Marriage Improvement Monday
Today’s Marriage Improvement Monday is brought to you by Ben Klempner, MSW, of EffectiveFamilyCommunication. Today, on his site, he’s running a companion post that I wrote on the same topic. Get to know Ben. He’ll be posting here roughly once a month. If you have questions about getting along with your in-laws, please leave them in the comments. Ben is here to offer advice and share his insight and he will try to answer whatever questions or issues you have on this topic. Think of it like a free therapy session.
Here’s his advice for getting along with the in-laws.
About Those Family Ties
As a therapist and counselor, I can say with a fairly good deal of confidence that in-laws can make or break a marriage. If the in-laws decide that you are not the right one for their child, watch out. Even if the in-laws decide that you are the match made in heaven for their child, you can rest assured that your in-laws will be there to smooth things out whenever your marriage faces a problem or challenge.
I recall several instances when clients had controlling mothers-in-law and husbands who were overly attached to these mothers. The wives were resentful that their forty something husbands were still more attached to their mothers than to them. Not surprisingly, these marriages ended in divorce.
What is the “make it our break it” factor when it comes to in-laws? The answer is simple to write but difficult to implement. It’s respectful boundaries.
On the one hand, there should be an expectation that your spouse, you and any children form a cohesive unit. On the other hand, those whom you are closest (the extended family) can be a source of nourishment, inspiration, and guidance.
But a delicate balance is required. While a welcomed guest is a delight, there is nothing worse than an unwelcome guest.
Set boundaries. All well functioning families have clear boundaries that determine which guests will enter, for how long they will be permitted, and when and how they will be asked to leave. What are your boundaries? Discuss it with your spouse.
Establish expectations. Without expectations things become a free-for-all. Our spouses need to know what our limits, boundaries, and expectations are regarding their parents. Are we open or closed to their parents input? Are their allowed to live in our homes but expected to stay out of the decision making? Are they invited for three day visits or for three month visits? Our spouses need to know what our exceptions are. Conversely we need to know what their limits, boundaries, and expectations are regarding our parents (remember, your spouse has in-laws too).
Respect your in-laws, regardless of how you feel about them. Your in-laws may have been terrible and abusive parents to your spouse. They might be the type of people who you have every reason in the world to dislike. Nevertheless do your very best to keep your opinions to yourself. Your in-laws did the best they could to raise your spouse. They may not be perfect, but neither are you. It’s difficult to do, at times, but try to focus on gratitude and on giving them the benefit of the doubt. At the very least, you can be grateful that they raised, invested in, shaped, and molded the person you chose to share your life with.
So, when all is said and done, there is really only one thing we need to say to our in-laws, “Thank you for having raised the wonderful person I’m married to.”
What issues do you have with your in-laws? Discuss them in the comments. Let’s all see if we can solve these problems together.