stop controlling behavior

Difficult In-Laws:
How To Stop Controlling Behavior Without Confrontation

When In-laws Interfere

If you have been struggling to try to improve your relationship with a difficult in-law you know how painful having to put up with an overbearing or controlling extended family member can be. Although abusive in-laws can create terrible problems for adult children, those who control or manipulate in more subtle ways can have a very negative effect as well.

Because few people want to get into a confrontation with a disrespectful family member, they often feel helpless to try to create healthy changes in these relationships. But when adult children don’t put up the necessary boundaries that remind their in-laws that they are adults in their own right, they often find their in-law’s parental grip on them is too comfortable a pattern for them to let go of on their own.

What most people wish they had is a way to stop the controlling, manipulating or even abusive behaviors without risking the relationship. Although this may seem impossible to achieve, you are about to find out that there is a way to stop the negative behavior without disturbing your standing with your in-law.

The method you will be using is from the Nicola Method, which is a series of non-confrontational techniques that work to lower conflict in any relationship. You will be given language that has been developed to work behind the scenes to allow you to change your relationship with your in-law into a respectful one, even if your in-law has been acting out towards you for years.

But before you learn how to stop the negative behaviors of your in-law, let’s take a quick look at why they behave the way they do.

Can They Help It?

Many people wonder if their in-law could control themselves if they wanted to. This is not an easy question to answer. They could stop this behavior, but controlling other people is a psychologically addictive behavior. This means that once they start using control of others to make things go their way, they probably won’t stop on their own.

What Makes Them Do It?

Some people want to know why in-laws would want to treat them so poorly. Here are a few of the temptations controlling in-laws find so hard to resist:

1. It makes them feel strong and powerful.
2. They get to do things their way.
3. It makes their family life more comfortable for them.
4. It gives them better access to your spouse.

Although there are benefits, those who use control over others end up paying a high price. Trying to control someone is a surefire way to erase any goodwill and in many cases will destroy a relationship with a well-meaning daughter or son-in-law.

How Do They Do It?

Now let’s take a look at the method your in-law uses to try to control you. The way most in-laws control you is indirectly, by making comments that show they do not approve of your choices in hopes that you will do things their way instead.

Some in-laws control indirectly and some do it in very obvious ways. But there is one thing that all controlling in-laws have in common. They break rules of relationships by trying to get you to live life according to them. When an in-law tries to get you to live life according to their beliefs, there is an unspoken but very important rule that they are breaking.

How To Stop Controlling Behavior Using The Nicola Method

The technique you will be using to stop controlling behavior is from the Nicola Method, a series of techniques developed to give you language that takes you behind other peoples’ defenses. The sentences provided here are ones developed for use with controlling people. They have been modified slightly to work with controlling in-laws. Let’s take a look at one of these sentences.

In the following scenario, a mother-in-law is pretending to help her daughter-in-law but is really trying to get her to do things her way. The daughter feels that what her mother-in-law is implying is that she is not a very good cook.

She will use the sentence from the Nicola Method, “When you said that it seemed like you thought…” and then add the words, “I wasn’t a very good cook,” to the end of the sentence like this:

MOTHER-IN-LAW: When I bake those kind of cookies, I always keep them in the oven for three minutes longer. That way they don’t fall down in the middle like yours always do.

RESPONSE: When you said that it seemed like you thought I wasn’t a very good cook.

There are a few possible endings to this scenario. She will either take back the insult by telling her daughter-in-law she didn’t mean it that way or she may change the subject out of embarrassment. Either way she will have learned her lesson and will think twice before making a comment like that again.

Let’s go over that sentence one more time.

“When you said that it seemed like you thought…”

Then add what you think the real insult was,“I wasn’t a very good cook.”

It is very important that you say the first part of the sentence the way it is written here. You would not want to say, “Are you calling me a bad cook?” You also don’t want to say, “When you said that you were really saying I was a bad cook.” Both of these versions are confrontational and will cause conflict.

The exact sentence construction developed for just this situation when said in a casual tone of voice will stop the conflict and get your mother-in-law to take back the insult in a way that other sentences will not.

This simple sentence might not seem at first glance like it has enough power to stop controlling behavior, so to give you a better understanding, let’s take a closer look at how it does its job.

In order to zero in on the mechanics of this technique, we need to take a look at several types of controlling in-laws, each with a different motivation. We will be looking at three of the most common types to see how each of them reacts to the sentence you will be using to stop a subtle or indirectly controlling in-law.

The In-Law Who Just Can’t Resist

1. The mother-in-law who just can’t resist telling you what you should do was probably frustrated because she believes her cookies are good, and you should want yours to be good too. She knows she shouldn’t meddle, but she can’t help letting the comment slip out.

