You and your husband have the perfect marriage. Except your in-laws. And the fact that you simply don’t like them. Want your marriage to survive the in-law wars? Check out these tips!
While you didn’t enter your marriage looking for an axe to grind with your in-laws, over the course of your marriage you’ve had cause to question their character and morality. In fact there have been many times that you’ve wished you could just divorce yourself from them. Unfortunately you can’t! So what can you do?
According to marriage and family therapist Lesli M. W. Doares, MS, LMFT of Balanced Family Therapy and author of the forthcoming book Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After With More Intention, Less Work, it is possible for a marriage to survive even when you don’t get along with your in-laws, but it takes clear understanding and agreement between you and your spouse. The old saying about marrying your partner’s family is true to the extent you let it be, says Doares. Extended family can have a strong impact on your marriage, so it’s a subject better dealt with head-on and not left to chance.
Your allegiance should be to your spouse
Of course you are still a member of your family of origin and that familial relationship is important. However, note Doares, both of you must remember that once you marry, your allegiance should shift to your partner.
You are forming a new family that takes priority over the old, says Doares. Hopefully, everybody can get along. But in any disagreement between spouse and family, you need to side with your spouse if their position is reasonable and rational. If someone has to be disappointed, it should be the in-laws, not your partner.
Spouses need to manage their relationships with their parents
Because you are the one with feet in both camps, it is your job to manage the relationship with your parents. It is unfair and, ultimately, unworkable to leave this role to your spouse. This means you will have to deal with any outstanding issues you have with your parents.
Couples must define and enforce reasonable boundaries with their respective parents
When it comes to abusive, meddling, advice giving, or surprise visiting in-laws, what you tell them about your relationship, holiday celebrations, child rearing, etc. don’t allow behaviors or habits to start that you don’t want to live with for the length of your marriage. While you can’t stop your parents from trying to do what they want, notes Doares, calmly refusing to go along with them is your choice.
If your in-laws don’t want anything to do with the grandchildren it is their loss, not your fault
The more you try to change their minds or behavior, the more power you give them in your lives, advises Doares. Grieve their choice, provide appropriate information about your family, manage your hurt, and move on.
Sometimes you can try all these things and there will still be animosity between your spouse and your parents
Learn to let go of that ideal of one big happy family says Doares. You don’t have to choose between them to have a happy marriage. Your spouse may never want to have anything to do with your family but you can still be in contact with them. You will just have to adjust your expectations about when and how you see them while protecting your marriage at the same time. Sometimes, if you can drop your end of the rope and stop trying to make everyone get along, the two parties can change their position over time.
Eight DOs and DONTs for surviving the in-law wars
#1 DO prioritize
Your partner and your marriage are your top priority. Protect them.
#2 DO set boundaries
You and your spouse must clearly define the boundaries of your marriage. This means deciding who comes in, when, and under what circumstances. You promised to forsake all others. This means your parents.
#3 DO figure out holidays up front
As early as possible, decide how you want to spend holidays and other important occasions as a couple. Do not just go along and hope you can change it later.
#4 DO be a team
Recognize you cannot change your family’s behavior, only your response to it. Have a clear and united response that supports your marriage.
#5 DO keep an open mind
Listen to your partner’s viewpoint and feelings about your family with an open mind and heart. Don’t automatically defend your family.
#6 DON’T betray your spouse to your parents
Be clear about what is okay to share about your marriage with your parents. Do not betray your spouse’s confidences or vulnerabilities. Make sure you tell them about the positive aspects of your spouse and marriage.
#7 DON’T force the relationship
If you cannot reconcile your partner and your parents, stop trying. Do not force your spouse to be with them if it is too hurtful. It’s okay to visit them alone.
#8 DO be the bad cop
You are the spokesman and enforcer for your marriage to your parents. Do not leave it to your partner to work things out with your parents. Let their relationship be as easy as possible.