The dreaded in-laws…the people who strike fear in the hearts and minds of engaged and newlywed couples everywhere! A subject so frightful that it has even spawned movies such as “Monster-In-Law”, “The In-Laws”, and “Meet the Parents”.
We are, of course, jesting a bit. Many people have great relationships with their in-laws! But, not everyone is so lucky. In fact, Deanna Brann, Ph.D., a leading expert on mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships and author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along with Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law, says that three out of four marriages are impacted by problematic in-law relationships.
It is true; in-laws can make or break a marriage. Many times, it seems the mother-in-law is the source of friction between the younger married couple (though not always). Specifically, we have heard of many instances when the mother-in-law is controlling, and the husbands were overly attached to their mothers. Not surprisingly, these marriages often ended in divorce.
On the one hand, married couples want to be a cohesive unit. But on the other hand, family ties are crucially important from a support standpoint, and family is often a source of guidance and love. It is those same family relationships that require a delicate balance with the marital unit.
If you are serious about having a healthy, strong marriage, we highly suggest that you also work to develop and maintain a cordial (if nothing else) relationship with your in-laws. Here are our five secrets to getting along with your in-laws.
1. Set boundaries. You, as a couple, must have boundaries that you agree upon together. What is acceptable and welcomed input from both sets of in-laws, and how you will handle the situation if the boundaries are over-stepped. Setting the boundaries and sticking to them are critically important to keeping a damper on resentment that can arise if in-laws are consistently allowed to over-step the boundaries.
2. Establish Expectations. Expectations go hand-in-hand with boundaries. Expectations are necessary so things don’t become a free-for-all. Consider setting expectations for holidays, birthday gift-giving, house visits, and frequency of contact. Once again, you and your spouse must be clear and agree upon the expectations that are communicated.
3. Have Respect. We know your in-laws are not perfect…but let’s face it…neither are you. Nobody is perfect! The point is that regardless of their flaws and attitude, they are your spouse’s parents and at least deserve some respect for raising the person who you now love and cherish enough to have married.
4. Maintain a sense of humor. Humor can make even the worst situation seem at least slightly better, much better, or at least not so bad. And, the ability to laugh at oneself goes hand-in-hand with maintaining a sense of humor. So next time something your mother-in-law does something that makes you crazy, try finding the humor in it and tuck it away for a good story at a later time.
5. Don’t take things personally. This one is much easier said than done, we know. Sometimes those snarky comments from your mother-in-law seem like a jab right at you. However, it’s important to remember that your in-law’s attitude may not actually have anything to do with you. It’s quite possible there are many other factors that are driving the snarkiness, such as fear, insecurity, and doubt. All which have to do with themselves and their relationships, and nothing to do with you. That’s why we suggest you don’t take these things personally, even if it seems the barbs are aimed directly at you!
It’s definitely a two-way street. You may find it difficult to develop and maintain a good relationship with your in-laws if they just don’t cooperate or extend respect and courtesy to you and your spouse. Respect is the cornerstone of all relationships! Putting forth the effort to develop the relationship can pay off in spades, though. Your in-laws can be a great source of support, love and guidance throughout your marriage.