When you suggest she may have been thinking you were a bad cook, she will realize how her comment sounded from the outside and feel honestly remorseful. She will probably take back the insult or re-frame it in a more tactful way. When you use this sentence every time she slips, she will become more aware and learn to restrain herself from this type of behavior.

The Heat of the Moment In-Law

2. The mother-in-law who insulted you in the heat of the moment probably has issues of her own that affect how she feels about you. She may have insecurity and problems with self-esteem that leave her chronically irritated.

Let’s say she notices a small flaw in your cookies. Insecure people often turn against weakness in others in an attempt to distance themselves from their own weakness. However, she may just as easily have been in a foul mood and was simply taking it out on you.

When you use your sentence with the heat of the moment in-law you will simply be calling her on her rudeness. When you call her on it she will probably admit that you aren’t a bad cook. She may even tell you she was in a bad mood and didn’t mean anything by it.

The Monster-in-Law

3. The third in-law is a woman sometimes referred to as the monster-in-law. Although she may not be a monster, she does have some very serious issues. She may be involved in a conscious campaign to destroy your self-esteem and possibly your relationship with your spouse as well.

When you use the sentence with her, she will not want to expose her true motives to you. She will probably simply change the subject. However, when you use this sentence each time she tries to attack your self-esteem, she will abandon that particular tactic.

Here are a few more real-life scenarios that will show you how to use the sentence, “When you said that it seemed like you thought…” to stop controlling behavior of your in-law:

MOTHER-IN-LAW: Well, I see you decided to go for a “casual” look tonight.

RESPONSE: When you said that it seemed like you thought I didn’t know to dress myself appropriately for social occasions.

Again, the in-law who truly wants you to look as good as she does and can’t quite help saying a little something about it will realize that her comment was rude.

The in-law who was behaving in a condescending way due to insecurity will be called on her rudeness and will have to admit you didn’t deserve it.

The emotionally abusive in-law will not be willing to expose her real motives to you, and she will probably back away from the comment by changing the subject.

Here are a few more examples. This one is with a father-in-law.

FATHER-IN-LAW: I can see by your choice of jobs that money doesn’t matter to you.

RESPONSE: When you said that it seemed like you thought my profession might not be good enough to meet your standards.

People who use hidden insults are rarely brave enough stand behind them when they are brought out into the open. Chances are very high he will take it back.

Here is another one:

FATHER-IN-LAW: I see you are using that “free” child-raising style I have been hearing about.

RESPONSE: When you said that it seemed like you thought I wasn’t doing a good job disciplining my children.

Again, if you put them in a position where they have to admit to what they were implying, they will usually do some serious back-pedaling.

Here is another example with a mother-in-law.

MOTHER-IN-LAW: Wow, it looks like you used Shabby Chic to decorate in here.

RESPONSE: When you said that it seemed like you thought the furniture we bought makes us look poor.

She may have been thinking it, but she probably wouldn’t dare make that kind of insult to your face.

difficult in laws stop controlling behavior

Getting Started

If your in-law is an indirect controller like the ones we have been discussing, you will use the sentence: “When you said that it seemed like you thought,” and then add on what you think she was really saying. The best way to get used to using this sentence is to write down your in-law’s past controlling comments to you and then for each insult figure out what they were really saying and write as the second half of your sentence.

When you have a sentence for each insult, you will have a blueprint for how to stop controlling behavior because most controlling in-laws use the same type of insults each time they control.

In order to help you with your sentence endings, here are some examples to get you started:

“When you said that it seemed like you thought…”

“I wasn’t a very good daughter-in-law.”
“I wasn’t doing a good job raising my son.”
“I didn’t have very good taste in party decorations.”
“I didn’t care about dressing my daughter warmly.”
“I didn’t know how to take care of my finances.”
“I am not a competent businessperson.”
“I am not a responsible person.”
“I don’t know how to take care of myself.”
“I am not very intelligent.”
“I am not a caring person.”

If you want a sentence that you can simply memorize and use while you are learning how to make your own, here is a fully formed catch-all phrase that will let you stop controlling behavior in almost any situation. In fact, you may very well find out that by the time you are ready to use your own sentences your in-law has stopped the controlling behavior entirely just with the use of this catch-all phrase.

Here is the sentence you can memorize and use by itself while you are learning how to make your own:

“When you said that it seemed like you thought I did something wrong.”

To show you how this sentence works, here are the same scenario we have already looked at. This time we will use the catch-all phrase, “When you said that it seemed like you thought I did something wrong.”

