As the Houston relationship counselor, I know that dealing with the in-laws can often be a contentious situation. Unlike your spouse, you don’t have a lifetime of experience learning how to best interact with them.

One of the most challenging personality traits is often passive-aggressiveness. Your in-law may be upset with you but avoid conflict, instead engaging in more subtle forms of “warfare.” You may find yourself the victim of subtle insults or backhanded “compliments.” The in-law may try to manipulate you or your spouse rather than simply asking for something. He or she may be obstructive, engage in sabotage, or play the victim. In some cases, you may not even be aware that this individual is upset with you!

If you don’t have experience dealing with this type of person, it can be a struggle for both you and your spouse, and it can cause serious marriage problems over time.

The Houston Relationship Counselor’s Tips for Dealing with Passive-Aggressiveness

Accept Their Word – Your in-law is sulking or fuming, but when you ask what’s wrong, you’re met with a simple: “I’m fine.” Instead of agonizing over what you could have done to cause the behavior, just take it at face value. Treat him as though nothing is wrong. You’re not a mind reader, so if something’s not okay, let him bring it up.

Be Upfront – A fear of confrontation is often what drives passive-aggressive behavior. By talking to the person directly about an issue, the behavior may actually stop. But it’s important to confront them in the right way – with “I” statements instead of “You” statements. It’s the difference between a complaint and a criticism. This can help prevent it from feeling like an attack, which will likely make the person play the victim.

Make Your In-Law Decide – Often, passive-aggressive people avoid making decisions. That way, they don’t have to accept any responsibility for the outcome, and they have free reign to complain. Instead, ask your in-law to make decisions about the things that he or she frequently complains about, like the time and place to meet up or what to eat.

Check back soon for part two with more tips on how to deal with a passive-aggressive in-law from the Houston marriage counselor.