How to Live Peacefully With Your In-Laws – The Atlantic

Tough conversations provide opportunities for pain and conflict, but also for growth and healing, “Dear Therapist” writes.

A man and woman, each trapped under a dogpile of human bodies, reach out to each other and hold hands
Bianca Bagnarelli
7:00 AM ET

Editor’s Note: With Lori Gottlieb on book leave, Rebecca J. Rosen, the editor of “Dear Therapist,” is filling in as The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” archivist, pointing readers to some of Lori’s most beloved columns.

A marriage is the union not merely of two spouses but of two families—each with its own beliefs and ways of being in the world. The resulting relationships can be some of life’s richest, but, for a lot of people, they can also be some of the most confounding. The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” columnist, Lori Gottlieb, receives many, many letters about in-laws and the various challenges they can present.

The troubles go in all directions. Parents struggle with their sons- and daughters-in-law; those sons and daughters struggle with their parents-in-law—and also with their brothers- and sisters-in-law. As Lori writes in one column, “You say this is an issue with your husband and your son-in-law, but as you describe it, the issue involves the entire family. Each of you, in your own ways and to various degrees, seems to feel resentful.”

Relationships between two people are complicated enough on their own. But in-law relationships happen through someone else. These are relationships that, by their very nature, tie multiple people together. Any conflict will touch all of them, and they’ll all bring their own feelings to it.

Lori’s task in advising her readers about in-law relationships is to guide them through this complexity. She writes about how to deal with many different participants in a family system and how to have tough conversations with each of them—not only the in-law causing whatever conflagration is at hand but also one’s own spouse, and sometimes other adults involved too. Each conversation requires effort to hear and be heard; each provides opportunities for pain and conflict, but also for growth and healing. And that growth and healing can go a long way: Because these relationships involve so many people, any improvement won’t touch solely one person and their in-laws but the whole combined family—for generations to come.

illustration of a house with a crack in its shadow

Dear Therapist: I Had a Great Relationship With My In-Laws. Then Everything Changed.

They are judging me for not being a good mom, for not having a job, and for not losing my pregnancy weight fast enough.

illustration of a strained relationship between in-laws

Dear Therapist: I Can’t Stand My Sister-in-Law

Everything about her rubs me the wrong way.

illustration of a mother protecting her child

Dear Therapist: My Sister-in-Law Said the Most Painful Thing to Me, and I Can’t Let It Go

She told me she would never want a child like my daughter.

illustration of family strife

Dear Therapist: My Daughter’s Family Asks So Much of Us Without Giving Anything in Return

Any time I want to talk with my daughter about an issue between us, she tells me she doesn’t have time and it’s not a priority for her.

illustration of a wall of family portraits with angry epxressions

Dear Therapist: My Family Takes Offense at Everything My Husband Does

I can’t help but think he’s the cause of the growing rift with my relatives.

illustration of wedding strife

Dear Therapist: My Mother-In-Law Didn’t Mean to Ruin My Wedding, but I’m Still Angry With Her

After a weekend of not speaking to me, she collapsed and cut my wedding night short, and I don’t know how to deal with the resentment I still feel.

illustration of a child scribbling on the wall while a grandparent looks on disapprovingly

Dear Therapist: I Don’t Approve of My Daughter-in-Law’s Parenting

I think my grandson needs some help, but I’m not sure how much advice I’m allowed to give as a grandparent.

Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.

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