Ask Amy: In-Laws Bully Family Members

By Amy Dickinson | June 4th, 2021

He's never gotten along with his in-laws – but they may have taken it too far


In-laws are bullies to son-in-law Image

Dear Amy: My wife and I have been married for 21 years, and my in-laws have never treated me particularly nicely, much less as a member of the family.

My wife dreads seeing them, but fears angering her mother; I have tried to stay out of the way. I’ve seen this dynamic as the “price of admission” for marrying my wife.

Since I come from a close, noisy, Jewish family, I had taken their approach to me as just a cultural difference, since they’re Episcopalian and deal with each other differently.

In the last month, however, we’ve seen them twice and I learned from our kids (19 and 15) that the kids don’t like how their grandparents treat them.

They also reported to me that for years their grandparents have insulted me in front of them and my wife (when I’m not around).

I’m sad that my kids feel their grandparents don’t treat them well, and I’m beside myself with anger and sadness that my wife would let her parents insult me behind my back and in front of our kids. (The most recent time this happened, my oldest son felt he had to stand up for me).

I don’t keep secrets from my wife, but I haven’t reported what my kids have said, as I don’t want to betray their confidences.

At the same time, I am incredibly hurt that she would not defend me.

What ideas do you have for addressing a betrayal that I only know about through our kids?

– Hurting Husband


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Dear Husband: First, I think you should pat yourself on the back for raising children who will stand up for others. Your kids are also of the ages where (in my opinion) spending time with their grandparents should be optional.

You don’t note whether the kids swore you to secrecy, but they were involved in a family incident that included their mother and you. They handled it, and then they told you about it, because now they want you to handle it, too.

This dynamic involves your entire family, and you have a responsibility to discuss it with your wife.

If your kids said to you, “We don’t like the way our grandparents treat us, but please don’t say anything to Mom,” you should have responded, “Whatever hurts you, hurts me. But I cannot keep this from your mother, because we are a team.”

Yes, your wife should defend you. There should be clear consequences for anyone treating you or your children with disrespect.

But before you bring this up, keep in mind that she is afraid of her parents. This behavior is not a function of being Episcopalian (far from it!). They are bullies, and they scare her into behaving in a way that I doubt she is proud of.

I once witnessed an outrageous bullying incident. People just stood there, frozen. Freezing, or fleeing, are typical reactions.

In the future, lead the way and stand up for yourself and your family.

Stay calm, stay cool, and brook no argument. Your kids will be proud.


In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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