground, and avoid taking things too personally
  • You and your wife may have deeper problems than your in-laws; could you be using them as a misplaced cause of marital difficulties?

If you choose to separate over your wife’s in-laws, you have to consider housing, caring for your kids, and property settlement. For some Virginia men, too, the greatest obstacle to giving up on the marriage is admitting that the mother-in-law won. Are you prepared to admit she was stronger than you?

If you have terrible in-laws, you need excellent attorneys. Contact us today at The Firm For Men, or telephone us at (757) 383-9184. We provide compassionate, zealous defense to Virginia’s men in all aspects of family law, including separation and divorce.