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I live in the US and my wife and I share a house with my in-laws (and young daughter). We bought the house just over a year ago and myself, my wife and my in-laws are all co-owners. My wife and her parents are Korean and they have a custom of living with parents/extended family.

Anyway, I have been finding that my in-laws have a tendency to make changes to the house or significant purchases, without consulting with me. For example, there was an incident where my father-in-law tried to do some 'repairs' on the brick front steps to the house (which in my opinion made things worse, as he's not a professional stonemason). Then, the other day, without discussing with me, they went and bought half of the furniture in someone's moving-out sale, most of which, in my opinion, is low-quality 'junk' that we don't really need (they have a habit of hoarding all sorts of things, in general).

It's not so much about the money, but the fact that they are doing these things unilaterally, without involving me. I have tried explaining to them that, as a co-owner of the property and given I am bringing home half of the money to support the family, I feel like I should have the right to be included and involved in decisions about the house. However, it seems to keep on happening and they are clearly not getting the message.

So, what can I do to get the message home and convince them that they need to involve me in these decisions? There is a language barrier involved, as my in-laws don't speak good English - their first-language is Korean. So, most of my communication with them goes through my wife (as I don't speak Korean). I have discussed it with my wife several times and once or twice in 'round-circles' with them, but the impression I get is that they give my concerns lip-service - "yeah, sure, we understand, whatever ..", but nothing actually changes, or they forget two weeks later. My wife often seems to take their side (so it's 3-on-1) and says its partly because these things need doing and there isn't time to consult me first. However, I don't buy that, as most of these things are not in any way urgent.

I should probably also mention there have been a couple of times where I lost my temper over these sorts of things and either yelled at them or threw something across the room. I know it's not helpful, but it's starting to really get to me - it's simply not acceptable to me to be regularly 'sidelined' in this manner. Normally, we get on fine on a day-to-day basis, but these sorts of incidents happen every 2-3 months and anyone can be pushed too far (right?).

I am considering that perhaps I should make some 'frivolous' purchases of my own (new plasma TV or guitar perhaps?), to give them a taste of their own medicine and send a message that, if they think they can do whatever they want without consulting me, then that can work two ways. Perhaps that would help them to see things from my point-of-view and be more mindful to include me in these decisions in future?

  • Was there an agreement about home purchases(furniture, electronics, appliances)/repairs/pets/lawncare/guest stays, etc. when or before you all bought the home? If your in-laws are co-owners, and there wasn't a specific agreement/understanding, then they may feel like they can do whatever they want to any part of the house or to add to their quality of life, no matter what you say. But since they clearly see that their behavior is upsetting you, then they should try to understand you and be willing to work out an agreeable arrangement for all for the sake of peace and harmony in the home. – Chris22 Dec 3 '18 at 20:32
  • @Chris22 there was no such agreement, no. I had made the naive assumption that we would all be making major decisions as a team, because they affect everyone and we are 'in it together'. But it doesn't seem to be working out like that. Yes, it would be nice if they/we could be a bit more inclusive and understanding of each other, but it isn't happening and I'm looking for suggestions on what I can do to improve the situation. – Time4Tea Dec 3 '18 at 20:52
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    I think its important to keep in mind that majority voting is indeed a form of group decision making. I don't really see the point in saying that their decisions are bad, or making a bunch of spiteful purchases. The focus is to communicate to them that you want to be included more since being regularly left out from your family is understandably upsetting right? ...focus on that – Jesse Dec 4 '18 at 4:31
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    If you buy a tv and they don't care, you'll never again be able to do anything against they spending. Also, are your sharing your money? They can do with theirs as they see fit. – DonQuiKong Dec 4 '18 at 6:44
  • @DonQuiKong I have been sharing my money, but that is going to change, unless they will be more willing to include me in these decisions in future. – Time4Tea Dec 6 '18 at 18:38
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I think there is 2 points to address.

Come with solutions, not problems

This first point is very general. Instead of confronting them and showing what they did wrong (repairing without consulting you), which they seems to not care at all, try to come up with ideas to get involved :

  • Messenger / WhatsApp / Discord / whatever chat group ONLY for house care. Of course you have to initiate this group and the chat on this. You can share future idea / plan on this chatroom, as well as picture of things you would like to buy for the house, for example.
  • Next time they plan to go to a moving-out sale, propose to come with them.
  • Invite them to go together to a moving-out sale (?)

Of course these might not work, as they can react the exact same way as they did first : "Yes we will do it" and never actually do anything.

The point here is that if you come with problems, it's much easier for them to defend themselves with arguments like "no time to consult you". If you come with solutions, it will be harder for them to justify their actions.

Reacting with anger is also not the good path to take. Just leave the conversation if you feel too much anger, and come back later and everyone feels better.

Culture difference

I have personal experience with koreans (I live in Korea, but not korean). And I think here there is a huge culture clash.

Koreans have a very, very, very strong hierarchical system, based on the age. Elders in Korea are respected like gods, and some of them are abusing it.

Anyway the point is that if your parents-in-law wants to do something for the house, even if you are the same % of owning the house with them, being a generation younger than them rank you lower than them in the korean view. Therefore, your opinion is secondary, and less important. You might think the 'rank-difference' is not that much, but it's actually huge, more than you think.

You have to acknowledge this cultural difference. You have to work with it. You can bring the matter to your in-laws, make them understand that in your culture things are working differently, but don't expect them to change.


Overall I think that passive-aggressive method (buying stuff to make them annoyed) is not the good approach. Same with the anger one.

I also don't think you can solve the matter with a frank discussion, since there is a cultural difference. I don't even mention the language barrier.

Your best bet is your wife : she is the one that can make a change in the behavior of your in-law, if she's enough assertive. Talk to her, make her understand your discomfort with this situation.

As long as she goes 3v1, you stand no chance, your in-laws will not change their behavior. But if your wife join the battle with you, it might be game changer.

  • I certainly agree with your points about the cultural difference - that is definitely true. Working on my wife and trying to bring her more to my side is a good suggestion. In general, she seems to be reluctant to be more assertive with her parents, which makes things difficult from the cultural aspect, as you mentioned. – Time4Tea Dec 6 '18 at 18:41
  • Part of the problem is though that I have discussed it with her numerous times, but nothing is changing. Essentially, I feel like the 'diplomatic option' is failing/has failed. So then, what do I do? I'm at the point where I feel like there have to be some concrete negative consequences for their actions and continuing policy of excluding me. Otherwise, the only alternative I can see is for me to roll over and let them have their way. My Mother-in-Law in particular is the kind of person where, if you give an inch, she will take a mile. – Time4Tea Dec 6 '18 at 18:45
  • The point on the culture is fundamental. Also, in Korean culture, children are supposed to help/support their parents once settled down. So, the OP paying all expenses would probably not change much the parents' attitude. – Taladris Jan 1 at 18:35

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