It has often been said that when we marry, we do not marry just a person but an entire family. As we sow into our marriage, we should remember not to neglect the relationship with our own parents and in-laws. How exactly can we build a healthy relationship with them?
Carve your own family values, while respecting theirs
No two families are alike, nor do things the same exact way. Unless these differences are contrary to your beliefs, what you learn about your spouse's family can add a rich dimension to your marriage. Focus on the positive qualities of your respective family backgrounds and think about how you can build on those qualities. At the same time, talk honestly with your spouse about unhealthy or destructive patterns you don’t want to continue.
As a married couple, your top priority is each other. If your in-laws have a tendency to drop in unexpectedly, gently but firmly let them know that as you establish your new life together, privacy is an important part of that. Tell them they are always welcome, but you’d prefer them to call ahead. If you are living under the same roof, request that they knock before entering your room. Also, agree to not involve them when private couple issues need to be worked out.
Communicate your plans but listen to their perspective
Sharing the decisions you're making as a couple - where you will live, when you plan to have kids, how you plan to raise them - will make your in-laws feel valued and honored. You don't have to share every detail, but letting them in on some of your plans can build trust and respect in the relationship. Take time to listen to their perspective too, since they usually just want to share from their own experience or see that you don’t make the same mistakes they did. Just make sure to communicate that while you will consider their advice, you have the right and responsibility as a couple to make the final decision.
Spend time intentionally
What can warm the hearts of parents more than knowing you care about them? By initiating 'family time' with your in-laws, you're telling them that they are valuable to you. If you are living apart from them, decide together how often to visit. If the relationship is strained, consider shorter but more frequent visits. A congenial atmosphere can be maintained more easily for short periods.
Show appreciation and consider their needs
When you choose to understand your in-laws and love them, you are also choosing to honor your spouse and their relationship with their parents. There will be times when you may not understand or agree with the attitudes and opinions of your in-laws, but you can still learn to appreciate them for who they are. Also, consider their needs, be it financial, physical or emotional, and be there for them during tough times. How we respond to accidents, financial crises, illness or death often determines whether we grow together as a family.
Value the extended family
Many parents are a huge source of support, particularly when we have children. As the traditional African proverb states, "It takes a village to raise a child". Grandparents can play a vital role in the developmental years of our children, so through maintaining a strong relationship with our parents and in-laws, we allow our children to get to know their grandparents. We ourselves may also come to see them in a new light.
Though you may experience the occasional bump in the road, in-law relationships can ultimately be a great addition to your life and family. Remember, by loving your spouse's parents, you are loving your spouse too.
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