You are often warned as you approach that walk down the aisle, ‘Remember, you don’t just marry a person, you marry the family, too.’ In the whirlwind of giddy love, when you don’t often engage your brain, you may think you’ve found the Osmond family to join, but come to find out, you’ve chosen to join the Manson family, with crazies and issues you had no idea existed.
The idea of in-laws is the fodder of many jokes, great TV shows, and movies. From the meddling mom on ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ to the lie-detector dad in ‘Meet the Parents,’ in-laws often get a bad wrap, but sadly, many times in real life they deserve that bad image. If you think that putting too much emphasis on the in-law relationships is overstating their importance, you would be wrong. The worry isn’t an irrational one; research has shown that in-law relations are a key determinant of marital happiness. So how should you approach your relationship with your in-laws? I’m glad you asked!
The Best Rules for Dealing with In-Laws
After reading many studies and research papers on this topic, ranging from having a loving and respectful relationship with one’s in-laws to ‘in-laws from hell’, as well as personal experience of myself and my friends, it boils down to just a few rules to follow to keep your marriage strong when faced with in-law troubles.
Rule #1: Your Spouse Comes First; That’s Where Your Loyalty Lies
From the day you make your first choice or decision in life, you have to weigh the consequences. Life is chock-full of difficult decisions in which no solution leaves everyone happy. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a difficult in-law situation creates…a perfect example of ambivalence that, in a worst-case scenario, may persist over the years or even a lifetime. Here’s the advice of many marriage therapists and psychologists:
In a conflict between your spouse and your family, support your spouse. Always.
It is your duty, when you take your vows, to support your husband or wife and to manage your own family in a way that consistently conveys this fact. To take it a step further, you both must present a united front to both families, making it clear from the beginning that you have your spouse’s back…they come first; an attack on your spouse should be seen and perceived as an attack on you. The two of you are one. Remember that part of the vows? This is especially true when a situation arises that you know without a doubt your spouse is being unfairly treated, lies are told and perpetuated about your spouse, or perhaps your spouse is being bullied due to jealousy or when it comes to family members asking for money. Always discuss the ‘giving’ of funds, because where family is concerned, it is never a loan; you will never ever see that money again! There’s no doubt that some of the bitterest disputes in marriages occur over a spouse’s failure to support his or her partner. That Bible verse where it says, ‘a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife…’ yeah, that means supporting her above all else. No mediation is needed in a situation like this; you and your spouse are together. There’s never a reason to feel caught in the middle, that’s not where you are to be…your place is on the side of your spouse.
Rule #2: Remind Yourself Why You Are Making the Effort with Your In-Laws
When you make every effort to accommodate your spouse’s family, you are giving your husband or wife a gift. Throughout life, we get used to putting up with our own relatives, adjusting to their oddities. But now you have to do it all over again for people you share no blood with. With every slight or bad intention from your in-laws, keep telling yourself that turning the other cheek over and over is because you love your spouse. However, we all have our breaking point. You shouldn’t allow yourself to be abused to just keep the peace…tell your spouse how hurt you are and then allow and expect Rule #1 to kick in!
Rule #3: Keep Touchy Subjects to a Minimum with Discussions
If you know that you and your in-laws are on opposite spectrums in the political arena, don’t bring certain topics up! Never, ever! Politics can be the biggest bomb in the minefield of in-law relationships, and there’s really no reason to engage in these discussions because you aren’t going to get them to agree or convert them. It just ain’t gonna’ happen! No matter how much you have that urge to really make your in-laws understand or wise up to how wrong-minded they are, it isn’t worth it. A casual chat over the President, taxes, or religion can take a terrible turn, quickly. Over the course of a marriage, you may not be able to avoid the discussions about how the family disapproves of your marriage, your parenting style or lack thereof, or how you live, but you can take make it a rule to take unnecessary debates off the ‘table’ and replace them with a bowl of pleasantries or a good potato salad.
At the end of the day, remember the vows you made and to whom you made them… your spouse and their happiness come first because that affects your happiness, too.
Ask me how I know….because I know!