Dealing With A Partner's Overbearing Family? Here's What To Do

If you've ever watched a sitcom, you've seen the common trope of the intrusive, overbearing mother-in-law. She shows up without calling, walks in without knocking, and expects to continue running her son's life long after he has left the nest. What these pop culture depictions often miss is the fact that this lack of boundaries often runs through the entire family — an overbearing mother was probably raised by an overbearing mother and has probably raised overbearing daughters.


Can men be overbearing family members? Of course. However, because of the pressure society puts on women to monitor and nurture the emotional state of the people around them, they are the most common offenders, according to a study published in the American Sociological Review. Entering one of these families via your partner can feel intimidating; living your everyday life affected by their choices can feel draining, frustrating, or even enraging. The following guide offers compassionate advice for those struggling with a partner's overbearing family. 

Learn assertive communication

The way you communicate with an intrusive family member can make a major difference in the outcome of the interaction. Your best chance at success lies in learning to be more assertive in your communication style. Assertive communication expresses your needs clearly and calmly — it does not allow for aggression or passivity. Depending on how your partner responds to their overbearing family members, they may need to spend some time learning to communicate their needs assertively as well.


"I" statements are a cornerstone of assertive communication. They express your needs and feelings without sounding accusatory and evoking a defensive response. For example, saying "I feel micro-managed" to your overbearing sister-in-law will probably have a better result than telling her, "You're always trying to micro-manage me." Focus on your personal feelings, experiences, and needs and express them in a neutral, matter-of-fact manner. This provides fewer opportunities for your overbearing in-laws to divert the conversation and start an argument.

Identify your own issues

The way you respond to family members who insist on being highly involved in your partner's life depends greatly on your own family dynamics. If you also have a family full of relatives who feel the need to insert themselves into your life and decisions, it might take a while for you to even realize that there's a problem with your in-laws. On the other hand, if your relationship with your own family is distant, detached, or non-existent, even a normal amount of familial involvement might feel unnatural or invasive.


Your feelings are always valid, but it's important to take the time to understand how the lens of your past experiences can color your view of what's happening now. Before you attempt to address your concerns about the nature of your partner's family dynamic with them or their relatives, do a deep dive on your own. Once you've had some time to process what comes up for you, it's time to speak up.

Communicate with your partner

Before you consider confronting your in-laws, have a heart-to-heart conversation with your partner. Utilize "I" statements to explain how their family's actions make you feel, using specific examples. You might find that they feel overwhelmed by their family members' invasive approach as well and just don't know how to speak up for themselves. You may also be the one to open your partner's eyes to the fact that their family dynamic is less than healthy.


Hopefully, by the end of the discussion, your partner understands where you're coming from and is prepared to set boundaries with their family. If you find that your partner is not open to change, you may need to put some serious thought into re-evaluating the relationship — unless you're willing to live with the way their family currently operates for the rest of your life. If your partner tells you that they aren't willing to stand up to their family, believe them. 

Plan an intervention

If your partner is receptive to your concerns about their family, the two of you can plan out the best way to approach the issue together. When you're faced with a serious conversation where emotions are likely to run high, it's always an advantage to plan ahead. If there are only certain family members who tend to overstep, plan to speak to them at a time when the rest of the family isn't around.


Make a list of the behaviors that you and your partner find problematic along with a list of recent examples. Practice how you'll word your complaints by role-playing with each other. Since your partner knows their family members better than you do, they can offer valuable insight into how each of them is likely to respond to certain scenarios. Once you feel confident that you can present a united front and express your concerns in a firm, compassionate manner, invite the offending relatives for a dinner or meetup.

Set healthy boundaries

Before you meet up with your partner's family to air your grievances, decide on a list of healthy boundaries you and your partner would like to implement to support a more functional dynamic. If you've never set boundaries before, you might feel like you're being demanding. However, offering a solution to the problems you're pointing out is likely to be seen as more reasonable than a list of complaints with no suggestions for improvement.


Don't be afraid to get specific. If you're partner's aunt currently stops by your home daily, setting a hard limit of one visit per week is a reasonable and healthy boundary. Stating that certain aspects of your relationship — like your sex life, for instance — will no longer be discussed in any capacity is also a reasonable and healthy boundary. Just be sure that you're willing to follow through with enforcing every boundary you set, even if that means turning away Aunt Janet at your front door or getting up and walking out when Uncle Jim cracks a bedroom joke.

Seek professional help

If you and your partner can't seem to see eye to eye on how to get through to his family or which issues to prioritize, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's time to throw in the towel on the relationship. If you've each assessed your own issues and the relationship and have decided you want to proceed, consider bringing in a professional counselor or therapist for guidance. Couples counseling for you and your partner may open doors of communication that you hadn't realized were there.


Eventually, if they are willing to cooperate, you may wish to involve your partner's problematic family members in counseling or therapy. People who struggle to control their emotions with someone they're close to are sometimes more successful in opening up to a neutral third party. A professional can help your partner's family understand your boundaries and help you enforce them. Open communication, self-respect, and respect for each other are essential — and if these have been overwhelming issues so far, there's no shame in asking for professional assistance to ensure everyone gets the respect they deserve.