Marriage basics 101: In-laws
Recall the big four sources of conflict in marriage: Children, sex, money, and in-laws. Today’s blog is on resolving issues related to your relations.
I was very fortunate. I had great in-laws. They liked me immediately, respected me and felt that their daughter was fortunate to find me. I liked them too. They were generous, kind and easy to get along with. Over 30 years, our relationship grew close.
My wife, on the other hand, was less fortunate. She had mother-in-law problems! These problems waxed and waned over three decades. They were worse when the kids were little. My wife didn’t trust my mother’s judgment when it came to taking care of young kids. She was reluctant to let my mother take care of the kids alone. There were other issues too.
There is a simple truth. We fall in love with a person, not necessarily with their family. While there are many things that can go right in this human equation, there is much that can go wrong.
What if your intended parents don’t like you? What if you don’t like them? What if they have expectations of you that you can’t live up to? Or don’t want to live up to? What if you have different ideas about child rearing? What if they hope you will live nearby, but you want to live far away? Every family is like its own country--with a culture, language, and customs that are unique. What if you don’t fit in?
What about brother- and sister-in-laws? My girls are very close to each other (they live two blocks away from each other in Brooklyn). Whomever they marry will have to understand that these two sisters are part of each other’s everyday life.
What do you do if your husband or wife has in-law problems? Now you have trouble too. How you deal with these issues can be a source of misery between you and your partner. Navigating these rough waters can be challenging.
Here are some basic principles that can help:
Always support your spouse. But what if I agree with my parents and disagree with her? What if I think he’s wrong? What if I don’t want to displease my mother? What if I feel conflicted between wanting to please my parents and wanting to please my partner?
If you want to stay happily married, for a long time, your marital partner is the one you need to please. Your parents may be unhappy with you, but you don’t live with them. We all want one big happy family, but that is not always possible.
Take no offense! Now we are getting into advanced adulthood! It is your choice whether or not you take offense. You can choose to be offended, or not. You can let it go, or hold onto it. It’s your choice. Choose wisely.
Seek common ground. After many years of discord, my wife decided to find connection with my mother. Following the African American tradition in marriage, she asked my mother if she would “jump the broom” with her. I watched her take my mother’s hand and both jumped over a broom! They both belly laughed and had been closer ever since.
You see, they did have something in common, their love for me and our children!
Seek compromise. Easier said than done. It is difficult to deal with strong feelings that your partner, you or your parents may have. Look for opportunities to give ground wherever you can. If each party is looking for ways to compromise, a workable deal may be cut.
I know these differences can be complicated. And I know that love does not conquer all. But it always better to take the high road whenever possible.
Share your in-law victories!