Getting Along with Your New In-Laws
Why is it necessary to discuss in-laws before marriage? In-laws come with the marriage, whether you like it or not. It is like living in Texas, you don’t have a choice about the sales tax. You just pay it.
When you marry someone, it’s the same way. You not only marry that person, you get their entire family. For some couples and/or spouses, this is easier than for others. I personally got REALLY lucky with my husband’s family. They are truly amazing people!
For those not quite so happy, you just cannot ignore that these people exist. You will likely be spending holidays with them, birthdays and other special moments in your life. You are going to have to form a relationship with them, if only because it makes your partner happy.
Just like you have parents that love and care for you, the same goes for your partner too.
Especially if you have been married before, you’ll want to be very careful not to bring previous experiences into your new relationship. In-laws can be a tremendous source of support and closeness. They can also be a major problem in your marital relationship. Here are some tips to help you cope with them.
Show Them Respect
Even if you don't think your in-laws deserve it, show respect for them anyway. You’ve heard the saying “Have respect for your elders.” This is the time to bite your tongue and do it anyway, even if just for the sake of your marriage. You can always talk about any issues with your spouse later, if necessary.
This is sometimes harder to do when there is already tension there, but showing them respect will help you in the long-run.
Respect their home when you visit them, mind your language when you are around them, and respect their boundaries even if you don’t understand them. Understand that there may simply be a generation gap and they may think differently about things than you do.
Dress appropriately when you visit them, and keep your negative feedback to yourself. I’m not saying that there won’t be problems, stress, or moments where you might have to step into the other room, but at least be as respectful as humanly possible and then handle any problems with your partner at a later time.
Truly, whether it’s the wife’s parents or the husband’s, it is the responsibility of the blood relation to confront their own parents about any problems. Doing it any other way may cause irreparable damage that may cost you years of frustration, and more stress when you have to be together than necessary.
Be Loyal to Your Spouse
It is natural that your spouse may feel some loyalty for his/her family. It's OK as long as you don't come in second. I’ve personally experienced my husband allowing his siblings to treat me badly. His lack of inaction almost caused a huge scene where I had to stand up for myself.
It took time and many serious conversations on our part to remedy the situation. I had to show him that I was not trying to compete, only to be a fair player in the game. I didn’t need him to favor me over his family, only to treat me equally. I would be respectful at all times to his family, but I expected the same and it wasn’t appropriate for me to say something.
As soon as he leveled the playing ground for everyone, we haven’t had a single problem since.
Typically the parents (especially mothers) feel strongly connected to their children and fear being replaced in their lives. It’s not that they don’t like you (usually), but fear that they may never see or talk to their child again after they get married. This is extremely common and the kinks typically get worked out over time.
Have you ever been tempted to criticize your partner's family?
Don't Bad Mouth the Other Family
Even if you have nightmare in-laws, do not criticize them to your spouse. If you spouse criticizes them, just listen. Making comments other than asking clarifying questions can create problems.
I know I said to talk to your partner regarding any problems that you may have after the fact, in private, but criticizing (calling names, labeling with negative characteristics, etc.) and discussing your feelings (It really upsets me when . . . because I feel . . .) are two completely different things. This is going to be one skill that will truly pay off in the future!
Save your energy and please don’t try to prove a point by getting angry and letting words fly that you’ll regret later. Instead invest your time in working things out with your spouse to make peace between the two of you. What truly matters is the state of affairs at home. Let him or her handle their own parents.
Share Your Feelings with Your Spouse
Conflict with the in-laws is not a good step forward in a new marriage. The best thing to do in any conflict situation is to maintain a dignified silence. Too much has already been said. One of the worst things you can do is to vent your feelings in public and tell your in-laws how you really feel about them at that one heated moment.
I’m sure you really do, deep down, want to get along with them. I know you want to have fond memories of holidays, graduations, birthdays, the birth of children, etc. I get to swap recipes and books with my mother-in-law, I get to have a positive texting relationship with one of my brothers-in-law, and one of them even brought me to tears calling me his sister on my wedding day. I’ll never forget that moment!
Identify and share your feelings about your family of origin with your partner.
