4 Rules That Can Save Your Marriage When You Have Problems With Your In-Laws

Photo: Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash
in laws
Family

It's YOUR life, take it back!

Marriage and the blending of families have been taking place for over 4000 years.

Over time, the purpose, the incentive, and the act of merging one family into another via a marital contract have evolved.

In the past, marriage was little more than a business arrangement.

The symbolic blending of two families had a purpose of preserving power, forging political and financial alliances, attaining land, and having children to carry on the dynasty. Love didn’t have much to do with it.

Today, marriage stemming from love results in the blending of two families, possibly two cultures, and maybe two ethnicities.

When you get married, there's often a powerful moment when you realize that what you signed up for is much more than just marrying your spouse.

It seems like it should be simple, but sometimes the way you deal with your in-laws doesn't feel like it’s working.

For example:

Is your mother-in-law meddling and unaware of her actions?

Do your in-laws pit the two of you against each other?

Do you feel guilty and frustrated because your in-laws are great people, who’ve generously helped you out financially, but they’ve interpreted this to mean that they can come over and walk in unannounced anytime they want?

Any one of these scenarios can be very challenging, upsetting and demoralizing at the very least. It’s confusing as to why it’s happening or how it even got started!

Yet, you feel pushed and pulled like your life is not your own anymore.

But you can pause and make a plan to get back into your own life —  and have his family members take a step back!

 

Here are 4 ways to handle stressful situations that may arise with you and your in-laws:

1. Agree to communicate amongst yourselves ... WITHOUT influence from either set of parents.

When something comes up like interference or miscommunication between both you and his parents, the first step is for you and your husband to get on the same page and talk it through.

Your marriage takes priority over all other relationships.

This means your marriage takes first place over any parent-child relationship either of you previously had with your own parents.

Start by making an agreement that you can speak freely with each other without taking it personally or becoming defensive. Your mutual honesty is built on the love and respect you have for each other.

It’s also your friendship with each other that enables you to let it out and talk it through without criticism.

This can be a great opportunity for each of you (if willing) to coach each other in how to best cope with your parents  after all, nobody knows your parents better than you do!

This might mean releasing your frustration or hurt prior to talking to your mother-in-law. Or, it might mean nodding agreeably and then doing it your own way, rather than acquiescing into an agreement that the two of you don’t want.

It’s a matter of identifying those moments that might need addressing, and which ones do not. 

 

2. Agree to keep your private life private.

What you and your spouse say to each other in times of conflict or disagreement stays between you.

You shouldn't share your secrets about how he misbehaved with your parents, just like you don't want him to share with his parents the same about you!

The sanctity of your marital bond is that you can have each other’s back and you figure it out together.

Once you involve someone else, it might initially release your own tension, but it means you’ve bonded with a third person instead of working it through verbally and emotionally with your spouse.

When you get stressed out in your marriage, it’s natural to want to include a third person in on your problem. 

But telling friends or family interferes with your connection to each other.

Have you ever wondered why years later your parents still have a negative attitude towards your husband during the holidays?

Your parents don’t forget what he did to you, even if the two of you worked it out later for the best. That's because your parents weren’t privy to the positive outcome. They only remember his mistakes and how upset you were at that time. The same is true with his parents. So make sure the in-laws are left out of your marital problems. 

 

3. Know your boundaries, but choose your battles.

If you set some lines, you’ll know when a boundary’s been crossed.

It’s when someone like an in-law inappropriately crosses a line: they ask you personal questions, or they consistently give you unsolicited advice, or they purposefully make arrangements for an event without asking for your input first!

You’ll definitely know it when it creeps up your spine and you feel physically uncomfortable right in the moment.

(Also, be sure to let your spouse know where your boundaries lie — or better yet, come up with them together. This way, you will both understand and acknowledge together when your in-laws have overstepped their bounds.)

Setting a healthy boundary means Identifying those moments where the line is crossed, but not necessarily making a scene or raising the battle flag.

You have to choose to pick your battles wisely.

Is it worth it to point it out when you're in the moment? Is it something you can talk about with your in-law privately? Or, is it so pervasive that it’s time for your husband to tell his parents that enough is enough!

Either way, take a breath, think it through and then talk to each other about how you feel.

 

4. Be willing to make some concessions —  but know that it's not forever.

How great is that, when your husband has a “talk” with his mother and announces that this year you’re both spending Christmas with your folks and his family gets Thanksgiving! Then, next year he promises her, you’ll reverse it.

The first year together is a composite of combined joys and stressors as the two of you blend family traditions, values, rituals, spiritual ceremonies, family favorite foods and scheduled times for celebration.

Ultimately, you’ll both find your own rhythm and honor your own needs as a couple and as a family with your own children.

As the years pass, you have children, they age, and their wants and needs will evolve also just as your holiday rituals may change to accommodate them! Or, as both your own parents and in-laws age, their needs may need adjusting too.

So what seemed very important in the early stages of your marriage, become less so as life goes on.

(As long as it's a fair arrangement and you're both compromising equally, don't make a fuss. It's not forever.)

 

In time, the idiosyncratic traits of each other’s families become more tolerable, endearing or possibly invisible.

A 26-year study conducted by Dr. Terri Orbuch research professor at the University of Michigan, for The Wall Street Journal, found that when a husband stated having a close relationship with his wife’s parents, the couple's risk of divorce decreased by 20 percent!

On the other hand, when a wife reported having a close relationship with her husband’s parents, the couple's risk of divorce increased by 20 percent.

This comes from the gender disparity between how husbands and wives approach their relationship with their in-laws. Men are interested in providing for their families and take their in-laws less personally. Women value a close relationship with their in-laws but often view them as meddling.

So take a step back.

Sometimes, it is a matter of keeping it simple.

Focus on what you can do, rather than how you can change your in-laws. Decide what you’re willing to do for yourself and for others.

Step-by-step you can create a circle of love that withstands the pressures of time both with your spouse and with your in-laws.

 

Margot Brown has helped couples and individuals create happier lives for over 20 years. She’s the author of “Kickstart Your Relationship Now! Move On or Move Out.” You can find it on Amazon and in local bookstores near you.

 

Author
Expert