In-Laws Not Out-Laws

Thankgiving is tomorrow, and many of us will be visiting family this holiday season. Knowing how to navigate in-laws—or future in-laws—is important for marital harmony.

The reality is that in-law interactions can vary greatly. One set of in-laws may not want things to change—they may put pressure on you to keep things as they are. One may be hands off and unengaged with your nuclear family, so they just go with whatever decisions you make. Another may want to protect and constantly give advice—and sometimes they may even try to control you—wanted or not. Or one may be detached and seemingly uncaring.

Sometimes you even have to deal with in-law envy, especially when it comes to sharing relationships with grandchildren. Though none of these needs to be a source of unsolvable conflict, it is wise to talk about how your parents might respond to your family dynamics, especially your holiday plans and visits. This will help you better plan for the future.

Though most extended families are good-hearted, loving and kind, they still can bring stress and may require you to set boundaries. In setting boundaries, try to emphasize the best of each family situation, and honor the in-laws. It helps to avoid being critical or judgmental when things get tough, and try to be fair and balanced.

Your in-laws should understand that they should call before coming to visit, and if boundaries are broken, reestablish them together as a couple. And when there are differences in child rearing or other situations with the children, work together to resolve the issues—and be sure the children are not caught in the middle of the disagreement or feel torn between families. When there are differences—and there will be—remember that your spouse and children must come first.

It might be good to answer these questions ahead of time. How will you handle visits? What about family get-togethers? And what will you do about gift giving? What other expectations might your extended family have of you as a couple?

Finally, continue love each other, regardless of the outcome. We have an entire chapter in each of our books dedicated to helping you or someone you love with extended family challenges. Check out The ReMarriage Adventure: Preparing for a Lifetime of Love & Happiness and Countdown for Couples: Preparing for the Adventure of Marriage.

What extended-family issues concern you the most? I’d love to know.

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