“It’s only for a couple of weeks. Just don’t say anything!” These were the words of caution/threat that my wife delivered to me prior to her parents’ arrival. And she drove those word home as if she was driving a three-inch nail through my forehead.
In all fairness, she had good reason to be concerned. You see, I didn’t have a good track record of getting along with my mother-in-law.
Maybe it started the first night I took her daughter out and brought her home at 3:00 in the morning. (Not a good start, I’ll admit.) Perhaps it’s because when we were dating, my hair was past my shoulders and I spent my weekends playing guitar in bar bands. Maybe it was because I would show up at her door dressed in eclectically breath-taking Goodwill attire. Or maybe it was because I would eventually be guilty of taking her last child from the nest.
Whatever the reason, my in-laws were coming and I was being warned to be on my best behavior.
Hopefully, you have a great, trouble-free relationship with your in-laws. If so, be thankful to the dealer for the cards you’ve drawn. But too often, friction with in-laws is a common issue in marriage.
WHY DEALING WITH YOUR IN-LAWS CAN BE DIFFICULT.
How is it that you can love your spouse, but struggle with ones who birthed them and raised them? Why can your in-laws punch your buttons so easily? There can be a lot of small and specific irritants, but globally it has to do with some things you’ve probably felt, but never really stopped to think about.
I often tell couples in premarital counseling, that when they climb into bed on their honeymoon night, there will actually be six people in the bed…the two of them and both their parents. After the premarital couple finishes gagging over that visual picture, I go on to explain the following.
We forget that when we get our spouse, we’re not getting a blank slate. We’re getting someone who for twenty-some years has been imprinted and influenced by their parents. And rarely is that parental imprint the same as yours.
And so, there will come times when you get frustrated because you feel like your in-laws have more influence over your spouse than you do. What’s really happening in these times is that your pride and insecurity are getting bruised. Which leads to another irritant…
On the day we got married, my wife and I moved from Illinois to Oklahoma, where we both had jobs waiting on us. In the first year or two of our marriage, we would try to go home for most holidays. But I noticed something about those trips. Even though things were great between us when we arrived, by the time we left, I was frustrated and angry.
It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but it finally dawned on me. On our way there, I felt like she was my wife. But the minute she stepped across the threshold of her childhood home, it was like she switched from being my wife and became their daughter again. And me, being the stupid young husband that I was, didn’t understand that it could be both/and.
So, like a dog marking my territory, I took every opportunity to play the “she’s my wife more than your daughter” card. This didn’t win me any points with them…or my wife. You need to learn that it’s not disloyalty for your spouse to hold loyalties to both you and their parents. When you feel those loyalties are in conflict, then don’t get mad or withdraw. Talk it out.
The big problem is that we tend to misinterpret both our in-laws’ influence over our spouse and our spouse’s loyalty to their parents as a lack of commitment to us. In fact, nothing could be further than the truth. Just as showing love and commitment to one child is not a slight to the other child, your spouse’s loyalty to their parents in no way diminishes their commitment to you. Don’t put your spouse in the bind of having to choose between being committed to you or being committed to their parents. Help them in their commitment to both.
When these issues of influence, loyalty, and commitment come up, you need to remind yourself that your spouse has already chosen you over their parents. They left home, married you, and crawl in bed with you each night…unless you snore. You’ve already won them. Quit worrying that you’re going to lose them to their parents.
HOW CAN YOU BETTER DEAL WITH YOUR IN-LAWS.
Just in case you’re wondering, I have a good relationship with my mother-in-law now. It took a while, but we got there. How did that happen? Here are some things I wish I had been quicker to learn…
Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt.
Despite the way it feels, your in-laws are not trying to subvert your spouse, undermine your authority, control your finances, or over-rule your parenting. When you feel like they’re too involved, put your pride in check and give them the benefit of the doubt. They really just want to help in any way they can. Accept it for that.
Show Them the Honor They Deserve.
Do you know how hard it is to work, manage finances, and hold a marriage and family together? Well, your in-laws have been doing it longer than you have. And though you may not see eye to eye with them on everything (or anything), you would not have the spouse you have…the spouse you chose…without their input, hard work, and sacrifice. For this, and more, show them honor.
Love Them for Your Spouse’s Sake.
I use to bristle when my wife would tell me, “Please, just don’t upset my mom.” I could come up with a long list of reasons why she shouldn’t put such restrictions on me. But the one thing I couldn’t argue my way around was this: her parents were important to her, so they should be important to me. If for no other reason, I need to love my in-laws for my spouse’s sake.
Remember You’ll Be an In-law One Day.
If you’re not already, one of these days you will find yourself in the devalued position of being an in-law. Some day, some young man or young woman may view you as some sort of intrusion upon their marriage. So treat your in-laws in the way you want your son-in-law or daughter-in-law to treat you. It’s just a good rule of thumb.
One final note: Perhaps there will there be times when you need to set some gentle and loving boundaries with your in-laws? If and when that time comes, do so in concurrence with your spouse, then let your spouse be the one to explain it to their parents. This will work better for both of you.
So to simply sum things up…
If you find it difficult to deal with your in-laws…get over yourself and give them some grace.