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Getting Along with In-laws

Updated on January 29, 2014

It's all about territory

Why are in-law relationships so hard? Humans are like pack animals. We're wary of who joins their pack. Acceptance and trust take time to develop. Comfortable roles need to be adjusted. New family members threaten to displace others. It really is a matter of territory. Yet, some families seem to blend seamlessly and effortlessly while others never manage to get along at all.

The simple truth is that everyone just wants to be loved. Everyone wants his share of attention, respect and acceptance. Trouble begins only when any of the aforementioned is withheld.

The rule of love

While even the best of families fight and bicker, a good family always gets over it. Members realize that family is family. In spite of the lifestyle differences, the oddities, the personality quirks and occasional hurt feelings, there’s love between family members. Good family members forgive and forget easily. Great family members love unconditionally.

Once the papers are signed and the “I do’s” are said, consider this new person “family” immediately. The loving ties will take time to develop, but you can adopt the mindset of family right away.

Treat your new in-law like a blood relative. Drop the “in-law” attitude. Your son-in-law should be regarded as your own son. Your mother-in-law should garner the same respect as your real mother. She is your husband’s real mother. When you and your spouse are joined in marriage, this is what is meant when ‘you become one’. You are no longer separate. What’s his is yours; what’s yours is his. His mother is your mother, too. And the other way around.

Treat your in-laws with the love and respect as you show to your own parents. If you love your spouse, you’ll love his parents for bringing your mate into this world.

Extend this love to the gifts you give them. Be as thoughtful and generous with in-law gifts as your own family’s gifts. Extend this love without any expectations of receiving in return. If you expect return, your gift is no longer a gift but an exchange or trade of goods.

Spend equal time with your in-laws as you do with your own family as space and time permits. No need to keep records, but be fair.

Don’t keep score. As in, “Your mother gave Ed’s wife an expensive ring but only gave me a cheap scarf!” Appreciate your gift. Period.

Choose to ignore any negative remarks or gestures. Accept only the good sentiments. Endure and ignore anything overtly rude, hostile or unloving. Do not return anything negative. While it may take time, you can change people’s bad feelings with kindness and love. This is the only way to change them.

Playing favorites among your family members hurts. Playing favorites among in-laws hurts, too. Even if you do have a special relationship with a particular person, don’t show it openly. Be discreet.

Love them unconditionally. Don’t you love your parents unconditionally? It doesn’t mean that you have to like everything they do or everything about them...but you still love them anyway.

Remember to love their child/children. That means your spouse, of course, but it also means your sister-in-law or brother-in-law! It is nearly impossible for a parent to love someone who dislikes his or her children.

Understanding each other

Almost all problems between people are the result of misunderstanding each other. When you take the time to understand the other person and see things his or her way, it will be easier to be patient and tolerant.

Understand that people aren’t perfect. People make mistakes and have their issues.

Understand that people will not always live up to our expectations. My friend, Donna, always wanted a cookie-baking grandma for her kids but instead got one who gives them rides on the back of her Harley motorcycle. Disappointed? Donna got over it. Loving grandmas come in all packages.

Understand that some behaviors come with youth, old age or new roles. New mommies are possessive of their young and haven’t learned that mothers-in-law are equally good at protecting children. They’ll relax soon. Trust comes in time. Older people tend not to change. It’s best to accept them as they are.

Newlyweds: Understand most in-law problems are due to possessiveness. In-laws don’t want to lose their child. It takes time for them to get used to someone else having more influence over their child. You want to be the main person in your spouse’s life, but be sensitive and share. You won’t want to be cast aside when you become a mother/father/sister or brother-in-law.

Parents/in-laws: Remember how you felt when having to deal with your new in-laws. Respect newlyweds’ privacy, space and independence.

Understand that everyone just wants to be loved and included.


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Being Family Book

Being Family: The get-along guide for in-laws
Being Family: The get-along guide for in-laws

In-law relationships can be the most difficult, and they can destroy otherwise happy marriages, too. By seeing things from each other's perspective, you'll gain the understanding you need to let down your guard and open your hearts to new family members. (Kindle version only .99 cents.)



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