Navigating toxic in-laws – Sun Media

“Very often, toxic in-laws don’t have very much going on in their own lives,” says therapist Dr. Susan Forward. (Shutterstock)

Sexy Typewriter, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

Mother-in-law jokes are some of the oldest in the book. But what if your relationship with your in-laws is no laughing matter?

In a missive that recently went viral, a British bride-to-be was less than thrilled to receive an e-mail from her future mother-in-law, informing her of her lack of “grace” and manners.

“It is tragic that you have diabetes,” the mother-in-law wrote. “However, you aren’t the only young person in the world who is a diabetic, you do not need to regale everyone with the details of your condition or use it as an excuse to draw attention to yourself.”

In the same e-mail, she criticizes her future daughter-in-law’s eating habits, sleeping habits and wedding plans: “No-one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity-style behaviour.”

The bride-to-be forwarded the email to her friends and it was picked up by the media, prompting much international debate. Was the bride-to-be actually rude and selfish? Or was the writer a toxic in-law in the making?

Bestselling author and internationally recognized therapist Dr. Susan Forward sides with the bride.

“The mother-in-law’s behaviour is a real red flag,” says Forward, author of Toxic In-laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage and Toxic Parents. “I think she is judgmental and controlling and highly critical, even though she tried to put it rather graciously. If I were on the receiving end of that, I’d be furious. I’d really have second thoughts about marrying into that family, because she’s not going away.”

When Matthew and Linda (not their real names) from Toronto were planning their wedding, Linda’s mother tried to run the show.

“Our wedding was a nightmare,” recalls Matthew, who wishes that he and his wife had just eloped. “We had chosen a venue which she quickly nixed, saying that the bathrooms weren’t fancy enough for her friends. Every single plan we made she nixed; even the song we chose as our first dance.”

And she didn’t stop giving orders once the wedding was behind them.

“My mother-in-law always interferes with our private lives. She will tell us who we should be friends with, what we should buy and why something that we’re doing is a waste of time or money.”

While he has never been verbally abused by his mother-in-law, Matthew resents these power struggles.

“Very often, toxic in-laws don’t have very much going on in their own lives,” Dr. Forward explains. “They don’t have a lot of friends. They often turn to their children for all of their nourishment and also for their sense of identity. A woman who goes through a lot of her life identifying herself as a parent or a mother and suddenly feels that she’s losing that identity can fight tooth and nail to get it back.”

Both Matthew and Linda understand that she means well, and they do their best to keep her happy. But Linda also supports and defends Matthew, never allowing her mother to judge or criticize her chosen partner to his face or otherwise. This is exactly what Dr. Forward says needs to happen in order for the marriage to thrive.

“He or she needs to say to their parents, ‘This is my partner and I love this person. I’m not asking that you love them, but if you can’t treat them with minimum courtesy and respect, we can’t have a relationship.’ The stakes are very high in these situations.”

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