MOTHER-IN-LAW: When I bake those kind of cookies, I always keep them in the oven for three minutes longer. That way they don’t fall down in the middle like yours always do.

RESPONSE: When you said that it seemed like you thought I did something wrong.

You will find the catch-all sentence works perfectly well until you come up with your own phrases.

How To Stop A Controlling In-Law Who Plays Hardball

Although most in-laws use the indirect method to control, there are a few who are willing to control you outright. These in-laws don’t care if they are following the rules. Their type calls for a stronger type of sentence. If your in-law has no qualms about telling you directly that you are doing things wrong when you don’t do things their way, here is the sentence you will use. This sentence should only be used with the toughest in-laws, those who aren’t afraid to issue you a direct order:

“When you said that it seemed like you thought I should do things your way instead of mine.”

Be sure to try to say it very casually and only use it on these very aggressive types of controller. This sentence loses its power with indirect controllers and can cause conflict.

In-Laws Who Use Controlling Actions

The last type of in-law we will be discussing is the one that uses actions instead of words. When your in-law makes decisions for you that only you should be making, you can use this sentence. Here is the first part:

“It seems like you made the decision for me…”

Then end the sentence with whatever decision they made for you. Here are a few examples:

When your mother-in-law buys a present from you to your spouse you can say:

“It seems like you made the decision for me on what I should get my husband for his birthday.”

When your father-in-law gives your teen-aged son who just got his license a car without discussing it with you you can say:

“It seems like you made the decision for me as to whether my son should be driving his own car or not.”

If your in-law asked you where you wanted to go for your birthday and then took you to their favorite restaurant instead you can say:

“It seems like you made the decision for me which restaurant I should go to for my birthday.”

Now that you have been given a sentence for all of the types of in-law controllers, it is up to you to figure out which sentence is right to use with your in-law. To make it easier let’s go through a quick review that will show you which sentence is the right one for your situation.

How to Stop Controlling Behavior – Review

Take a moment to think about which type of controlling your in-law engages in. If they engage in more than one type of control, start with one and then move to the other after you have mastered the first sentence.

Is your in-law controlling you with:

1. Indirect comments that imply you should do things their way.

2. Direct comments to tell you outright you should do things their way.

3. Actions they take to try to force you to do things their way.

The Indirect Controller:

If you chose the first type of in-law, the indirect controller who uses subtle put-downs, use this sentence and then add what you think they are implying.

Start with: “When you said that it seemed like you thought…”

Tack on to the end of the sentence whatever they were implying such as “When you said that it seemed like you thought I wasn’t a very good cook,” or, ”I wasn’t any good with money,” or, “I am not a responsible person.”

While you are learning how to make your own sentences use this pre-made one which you can memorize and say any time they make a controlling comment:

“When you said that it seemed like you thought I did something wrong.”

The Direct Controller

If your in-law tries to control you directly by telling you what to do, use this sentence each time they make a comment. Remember, this sentence is only for direct controllers:

“When you said that it seemed like you thought I should do things your way instead of mine.”

The Extreme Controller

If your in-law takes your decisions into their own hands as a way of controlling you, simply say:

“It seemed like you made the decision for me that…”

Then add what they decided for you such as, “It seemed like you made the decision for me to get my hair cut,” when they tell you they scheduled an appointment for you or, “It seemed like you made the decision for me that my daughter is responsible enough to own a dog,” when they show up with a live birthday present without discussing it with you.

Final Words

You now have all the tools you need to stop a controlling in-law in their tracks. The only guidelines you need to remember are do not use derogatory words in the second part of your sentence. In other words, make sure you don’t say, “When you said that it seemed like you thought I was a bum,” or a slob or stupid or a jerk. These highly-charged words can start conflict, and you do need to steer clear of them.

If your in-laws’ behavior goes beyond simply being controlling and you feel they may be abusive, please refer to the techniques shown in my four-part series Can We Stop Emotional Abuse.

Related Posts:

What The Emotional Abuser Knows That We Don’t And How It Can Hurt Us

How To Stop Emotional Abuse Through Learning The Games Abusers Play

Defense Mechanisms Part 2: How To Stop Defensive Behavior

Defense Mechanisms: When We Hurt Those We Care About

Disarming Defense Mechanisms Triggered By Shame

Defense Mechanisms Triggered By Humiliation

If you would like to learn the Nicola Method so you can put an end to the high conflict situations you may be experiencing, click on this link to the welcome page of this website where you will find the resources you need.

If you want to try out some of the basic techniques of this method for free to see if this method is right for your situation, you can learn them from an intro guide flip-book here or a PDF version of the intro guide here.

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