Sometimes the young and inexperienced wife-to be only makes matters worse by the way she handles them. Being there myself, I know you might believe that you can handle yourself and don’t need the other person standing up for you, but in this situation, you truly want them to.
If you find yourself having to defend yourself to them, like I did, give him or her a chance to come through for you. It’s for the best, and I promise it will eventually work out, one way or another.
Allow for Healing
If you are having difficulties with your own family issues, it is important that you be open to healing any past injuries so you can move forward in your life with your spouse.
If your parents are causing problems, starting arguments, being disrespectful, or are all around being inappropriate, make sure you handle it right away. Don’t wait for your spouse to come to you or for him or her to get upset. Consider your relationship first.
When you get married, your alliances should change from your parents and siblings to your new spouse. That’s the way of the world. It doesn’t mean you have to forget them, stop loving them or anything else. Love them, but let them know that you now have someone else in your life that you love and care for too. Your new spouse is your future. Treat it as such.
For the single mom coming into a new family, exercise much patience and try not to be on the defensive. Give your new family time to bond with you and your child/ren. Your spouse’s support is what is critical, and you have that already or you wouldn’t be at this stage.
As much as you may want everyone to get along, your primary focus is your initial family. Ensure that the bond with you, your spouse and your child/ren are good, because ultimately you are now a family and that’s all that matters.
Define and set boundaries as a couples with both sets of parents concerning your feelings, thoughts and expectations about holidays, vacations, visits, time with grandchildren, financial issues, and privacy. This needs to start from the very beginning.
I always counsel couples during the wedding planning period about making decisions together. Sometimes parents like to think they can still make the final decision when it comes to your lives.
Make sure to make this clear with each set of parents from the very beginning. (Check out my article The Unintentional Effects of Your Wedding Day for more on this.)
Maybe this needs to be a sit-down meeting where you or your partner tell your respective parents that you love them and still have a great deal of respect for them, but now that you are getting married, you will be making decisions with him or her from now on.
Make sure you are sensitive as this is a huge transition for them as well.
Come to an Understanding
Know when you have had enough. Come to an understanding ahead of time knowing that you and your partner may know and have a tolerance to your own parents, but the other person may need smaller doses before the transition is complete.
Have a password if necessary so that your spouse understands when it is time to end the visit with your in-laws. If he or she gives you the password, be sensitive to their needs and know that this time will increase over time. I know they will appreciate your understanding.
Especially for someone like me, who was an only child marrying into a family of 13 children (along with spouses and kids), this may be an extremely over-whelming experience at first. We’ve been together for a little over four years now, and I LOVE them!
These are the holidays and this is the family that I’ve always dreamed of. But it took a little time to adjust. lol
Caring for Aging Parents
As your in-laws and parents age, it is important that you discuss practical concerns with them such as their health and financial issues. Find out their expectations about their care in case they cannot provide for themselves in their later years.
Some of these issues might include living with you, finding an appropriate nursing facility or retirement village, hospitalization, wills, resuscitation, property, and even other siblings or pets.
It’s actually important that you discuss many of these issues way ahead of time so that you two can stand together when faced with truly having to deal with some of these in real life.
Make Your Marriage a Priority
Remember to put your marriage first at all times. This process of in-laws will inevitably take time and you must never forget that you are on the same side.
In-laws can either make or break your marriage, and it’s always better to be on their good side. Obviously you can’t please some people no matter what you do, but you can choose to walk in love and forgiveness with them.
Regardless of the way they treat you. The saying that goes “keeps your friends close and your enemies closer” is true. Treat your in-laws with kid gloves when necessary and always be respectful.
Give your new family a chance. Relationships do not blossom overnight. Marriage is not a race but a marathon. Don’t rush in expecting to be best friends with your partner’s family. It will take some time for roles to change, and for everyone to get settled in them. Be patient and you will enjoy your new family in time.
(Excerpts taken from "Top 10 In-Laws Coping Tips" by Sheri & Bob Stritof, About.com Guides, and "Before ‘I Do’ Part 3 – In-laws" by Buky.)
Are you having trouble with in-laws?
© 2013 Victoria Van Ness