In-laws move in disagreements follow

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

October 23, 1994|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"Ever since Tom's parents moved in with us, our marriage has disintegrated," fumes Leslie, 30, who recently went back to her full-time job as a school librarian, now that her daughter is 1 year old.

Leslie has tried to pretend that what her mother-in-law says and does is of no consequence to her. "I didn't want to sound selfish," she explains, "but enough is enough."

It was actually Leslie's idea to have Tom's parents move in. "They were living in California, and they had health problems," she explains. "I thought that if they were here, we could take care of them. Besides, by pooling our finances, we could buy a larger house."

Tom's parents arrived the weekend Leslie took her daughter to visit a friend. "When we got home, I thought I'd walked into someone else's house," she recalls. Her mother-in-law had moved the furniture around, rearranged the kitchen cabinets and hung a sign on the refrigerator that said: "Alice's Kitchen."

But the redecorating isn't what disturbs Leslie the most. She can no longer tolerate the demeaning, underhanded comments her fTC mother-in-law makes or the way she complains to Tom about everything from Leslie's cooking to her housekeeping:

"Instead of supporting me, Tom says I'm too sensitive. Or he'll announce, 'Mom, you'll have to teach Leslie how to make pot roast like this.' That makes my blood boil." Also hard to tolerate is the nonstop screaming between mother and son. "They yell and swear at each other all the time," she continues.

Tom is baffled by Leslie's unhappiness: "I thought Leslie was relieved that Mother was there to cook and clean, since she's working full-time."

Nor does he understand why his wife can't let his mother's comments slide. That's what he's always done. "Look, I know my mother can be difficult," Tom continues, "but I learned a long time ago that it's easier to placate her than fight her."

Making peace with in-laws

"It's not easy for two grown-up generations to live under one roof," notes Jerron Adams, a marriage and family therapist in San Antonio. Tom and Leslie feel guilty that the arrangement isn't working, but they're unable to discuss it without exploding. What's more, Tom is still largely unaware of how upset and hurt Leslie is by his mother's remarks as well as by his own screaming matches with her.

Leslie and Tom are not alone. As more young couples move back home to live with parents, and as elderly parents move in with adult children, these problems often result. Whether the new living arrangement is for a month or a year or longer, it's essential to establish rules and be flexible enough to change when those rules must be bent. The following suggestions can ease the tension:

* Expect problems. When problems with in-laws loom, take immediate steps to talk about each partner's feelings and perspective.

* Set clear limits. Limit-setting involves a multitude of detailed rules that show respect and courtesy for everyone.

Think about: What time is dinner and who is in charge of cooking, cleaning up, grocery shopping? Who does the laundry? How are expenses to be shared? How late at night will you accept telephone calls or keep the TV on? Will we always eat dinner at the same time? And what kind of personal information will you share?

* Don't blame each other for your problems with in-laws. Once Leslie told Tom how his mother's actions offended her, he was more conscious of making comments about his mother's cooking and came to his wife's defense when his mother criticized her. Leslie can't change her husband's relationship with his parents, but she can enlist him in setting limits on their behavior.

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