Does your spouse get mistreated by his own parents or siblings?
Does your husband’s family time include listening to his father tell him all the ways he doesn’t quite measure up?
Did your wife spend the holidays entertaining siblings who seem to have forgotten how to clear a plate, bring a salad or operate a dishwasher?
The hostile in-law gets most of the attention in pop culture, with films such as “Monster-in-Law” and “Meet the Fockers” highlighting the tensions that can arise when the relative-by-marriage fails to meet the expectations of a mom or dad.
Many of us this past holiday season may have been less concerned with how our in-laws treated us, and more worried about how we did or did not respond when they criticized or misused our long-suffering spouses or partners.
“That is a little challenging, to say the least,” says clinical psychotherapist Deanna Brann, author of “Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law.”
The good news is that there are approaches to handling the situation and you, the spouse of the family punching bag, can often make a difference, experts and observers say.
“Having a supportive spouse or partner helps a lot,” says Fred Telegdy, founder of the blog “I Hate My In-Laws!” (ihatemyinlaws.com). “You can say: ‘You know, we don’t have to go to your family’s house. We can go on vacation.’ ”
If you want to help your spouse deal with the problem, start by asking questions, Brann says. Does the situation even bother your mate?
“The beauty of talking to your partner is your partner now feels like they have an ally. All those years they might have felt they were alone,” Brann says.
If your spouse doesn’t see a solution and wants your help, you can suggest setting boundaries.
A sample script for your spouse: “You know, Dad, the next time you put me down, I’m going to leave the room.”
Most dads will figure out that, if he wants to spend time with his son, he has to change a certain behavior.
With family freeloaders, Brann suggests a similar no-nonsense approach. If your spouse wants to act, agree that he, or both of you, will make specific requests for help from houseguests, such as watching the kids while you shower.
If your spouse doesn’t want to act, you probably shouldn’t go it alone, Brann says.