As we approach the holidays, family issues become front and center. One of the topics most discussed is the in-laws. How so we deal with in-laws, the holidays and accommodate both families?
Like it or not, the in-laws are part of your life. So, building a good relationship with them is vital because you’re married to their child who remains important to them. Furthermore, they will be a voice in the lives of your children.
In reality, not everyone has the blessing of good in-laws. One issue is that you may feel like you must compete against your in-laws for the time and attention of your spouse. This is especially true during the first few years of marriage. Therefore, establishing a balance is key to a healthy marriage.
In some cases, in-laws can be intrusive and meddling. The in-laws may feel that their intrusiveness is a demonstration of love and care, but it doesn’t come across this way. The in-laws may have difficulty letting go of their parenting role, and the adult child (your spouse) may have trouble establishing independence. The goal is to reach an appropriate balance between closeness and the boundaries of your marriage.
The other extreme is too much distance. Some parents may emotionally and even physically cut off their adult child when they marry. Too much distance can create problems as well. There is a loss of support, a lack of care giving, and limited family participation.
So here are a few tips to help deal with the in-laws in a positive way:
- Recognize the differences in family culture. Our culture and upbringing play a major role in how we approach our marriage. So, recognize the cultural aspects of your spouse’s upbringing. One of my client’s handled it this way: In her upbringing, the women did all the cooking and cleaning up at mealtimes. So, when they shared a meal with her parents, her husband stayed out of the way and respected this cultural dynamic. However, when her parents weren’t around, the husband honored his wife by helping out. The couple decided to be culturally sensitive to the family and yet, established their own set of expectations in the marriage.
- Develop code words. My husband and I have a good relationship with each other’s parents. Even so, there are still times when both sets of parents challenge us. When those times occur, we have code words or certain glances that cue us to a strategy. We remain respectful, but we also know when we need to change the conversation, stay quiet or assert ourselves. The point is to have those conversations as a couple in order to know ahead of time what the hot buttons are and how you will handle them.
- Don’t criticize your spouse’s relationship with his or her parents. If you do you will raise your spouse’s defenses. Try to understand more about their family system and why people behave the way they do. Dig into their backgrounds and life experiences. Doing this creates empathy and compassion.
- Establish ground rules. Don’t wait for a problem to occur. Ahead of time talk about how you as a couple will handle extended family: For example, should your marital issues be private and not discussed with parents? How much time do you spend with in-laws? If there is a problem, will your spouse confront it?
- Spend time with your in-laws. There is no better way to really get to know someone than spending time with them. Find out what the in-laws enjoy and do activities together. Build positive experiences so that when things are difficult, you have positive experiences to draw from.
- Discover areas of common ground. What are the areas of commonality? What can you agree on? Build on that common ground and focus on the positives. A negative focus often brings negative feelings. Be grateful for the good things, forgive liberally and show grace.