Anxiety, Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Children, Couple's counselling, Family counselling, Relationships

Are extended family or in-laws causing problems within your relationship?

As a Family Counsellor I see this a lot in my couples work as well as in family counselling.


Here are a few of the most common complaints I hear:


  1. My partner doesn’t like my family or parents and doesn’t want to spend time with them.
  2. My parents don’t like my partner or do not respect our relationship/marriage.
  3. My partner complains about my parents coming over unannounced, not inviting my partner to family events or not showing an interest in my partner.
  4. My parents/family don’t acknowledge that my children are also a part of my partner and his/her family.
  5. My parents won’t be in the same room as my partner’s parents and therefore we can’t have combined functions e.g. birthdays, christenings etc.
  6. My parents speak in their primary language around him/her which my partner can’t understand.
  7. My partner doesn’t want my parents to mind our children because he/she doesn’t like them.
  8. My partner’s parents still cook, clean or wash for my partner – often letting themselves in our home to do it.
  9. Family members post negative comments on social media about my partner – or vice versa.
  10. My parents have verbally abused my partner.
  11. My parents have made negative comments about the names we have chosen for our children, our parenting styles and so on.
  12. Extended family arrange social events on days/times that seem to purposefully exclude us or my partner from attending.
  13. In-laws do not respect parenting choices we make for our children and constantly undermine us.

And the list goes on…


Why does this happen?


There’s a very good chance these unhealthy and painful dynamics are occurring because of a transition phase gone wrong. A transition phase is a development change in the family structure – examples include:

  • Adolescents leaving school and home.
  • Adult children partnering up.
  • Adult children having children.

Of course problems between family and partners may not always be about transition phases – sometimes the problem is really just the problem – meaning there is a problematic or toxic personality that is making it very difficult for the family or the couple.

But mostly it is about transition phases that haven’t really been worked through in a healthy way. All transition phases require the task of everyone in the family letting go of their original roles. For example, when a young adult leaves home, all people in the family must make a change and re-assume new roles as a result. Parents will move into less active parenting roles. Siblings will move into friendship roles and so on. There is often loss for parents and adult children alike.

Parents can sometimes struggle with accepting adult children’s choice of a partner or new stage of life.  Often there can be grief and loss for parents when their adult children establish significant relationships with partners (and their new partner’s family) which can take them away from family contact and old rituals.

Conversely a lot of adult children can struggle with competing priorities when they partner up. Who comes first – partners or parents, for example?

An example of a good healthy transition phase is when parents recognise that a young adult may want to celebrate Christmas with his/her partner’s family this year.

An example of a not so healthy transition phase would be when parents don’t speak, abuse or cut off an adult child because that adult child has expressed a desire to spend Christmas with their new partner’s family this year.


What should you do about it?


These kinds of issues often lead to ongoing conflict and resentment. Sometimes even cut-offs and estrangements occur, so it’s a good idea to deal with it rather than let it fester.

If you are the person caught in the middle, or the partner who feels excluded or shunned by your in-laws, or the aging parents concerned about accessing your children, you could benefit enormously by seeing a Family Counsellor.

A Family Therapist will do just some of the following:-

  • Help everyone set up good communication between family members.
  • Help the person who might be stuck in the middle of it all manage situations so they become unstuck.
  • Help the couple to set up good boundaries around their couple sub-system to reduce conflict and resentment.
  • Help family members to establish healthy boundaries.
  • Help the new couple manage negative behaviour and/or comments when children are born into the new family.
  • Help grandparents find ways to have contact and connection with their grandchildren in a healthy way.
  • Create ways to help facilitate healthy and positive family contact.
  • Help you to manage cut-offs and estrangements from family members.
  • Help you to repair cut-offs and estrangements in the family.
  • Help everyone to manage cultural or religious expectations.


And in case you are wondering who you should prioritise…..


If you are fighting with your partner over extended family behaviour it is important to bear in mind that your primary relationship is with your partner.  This is why it is so important that you choose a partner who shares similar values to you.

If you have recently partnered up and these problems with extended family or potential in-laws are emerging, get help straight away. Most couples don’t realise that these sorts of issues can be very readily and swiftly sorted out.  However, it is important to seek help from a couples counsellor who is also a family counsellor – they are skilled in boundary setting, communication, and transition phases.

Jacqueline McDiarmid


Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.

In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.

Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.

Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.

Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.

Qualifications and Professional Membership

Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.

Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.

She is a Clinical Member of the Family Therapy Association of Australia and a Clinical Member of PACFA.

If you are experiencing problems or conflict within your family, please contact our receptionist today on 02 8968 9397 or contact us and we will support you to make the relationship changes you need to minimise the conflict and build a stronger family unit.

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