My in-laws expect me to clean their house and get angry when I refuse. How do I make them stop?

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  • You shouldn't have to put up with being bullied by your in-laws, and there are ways to respectfully tell them their behavior isn't OK.
  • Start with speaking to your partner so you're on the same page about how to proceed.
  • Then let your in-laws know that if they continue to bully you into getting their way, there will be consequences.
  • When it comes to constant judgmental comments, protect your mental health by saying "I guess we just disagree" and moving on from the conversation.
  • Have a question for Julia? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously. You can read more Doing It Right here.
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Since I married my husband about a year ago, my mother-in-law uses every chance she gets to disrespect me.

She'll interrogate me when she doesn't agree with something I did and make rude comments until she gets her way. For the last few months, she's also been demanding I clean her house and offered to pay me to do so.

Usually, my husband and I talk privately about these issues and work through them, but it's become increasingly difficult to stand my ground when it comes to my mother-in-law.

I keep telling her I won't clean her home and explained I don't even clean my own mother's apartment.

My mother-in-law is 84, but she's not ill or bed-ridden. She wakes up, makes coffee, sweeps, mops, and cooks. Then she spends her day talking on the phone, watching television, smoking cigarettes, and constantly finding excuses for my husband to visit her with false needs or illnesses.

My husband already drives several times a week to a different county to run errands with both of my in-laws: grocery shopping, bank, haircuts, taking them to the casinos or whatever choice of entertainment they choose. In addition to this, once a month my husband and I dedicate the entire day to them from early morning to late evening.

My sister-in-law lives with my in-laws and is 40, but she's never asked to do favors for her parents and comes and goes as pleases without a care in the world.

Is there any way out of this situation?

— Miami

Dear Miami,

Navigating relationships with your in-laws can be tricky, especially when they feel entitled to your time and hard work.

And you're right: Your mother-in-law shouldn't expect you to clean her home or act in a way she finds permissible.

It's great that you and your husband already have an open dialogue about his parents. You should consider leaning on him for even more support.

Based on what you've told me, it seems you and your husband are enabling your in-laws' behaviors, and it's made them a bit too dependent on you. That doesn't mean you should never talk to them again, but there's a way to strike a balance that's better for you.

If you haven't already, explain to your husband how all these demands from your in-laws have been making you feel. Are you physically or emotionally exhausted? Do you feel used and unappreciated?

How to talk to your husband about the situation

Once you pinpoint those emotions, you should express them to your husband and let him know you need help, says Rachel Wright, a therapist in New York City.

Wright says you could say something like "I want to create a situation that's good for the entire family, but the current situation isn't that. Can we talk about alternatives?"

While you talk, figure out which of your mother-in-law's words and actions need to be addressed first and come up with a plan that you and your husband agree on. You should pick and choose carefully here, as it's not worth your time and energy to nitpick every misstep your mother-in-law has made.

But figuring out how to set boundaries for those times when she tries to bully you can keep her behavior in check.

How to set boundaries

As Shanta Jackson, a therapist in Philadelphia, previously told me, setting boundaries sends the message that you don't condone disrespectful behavior.

If, for example, your mother-in-law continues to badger you about cleaning her home, you could say, "When you command me to clean your house instead of asking, it makes me feel bullied and used. If you'd like my help, can you ask me first to see if I'm available?"

This way, she'll know to frame her request as a question, not a demand. It also gives you the opportunity to deny the request.

Next steps

If she can't respect your boundary, you can let her know what the consequences — which you and your husband should decide beforehand — will be. For example, you and your husband could say you'll spend less time with her if she continues to boss you around.

As for her pesky remarks and judgments about your choices, those are best left ignored or responded to with a quick "I guess we just see things differently."

Sometimes the high road is what we need to protect our mental health, and there's nothing wrong with that.

As Insider's resident sex and relationships reporter, Julia Naftulin is here to answer all your questions about dating, love, and doing it — no question is too weird or taboo. Julia regularly consults a panel of health experts including relationship therapists, gynecologists, and urologists to get science-backed answers to your burning questions, with a personal twist.

Have a question? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously.

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