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8 steps to managing your in-laws (and in-laws-to-be)

black_family in-laws

by Dr. Corey Allan

By putting your spouse first, you are choosing the adult role of being a husband or wife over the role of being a child in your parent’s family.

Not everyone has the blessing of good in-laws. Many spouses feel like they must compete against their in-laws for the time and attention of their spouse. This is especially true during the first few years of marriage.

Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with great in-laws. But this didn’t just happen by chance. We had to learn how to get along. Like it or not, in-laws are part of your life. And the holidays are often one of the most difficult times to navigate the in-law waters.

 

So how can you do this so that everyone (especially your marriage) survives? With a mix of tact, straighforwardness, and healthy selfishness (yep, you read that last one right). The biggest issues that arise when it comes to in-laws seem to be one of two extremes. One extreme is intrusiveness and meddling, even though parents may think they are demonstrating love and care, it doesn’t come across this way. Some parents have trouble letting go of the parenting role, and some “children” have trouble launching out on their own with their new spouse. The other extreme is too much distance. Some parents may emotionally and even physically cut off their child once he or she marries, and obviously too much distance isn’t good either.

Whether the relationship with your in-laws is great or could use some improving, here are some tips that may help:

1. Spouse comes first. When you get married, it’s time to grow up and leave your parents. This doesn’t mean you emotionally kick them to the curb or cut all ties, but you do need to establish your own family. By putting your spouse first, you are choosing the adult role of being a husband or wife over the role of being a child in your parent’s family.

2. Set boundaries. There are many things that happen in marriage that are none of your parents’ business. Read that sentence again. If you run to mom or dad any time you have a fight with your spouse, how are you going to learn to handle life with your spouse on your own? Avoid sharing the household secrets with your parents. Discuss with your spouse what topics and areas of your life are off limits to others.

3. Establish ground rules. Much like the previous point, setting clear ground rules for handling extended family will improve your marriage.

  • When do you and your spouse have exclusive time for each other?
  • When do you spend time with your extended family?
  • When do you involve your parents/in-laws in decision-making?
  • Where should you discuss your marital conflicts: in private or in front of your in-laws?

4. Recognize the culture. Our culture and upbringing plays a major role in how we do marriage. Recognize the cultural aspects of your spouse’s upbringing. One client I’ve worked with handled it this way: In her upbringing, the women did all the cooking and cleaning up at mealtimes. So when they shared a meal with her parents, her husband stayed out of the way. However, when her parents weren’t around, he stepped up and helped out or took care of it himself.

5. Don’t criticize your spouse’s relationship with his or her parents. Nothing can raise a spouse’s defenses faster than criticism. Seek to understand more about their relationship rather than criticize, as this can lead to resentment and contempt.

 

6. Be polite. This doesn’t mean you have to change your personality to please your in-laws, simply respect rules and traditions that are important to the older generation. Being polite and respectful with in-laws will go a long way in improving the relationship—not only with your in-laws, but your spouse as well.

7. Develop code words. My wife and I have pretty good relationships with each other’s parents. Even so, there are still times when they drive us a bit crazy. We’ve developed some code words that we use to lighten the mood between us whenever in-laws get too annoying. Have fun with this one but remember to remain respectful. Derogatory code words could only cause more problems.

8. Spend time with your in-laws. Develop a better relationship with your in-laws by doing things together. Find out what they enjoy and try joining them. This could be shopping, playing golf, cards, whatever. You may find you have more in common than you thought.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


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