Monday, January 17, 2011

Loving the In-laws ... by Russ Beck

Early in my training as a therapist, I learned that there were three main reasons why people divorce: sex, money, and the in-laws. Nowadays, the focus seems to be more on communication but in reality these three main issues continue to be at the root of many married couples difficulties.

Any relationship difficulty with in-laws is a complicated and hard situation to resolve. It's not much different from taking a stroll through a minefield! Unexpected explosions can happen at nearly every turn, even when we think we are just going for a walk.

There are several things to consider when we find ourselves having in-law problems:

We all have them, but we seldom take the time to figure out where they came from and if they are valid. Growing up in a family, we learn who we are through our interactions with Mom and Dad. Additionally, we watch them interact with our grandparents and tend to copy that relationship style, too.

Naturally, we accept what we learned as youngsters as being gospel, and we form expectations that this is how things will be in our marriage. Often, we feel this way without even thinking about it.

The problem arises when our spouse comes into the relationship with differing expectations, which is generally a given since we both come from different families. Many of these expectations can be seen in everyday events ... such as, who is “supposed” to do the dishes? Take out the trash? Change the baby’s diaper?

Other expectations arise on a less daily basis but during specific times of the year and in particular, during the holidays. Whose house do we go to for a party every Christmas Eve? Whose house do we go to for Thanksgiving?

It is important to look at what we expect and be willing to discuss this openly and in a fair manner with our spouse so that compromise and sharing will be the basis for making these decisions.

The Two Shall Become One
It is vital to establish our own family that is not an extension of either of our families. Through mutual respect, we learn to look to each other for our source of strength and unity. Certainly, there are some family traditions each of us will want to maintain, but it needs to be a conscious decision upon which we agree. Additionally, we need to go about establishing some of our own traditions that will help us and our children draw close and establish lasting bonds.

Mutual Respect for the In-laws
In a marriage, we love our spouse. Expression of this love takes many forms, but one of the most profound means of demonstrating love is by showing respect for our spouse’s parents. Each of us loves his or her parents deeply. It is not reasonable to expect a complete separation from those who nurtured us and gave their love for so many years. The commandment to love your parents is not an exclusive directive, but rather, it is an expansive instruction which includes in-laws.

All conversations about our in-laws should be done with the knowledge we are talking about the people our spouse loves.

Setting Boundaries
If there is a problem with the in-laws becoming overly involved in raising our children or in just “stopping by” too often, it is important to discuss with each other what behavior by the in-laws would be appropriate. After reaching a mutually agreed upon decision, the spouse of the in-laws in question should talk with his/her parents about it. Having the son-in-law or daughter-in-law speak with their respective in-laws creates a situation that could become a stumbling block for everyone.

It is also important that the spouse is not put into a position of becoming defensive about his/her parents. That will only lead to hurtful arguments and strained relationships.

When setting boundaries, it's important to remember that our in-laws also function as grandparents to our children. As such, they love their grandchildren and want to be involved in their lives. As long as they are not intrusive or don't go against parental wishes, it's important that in-laws are included in their grandchildren's lives. One set of in-laws should not be given preferential treatment over the other when it comes to sharing our children.Generational love from both sides of the family provides the glue that keeps the eternities in perspective.

In conclusion, the best way to minimize problems with the in-laws is to discuss expectations, build family traditions, and show respect for the in-laws ... while at the same time setting boundaries. Lastly, we don't want to overlook the fact that including both sets of in-laws in our lives, and the lives of our children, will enlarge our circle of love.

Until next time …

~ Russ

-----© Russ Beck, 2011-----

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