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Difficulty living with inlaws

Community Member

I have been married for two years with a one year old daughter. I am a successful person (PhD and financially secure) and my friends and family consider me to be a caring and considerate person, but I am not able to get along with my in-laws. Part of the issue us cultural differences, my wife is Chinese, and I have not passed many of the requisite Chinese manners. Part of the issue is a fundamental difference in values. (Father in law values wealth, image, strength, competition, I value simplicity, creativity, collaboration. My father in law called off our wedding several days before it was scheduled. Our marriage went through about a year later without his blessing, and he continues to think poorly of me.

My in-laws visit six months every year and live in our guest bedroom. My wife is in her mid thirties and this has been her practice for her adult life. Her parents, and particularly her father, have no real live beyond their daughter. At least no aspirations, goals, or other long term engaging activities. My wife always envisioned continuing to live with her parents like this her whole life. We had some discussion of this arrangement before we got married, and she agreed to have them live with us for shorter periods, but we didn't discuss the issues fully, or establish clear expectations for after our marriage.

However, nothing has changed, and they continue to visit for six months every year. My father-in-law varies between ignoring me open hostility, but usually stays on the ignoring range. My mother-in-law is a bit easier to live with, with her temperament oscillating between disapproval and approval, but at least she doesn't ignore me. Whenever they visit I grow slowly more distant to my wife, and whenever they leave our relationship slowly repairs. But even when they are gone I sometimes think about how long until they come back and I start to feel trapped and anxious. I asked my wife to have them stay in an apartment when they visit, but she says that if we do that she would have to live with them, because they can't care for themselves where nobody speaks Chinese. This situation is really depressing (although I don't know that I am "depressed."

I feel like I am stuck with two bad choices. I want to be free to be myself with my wife and daughter, but that is very hard under the oppressive weight that comes with my in-laws. I also want to respect my wife's needs and culture, especially given her fear that her parents may pass soon.

1 Reply 1

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi MrCatfish

Wow, I hear your frustration and the frustration is completely understandable. You sound like a really thoughtful guy who's kind of living with a contract you never really agreed to. I supposed there's a plethora of solutions but it's a matter of which one is best for everyone.

  • If you're in a position to do so, considering a move might be the answer. I live in a house with a fully self-contained bungalow out the back. When anyone comes to stay with us, we all continue to maintain a bit of privacy and independence. Seeing your father-in-law is big on the money side of things, could it be suggested that they buy the bungalow part of the property (as an investment their daughter could inherit)? You could always do a bit of research first by looking at a few properties which to show your wife so as to get her excited about the possibility.
  • If you've been appointed as the person who has to 'suck it all up', a little disappointment may be inevitable. Negotiating a new appointment, with consideration being given all round, is not unreasonable. In order to achieve this, your wife is going to have to tweak the 'loyalty' program she has running in her head. Asking her to modify this program is not unreasonable, in regard to managing the situation with respect. Maybe you could ask her what 'loyalty to parents' means to her and then work on redefining it together in order to reach a realistic mutual agreement. I help both my elderly parents (who live separately from each other). I'm no more than a 5 minute drive from both of them. They live in retirement communities, for extra support and peace of mind.
  • Having a look into retirement accommodation may be an idea. Perhaps there are some time share places specifically aimed at certain cultural communities (such as the Chinese community). Your in-laws may actually end up finding it more exciting to live among people who have the same cultural beliefs, interests and language abilities.

Anyhow, just a handful of ideas to consider. Yes, I bet you wish it was this easy. My brother's wife is Chinese and they live in China most of the year. He still has some of those old Australian mental programs running that clash with Chinese programs. He won't entirely give up some of his pre-existing beliefs although he is willing to negotiate, with the idea that it cuts both ways.

Take care of yourself MrCatfish on your quest for negotiation