We do not just marry the love of our lives — we marry their family too. Our relationships with in-laws can get incredibly tricky if left to chance. You may have heard, or even told, stories of the in-laws. Bonds have to be intentionally forged and protected, yet many relationships need restoration if you started off on the wrong foot.
The real challenge comes when a couple is faced with in-laws who don’t offer the necessary emotional and physical space to carve out their new nuclear family. Through the years, I’ve heard tales of in-laws who visit unannounced, or even demand for a set of the house keys; others have no qualms to vehemently disapprove on a range of issues.
If you’re feeling the strain of dealing with imposing in-laws, consider these 4 ways to better manage your relationship with them alongside your spouse.
Remember who’s on your team
If you and your spouse have contradicted each other — consciously or not — in front of your in-laws, it’s time to start being each other’s cheerleader instead. Refrain from creating situations where your spouse is forced to choose between you and their parents. When you disagree over matters related to your in-laws or other issues, keep it behind closed doors.
Never project your displeasure with your in-laws onto your spouse. As you try to convey your feelings, give your partner the time and space to also express their thoughts and emotions about the situation. You are in this marriage together!
Never project your displeasure with your in-laws onto your spouse.
Relinquish your expectations about how in-laws should behave and resist the urge to compare your parents with them as each family is unique. Don’t sweat the small stuff. View interactions with your in-laws maturely and try not to take things personally.
Hear your partner's heart about their parents to help you better understand their personalities and character traits. You may have interacted with your in-laws many times prior to your wedding, but things may change as you set up home with their child. Over time, your angst over their tactlessness will drop as you understand your in-laws better; you’ll feel calmer in managing the impositions on you and your spouse.
Relinquish your expectations about how in-laws should behave and resist the urge to compare. Each family is unique.
Juliet* is a dear friend, and her mother-in-law treated her with disdain in the first years of marriage. The older lady wanted a say in many things and often criticised Juliet for not taking better care of her son. One day, her mother-in-law blurted out that she felt like she had lost her son.
In her wisdom and calmness of spirit, Juliet replied, “You haven’t lost a son, mum. You’ve gained a daughter.” Juliet chose to be the bigger person after realising her mother-in-law’s insecurity. She was intentionally affectionate towards her mother-in-law each time they met, and would surprise her with thoughtful gifts of snacks to communicate her genuine intention of being a daughter. By understanding the older lady’s insecurity and offering assurance, Juliet discovered that there was less invasion in her married life.
Set boundaries together with your spouse
Sometimes, multiple attempts to reach out and address their concerns or needs — coupled with requests for less intrusion — may not work. When this happens, it will be beneficial for you and your spouse to discuss boundaries to enforce with your in-laws. For example, grandparents should not contradict either of you in front of your children when you are disciplining them.
Enforce boundaries in love
Refrain from communicating boundaries to the in-laws when you are in the middle of a conflict. One thing I try to practise is to speak when I’m not angry, or less angry; it helps me to stay on the topic and I’m less likely to say something hurtful.
Speak calmly as you deliver your instruction to them when not in conflict. Should they try to cross the line, gently remind them by saying, “Remember, we agreed that you won’t override our authority in front of the children?” Always take the initiative to enforce boundaries with your own parents and do not rely on your spouse to do so.
The important thing to remember is the unity in your marriage is essential to manage imposing in-laws. Seek to understand each other’s needs and avoid putting your spouse in a difficult position. The power from having a united front can maintain peace and harmony in the multi-generational family.
© 2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved
* Her name was changed to protect her privacy.
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