You love your spouse. But their parents? That’s a whole different matter. The term “in-law” usually doesn’t generate many positive feelings. From parenting differences to financial differences, it can sometimes seem as though you disagree with your in-laws on just about everything.
But, when you marry somebody, you marry their family as well. In other words, your in-laws are not going away. That's why these relationships can be critical to manage well.
How to do that?
Constructive Approaches to Handling Issues with In-Law
When it comes to in-laws, it’s crucial to remember your vows. Whatever struggles you are facing, you face them together, especially if it involves family. If your spouse has a problem with your family member, it becomes your problem as well.
Basic communication is key with in-law issues. Remember that your in-laws are your spouse’s parents, and just like you feel loyalty to your family, your partner probably feel the same toward theirs. Remember the power of using “I” statements when discussing an in-law issue with your partner. Focus on your feelings and your needs without blaming or criticizing.
It can help if you remember to handle this situation the same way you’d like your spouse to handle it. Would you want your spouse to negatively critique every aspect about your mother? Probably not. Your opinions may be valid, but it’s important you voice them with kindness. And know when to keep your opinions to yourself.
While setting boundaries may appear difficult, healthy relationships require them. In fact, you probably set boundaries with many people in your life without even realizing it. The boundaries you set with your in-laws need to be agreed upon and supported by both you and your partner.
Ensure your boundaries have secure limits — otherwise, your in-laws may abuse them, regardless of whether or not they do so intentionally. Therefore, make sure your in-laws know what these boundaries are, and let your spouse to be the one to communicate them to their parents. Your in-laws need to realize that the two of you are a united front.
Boundary maintenance is just as important as boundary setting. For example, if you’ve told your in-laws that you’d prefer them to call before visiting, ensure that they’re upholding this, even if it means not answering the door next time they decide just to drop by.
Understand that expecting zero in-law issues is probably unrealistic. What’s equally unrealistic is expecting to win every struggle you have. This will most likely become a particular challenge when you have children.
Let’s say, for example, that they come over to babysit. Prioritize the routine you have set with your kids and also be ready to let go of something. Tell your in-laws that there is to be absolutely no iPad time during dinner, but be flexible in other areas. Letting your kids have an extra dessert or go to bed later than usual occasionally is not so terrible. Allow your in-laws to enjoy their grandchildren.
Practice empathy with your in-laws — their situation, their family dynamics, etc. What is normal in your household may not be the norm in theirs. You probably have a good idea of how your spouse was raised, so take this into consideration when you’re having in-law issues. You came from two different family cultures. While you might feel intruded upon by your mother-in-law, your spouse might view his mother has just wanting to be involved.
It’s also important to remember that whatever your in-laws suggest is a simple opinion. It’s not a requirement for you to conform. You are allowed to take what they say and let it slide right off your shoulder. While easier said than done, it can make for a much happier and healthier family environment if you listen to their opinions and avoid debating with them.
Certainly, handling in-law issues can be challenging. It takes patience and forethought. It may be worth brushing up on your conflict management skills to help you handle problems in an amicable and productive way.
Probably most important when it comes to in-laws, is to take your partners side. When you attempt to defend, or even just to explain, your family members, it can leave your partner feeling alone and unsupported. Remember that the relationship between the two of you is primary.
Recently, I had the pleasure of being a guest on the podcast "The Remarried Life". Check the Audio/Video tab to listen to my conversation with host Brian Mayer about marriage to a previously widowed spouse. And, for more information about this topic, read my blog on this topic or listen to The Couples Toolbox podcast on Remarriage After The Death of a Spouse.