In-Laws

Forward, Susan, Ph.D., with Donna Frazier. Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting your Marriage. HarperCollins, 2001.

Marrying into families brings together two sets of cultures and habits, and these unions are often collisions in at least some areas instead of smooth mergers. Dr. Forward outlines the common in-law pitfalls, why and how they occur, and most importantly, how to rectify and at the very least better cope with these conflicts. Loyalty confusions often surround problems, and universal events (the wedding, the birth of children) heighten the emotional stakes for all parties. Dr. Forward spends the first part of her book explaining the categories of toxic in-laws (the Engulfers, The Rejectors, the Controllers, etc.) with psychological origins and illustrations of behaviors and tactics practiced (not always consciously) by those in-laws. Part two is devoted to not only about how to effectively open your heart to your spouse to the hurt, but also how to talk with in-laws and set better limits in pro-active ways (such as specific, behavior-oriented requests and ownership of feelings) that protect the marriage as much as possible. Most valuable, Dr. Forward emphasizes the relational nature of these dynamics. The in-law who is stressed by his in-laws still has some culpability for the relationship even if his in-laws behave unhealthily. Frustrated in-laws have the right to their feelings and to a level of basic respect, and they also have responsibilities to treat others with a basic respect and civility (and Dr. Forward eloquently, emphatically, and successfully  argues that one can be civil and still enforce critical boundaries for self-esteem and health). If readers are hurt in relationships with their in-laws, or if they see potential areas of contention brewing, this is one to read carefully!

Lerner, Harriet. The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships. Harper Collins, 1985.

                Too much assertion and expression of anger results in women being disavowed, written off, judged, character maligned. Backing down and showing softer emotions of vulnerability in critical settings may lighten the anxiety that comes along at the start of true change and a shift in relational dynamics, but backing down easily bucks lasting change. As a person attempts to change a relational pattern, countermoves by the other person begins. Countermoves derive from protest driven by anxiety about the familiar patterns no longer remaining the same, and they attempt to get the person asking for change to drop the attempt – that is, to restore relationship homeostasis. Readers get a lot of real life illustration of these patterns in action, and she also discusses triangulations that further complicate relationships in a family system. While there may be two people in direct conflict at least to start, there are always other people circling and interacting with both members of the dyad. Other chapters are devoted to becoming interdependent from our family of origin and considering where our responsibility to sooth, problem-solve and offer advice begins (and ends!). Other than a few triangulation illustrations, the book is entirely text. Readers will find endnotes and an index rounding out the book. Lerner demonstrates that using anger as a tool for change and growth is sometimes not only the healthiest course of action, but also the most vulnerable. This book is a great choice for couples and especially women in a partnership navigating anger with their spouse and extended family members.

** See Also Family of Origin, For Better… For Worse

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