Conflicts with in-laws are one of the most common sources of stress, and a bad relationship with in-laws can even destroy a marriage. Most people want to get along with their in-laws, and few in-laws want to match the stereotype of a crazy in-law. But all too often, emotions and the stress of daily life get in the way of the best intentions, leading to ongoing problems. If your child is getting married and you want to be a great in-law, or if you’ve been an in-law for a while and just want to be better at it, here are a few simple things you can do.
Support the Marriage
At the core of most in-law problems is lacking support for the married couple. In some cases, in-laws make it explicitly clear that they dislike their child’s choice for a mate and wish to break up the marriage. More commonly, however, in-laws feel a bit jealous, irritated by the fact that their family traditions have changed or confused about how to get along with a new child-in-law. In either case, making it clear that you support your child’s marriage is key. Do this by never bad-mouthing your child-in-law and by treating her like a member of your family. Thank her for your contributions and encourage your child to prioritize his marriage over all other relationships. Never force him to choose between you and his spouse. In a healthy relationship, you will lose every time, and you’ll look unreasonable in the process.
Talk Directly to Your Son or Daughter-in-Law
In-laws often get themselves into trouble when they express frustration to their child and expect the child to resolve the conflict. You’ll do much better if you talk to your daughter or son-in-law directly about problems. Don’t point fingers or assign blame. Instead, frame the question as, “I feel like we’re not doing a good job at this. What can we do better?” Then allow your in-law to explain her issues before you explain yours. You’ll come to a better understanding of one another and be much less likely to get into fights.
It can be difficult to adjust to a change in schedules and holiday traditions when your child gets married, but compromising will serve you well for the rest of your child’s married life. Don’t expect your child and their spouse to make multiple trips to multiple parents’ houses every holiday. Instead, consider alternating holidays every year or going to your child’s house. Similarly, it’s important to be flexible regarding family traditions. If, for example, everyone has always spent Christmas Eve at your house, consider making it easier for your child and their spouse by asking everyone to come over Christmas morning instead.
Have Reasonable Expectations
When you gain an in-law, you’re gaining a new member of your family. Unlike most family members, you don’t have the luxury of living with them for years or watching them grow from a child to an adult. This means some of their behavior may seem strange or even offensive. It’s important to expect some difficulty adjustment and not to anticipate that everything will be smooth sailing. Calmly address bumps in the road along the way without pointing fingers, and remember that adjusting to a new family can take time and practice. With enough time spent together, you’ll soon begin cherishing your child’s new spouse.
- Chapman, G. D. (2008). In-law relationships: The Chapman guide to becoming friends with your in-laws. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House.
- Miller, R. S. (2012). Intimate relationships. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
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