How to Better Live With Your In-Laws: Tug-of-War

Tug of warIn the last post, we began looking at how to better live with your in-laws. When you get married, in-laws are part of the package. There can can be some really good things about your in-laws, and there can be some really difficult things about your in-laws. Unfortunately, you get both. It’s a package deal.

Marriage initiates two new tensions into your life. Each of these tensions is like an internal tug-of-war that you can’t avoid. Let’s look at the two primary areas where you’ll feel this tug-of-war.

The first is a tug-of-war between “leave & cleave” and “honor your parents.” This tug-of-war is experienced by every married person.  We’re all raised to honor our parents, and that obligation doesn’t end just because you get married. Yet, because you’re married, you’re called to separate from your parents and put a greater priority on your relationship with your spouse.

How can you do both? Especially when your spouse and your parents disagree on how you should handle things like finances, kids, careers, faith, etc. (We’ll get to that in a moment.)

The second tension is a tug-of-war between loyalties and boundaries. Before getting married, your loyalties were to your parents, your siblings, and your friends. But after  you say “I do,” your number of loyalties increases. Now you have a loyalty to your spouse, and your spouse’s parents, and then there’s you kids. And none of the old loyalties went away. Yet, despite these loyalties there’s a need for boundaries in these relationships. Boundaries define how much a person is allowed to encroach on another’s territory. Boundaries define how much you get to control and how much others get to control.

How can you be loyal to your parents and still establish boundaries with them?

You can’t avoid the tug-of-war, but remembering the following will help you find some balance when you find yourself being pulled in different directions…

  • When Scripture talks about honoring your parents, the word it uses is a word that refers to showing respect and acting kindly in actions and speech. It means you respect them by listening to them and considering what they have to say about things. Yes, when you were a child, obeying them was part of honoring them. But when you became an adult and they were no longer supporting you, then honoring them was about treating them with kindness and respect…not necessarily doing what they thought you should do.
  • Setting boundaries between you and parents does not mean shutting them out or being isolated from them. Boundaries are not walls, they are simply guides that help others know where they can go and where they need to get permission. For example, letting a parent or in-law know that you might not take phone calls past a certain hour is not saying they can’t call. It’s setting a boundary on when it’s best to call.

One last word on how to better live with your in-laws when it comes to these two tugs-of-war. If you’re feeling the tension…

  • First talk to your spouse and try to work out a solution that you both can agree on. This may not be easy. Be careful how you talk to your spouse about their parents. Watch your tone and don’t be critical. Speak kindly when you talk to your spouse and speak kindly when you talk about your spouse’s parents. Remember, your spouse is caught in the same kind of tug of war between you and their parents.
  • Secondly, when something difficult needs to be communicated to parents…you should deal with your parents and your spouse should deal with their parents. This is the best way to maximize the loyalty issues and minimize the fallout.

As I said in the first post, I don’t have all the answers, but I have made the mistakes and lived to tell about it. So hang in their for the next post as we give some specific suggestions to help you learn how to better live with your in-laws.

If you’ve felt one or both of these tensions, leave a comment and let us know. Tell us what you’ve learned and how you’ve handled it. We’re all in this together.

Copyright © 2014 Bret Legg

Leave a Comment