« All News

In-Laws or Out-Laws?

Image of In-Laws or Out-Laws?

Jessica used to dread weekends because she would be startled out of bed by unpronounced visits by her mother-in-law (MIL) early in the morning. The high-spirited elderly woman would embark on a round of combing through her house for undone chores to finish. Often, Jessica would hear annoying remarks on how the floor should be mopped in a certain direction and how the laundry should be washed and hanged separately. What made it harder was her husband choosing not to draw a clear line with his mother, leaving Jessica feeling trapped for not having the space to express her opinions. The couple ended up having frequent quarrels because of these visits.

If Jessica’s experience felt familiar, you could perhaps be experiencing tense in-law relations due to parenting, housing, and financial issues.

So what can you do?

  1. Keep it clear. Set the priorities right.

Without a doubt, your spouse should take the top priority. This does not mean rejecting your in-laws but putting them in the right place – which is below your spouse.  Every married couple should create your own unique home culture and values.  Each spouse can consider what culture and values to bring over from own family of origin, communicate this with the other spouse, to finally making a joint decision on your unique family culture after discussion.  At the same time, your in-laws and parents must learn to acknowledge your leadership and respect the rules in your house. They need to know when you would need help, and when you would want to manage on your own.

  1. Keep it united. Maintain unity and identity as one couple.

Take the example above. For Jessica to express how she feels on the weekend visits to her MIL, she needs to rope in her husband’s support.  To gain that, she needs to identify and openly share her feelings with him on the MIL. Jessica will need her husband to understand her limits and when to end these unwelcomed visits. That said, she has to avoid pushing her husband to choose between her and his mother, as such an ultimatum only promotes further division.

After successfully securing her husband’s support, Jessica can now consider sharing her thoughts and feelings about the visit to her MIL, and break the news to her MIL together with her husband at a neutral location, gently and with respect.

  1. Keep it near. Have them in your mind always.

Let your in-laws know that they are always in your mind-space. Treat them with respect even though you may feel otherwise. Do not make any critical remarks about them to your spouse. If your spouse criticises them, just provide a listening ear.

There is a lot to consider when relating to in-laws. With open communication and establishing common ground on what keeps your household in harmony, the couple can overcome any odds that come their way.

Contact us at [email protected] if you require family counselling.

Written By: Isabelle Ng, Marriage Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services


Parrot, Les & Leslie (2006). 51 Creative Ideas for Marriage Mentors: Connecting couples to build their marriages. Yates & Yates, LLP Literary Agent, Orange, CA.

The Dos and Don’ts of Dealing with your in-laws, Retrieved 23rd August 2021 from https://www.rd.com/advice/relationships/the-dos-and-donts-of-dealing-with-your-inlaws/ 

Parents-in-laws don’t want to play nice, Retrieved 23rd August 2021 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/mate-relate-and-communicate/201310/parents-in-law-dont-want-play-nice

Unknown author. The In-Law Files. Just Married, p.8. 

Unknown author. (February-April 2013). When the parents come to stay. Real Love Works, p.6-7.