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          Keeping the Peace in Your Extended Family

          February 07, 2005

          Do you have in-laws who are meddling, condescending, disapproving and nosy? If your extended family is coming between you and your spouse, Dr. Phil has advice for keeping the peace.

          Create appropriate boundaries.
          Some in-laws may try to pry or butt into your personal life because no limits have been set for them. Dr. Phil tells one guest whose parents are ruining his marriage, “It is your job to put up a boundary. It’s also your job to build a gate in that boundary, so people that love you in your extended family can come in and out appropriately.” If your loved ones are trying to run your household, you have to step up and be the leader. Let them know that it’s not OK to disrespect your spouse and invade your privacy.

          Don’t be a right fighter.
          Do you always need to be right during an argument? Even if your in-laws are totally in the wrong, the way you react to a situation could inflame it and overshadow your position. “It’s not about being right,” Dr. Phil cautions. “It’s about being happy, and peaceful and tranquil for you and the kids.” Take the moral high ground and learn to compromise during a disagreement.

          Don’t invite the family into your marital problems.
          One of the biggest mistakes that couples can make is sharing their personal problems with their respective families. If all your parents hear is that your husband won’t clean up behind himself or that your wife likes to party too much, they’ll build a case against your partner. You and your spouse may make up, but your folks may still remember the hurt your spouse caused you. “Sometimes, you can burn some bridges that it’s hard to patch later,” Dr. Phil warns. Take it private and keep it private!

          Cut out the middleman.
          It’s not always easy to be open with your extended family. For example, Dr. Phil’s guest, Judi, had a problem with her sister’s spouse, Matt, and constantly complained to her sister about him. But this only caused more tension. Matt didn’t know the extent of Judi’s anger toward him, and his wife felt caught in a tug-of-war. Since Judi felt threatened by Matt’s animosity, Dr. Phil advised her to say, “‘Why don’t you say that a different way because that hurt my feelings’?” He suggested that she reduce the rhetoric and speak to her in-law directly.

          Don’t involve the children.
          When it’s a war of the in-laws, children are often used as pawns. But Dr. Phil says this is a definitely no-no! He warns parents, “It is your job to not allow your children to be in a tug-of-war. It is your job to not allow your children to be manipulated or in any way emotionally damaged by being in the middle of a war zone, because it can burn their little psychological skins.” Grandparents who compete for time with their grandchildren should take heed. Dr. Phil says, “Being in those children’s lives is a privilege. It is not a right … and it is a privilege that you must earn by conducting yourself in what I call a fiduciary role. That means you put the children’s interest above your own.” Because the role of the grandparent is so vital in a child’s life and must be preserved, every precaution should be taken to keep the relationship healthy and loving. Forgive the other person and find some way to support one another.

           

           

          Taking the Next Step
          • Former guest Rebecca learned appropriate boundaries with her mother-in-law.
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