Codependent In-Laws

Remaining close with your spouse’s parents helps to maintain marital bliss. However, when that relationship becomes strained because your in-laws are codependent, it can cause stress in your marriage 1. Mental Health America defines codependency as a learned behavior caused by a dysfunctional family. Sometimes experts refer to it as relationship addiction because of the tendency to form unhealthy one-sided relationships. Family members can pass down this behavior through the generations.

The Evolution of Codependency

At one time therapists used "codependency" to describe relationships between a spouse, family member, co-worker, sibling and parents of alcoholics and addicts. About ten years ago, this definition grew to entail any relationship that exhibited signs of emotional or physical abuse 1. According to Mental Health America, the term now encompasses any codependent person in a dysfunctional family.


Codependency arises from fear, shame, pain or anger that people ignore and bury. According to Co-dependents Anonymous, it can lead to being controlling, demanding, having low self-esteem, being judgmental, being overly compliant and acting superior to others. Other characteristics include a compelling need for recognition and approval, a fear of being alone, anger issues, a need to rescue people and difficulties making decisions. If any of these characteristics sound like your in-laws, they may be codependent.

How to Cope

Codependent in-laws' overwhelming need to run, control, fix or make excessive demands on your family's lives is their way of dealing with repressed emotions. However, this can wreak havoc with your home-life and your relationship with your spouse. Mental Health America recommends reading everything you can on codependency. The more you understand the process, the better you can deal with it. Drawing and maintaining boundaries for yourself and your family will help you keep in touch with your own needs and not engage in the drama that can be codependency.

Dealing With Outcomes

Sticking to your boundaries can be challenging, especially for your spouse. You may find that you stand alone, and your spouse finds it hard to say "no" to his parents' codependent behavior. To end the enabling of the "taker/caretaker" behavior that defines co-dependence, you may need to seek professional counseling. If possible, you may suggest that your in-laws join you.

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