When your Partner is Controlled by Parents - Dealing with Controlling In-laws

It is natural for every parent to want the best for their children. However sometimes parental influence crosses the boundaries of well-meant concern and turns into a controlling relationship, one which leaves a negative impact on other romantic relationships. If your find the same thing destroying your partner’s love for you, here are a few things you can do.

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It is not about you.

The first thing to recognize about a controlling parent is that it is not about you. Your partner’s parents may try both subtle and overt ways to send the message that you are simply not good enough for their child – you do not earn as much or do not cook well enough. Every time you try hard to win their appreciation, you will find them setting the bar just a little bit higher. So instead of wearing yourself out to reach their perpetually unattainable standards, relax and accept that their complaints about you are not a reflection of your own qualities but rather an expression of their own insecurities and fears about losing control over their child who is incidentally your partner.

Try to share the parent’s concern.

Many times, a parent’s controlling behavior may not be out of spite towards you at all – it may simply be an extreme reaction from a concerned mom or dad. In fact mothers are more likely to fall into the role of an interfering parent. Since she has spent the better part of the last decade raising your partner and advising him/her on everything, she feels she is entitled to continue to point out to her child  - even though he/she may be an adult now - what may or may not be good for him/her. And if for some reason she does not approve of her child’s choice of a mate, she is likely to advise him/her on it out of sheer habit rather than out of real malice. So if you find your partner’s mom doing something similar, try to share her point of view. You can do this by having a little talk over a latte or out on a shopping trip. If she is merely an over-worried mom, she will see that you both have a wonderful thing in common – your partner and her child.


See if you can isolate the cause.

However most of the times, a controlling parent’s motivations ares are usually not so simple. One of the most common reasons why parents ruin their adult children’s romantic relationships is because of a fear of loss of control. The adult son or daughter may be the parent’s only or most important source of financial or emotional support and once that child find somebody else to love, the parent fears that he/she is going to lose control over that source. This is much more common in certain Asian cultures where lack of social insurance in poor societies makes adult sons the only source of income for parents in their old age. As a result, when sons wish to have their own family, the fear of loss of financial support leads the parents to control the new relationship, as in the case of arranged marriages and joint families and if unable to do so, ruin it altogether. In western cultures however, the focus of a controlling relationship may have more to do with the emotional gratification that a parent finds in influencing and manipulating the child – like by dictating bed-times, modes of dress and handing out punishments. The sense of power attained by determining every decision in the child’s life – even when the latter has reached adulthood - may afford the parent an unnatural satisfaction. But once the adult child enters a romantic relationship, the parent is bound to lose some control over the former’s personal life and this may cause the parent to try and ruin the relationship. An unhappy marital relationship may be another reason why parents wish to control their children’s relationships. Your partner’s mom or dad may have been dissatisfied in their own marriage and thus may have transferred the focus of all their emotional expectations and gratification on to your partner. The parent perhaps cannot bear to see your partner really happy with you – something he or she never was in his/her marriage – and therefore keeps looking out to cause trouble in your relationship.

Have a talk.

The only way to save your relationship from being controlled by your partner’s parents is to have a frank discussion with your loved one. It is no use trying to make the parent see reason when the latter’s actions are the result of a dysfunctional past. Rather talk with your partner about how your relationship should be only about you two and not involve others. However be careful not to blame the parents outright or use an accusing language in regard to them since this will only compel your partner to defend them and not get your discussion anywhere.

Look within.

Look within your own relationship to see if there are any issues which may be making your partner worried or unhappy. When people are distressed, their first instinct is to turn towards their parents – something which they have been conditioned to do through their childhood. It is only when your partner is unable or unwilling to sort out relationship issues with you that he/she will turn to parents, thus giving the latter an opportunity to control your relationship. So resolve any underlying problems that you may have and keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Once he/she realizes that the only workable solution lies within, he/she is less likely to get the parents involved.

The first relationship that human beings develop in their lives is with their parents. The love, security and learning provided by them are crucial for the children to develop into well-adjusted members of the society. However when this guidance becomes a binding force, it is not only likely to ruin the individual’s life but all personal relationships as well.