When you pledged yourself to your spouse in your marriage vows, you probably weren’t looking over his or her shoulder at the people standing in the background. However, like it or not, when you get married, your spouse will bring a whole new family into your relationship.
I remember the rude awakening I had when my mother-in-law called us the morning after my wedding night to see if her son and I were on the road yet. My new husband looked truly frightened by the look on my face and he hung up the phone quickly. According to Dr. Terri Apter, a psychologist and author of the book, "What Do you Want from Me?",“nearly two-thirds of women report long term unhappiness and stress due to conflict with their mothers-in-law.” I’ll be the first to admit that I’m included in this statistic.
Is a stress-free relationship with in-laws possible? I’d like to think so, though I haven’t reached that point in my own marriage yet. It takes practice, patience, and extra effort, but the long term rewards of familial tranquility and good grandparent relationships are worth it. If you’d like to give it a try, here are some strategies for you to consider.
Be loyal to your spouse
This is the person you’ve promised to love in sickness and in health, through thick and thin, all mothers-in-law to the contrary. If a disagreement arises between your spouse and your own parent, side with your spouse and work out the finer details later, out of earshot. According to the article "The Influence of In-Laws on Change in Marital Success," which appeared in the Journal of Marriage and Family, “the early years of marriage are spent trying to distinguish the union with your partner from the unions you both had with your respective parents.” Make sure that your relationship with your spouse takes precedence over your relationship with your parents.
Avoid grapevine communication
When your father-in-law says something insensitive about your burgeoning baby belly or your sister-in-law attempts to give you unsolicited parenting advice, the last person you’ll want is to talk with the person who offended you. However, it’s much better to communicate directly than to try to tell your spouse what to say or to use other means of indirect communication. More likely than not, more misunderstandings will arise and the situation will only get worse if you don’t handle it yourself.
When you’re married, the main decisions in your relationship (i.e. where to live, when to have kids, etc.) should be made between you and your spouse, not you, your spouse, and your parents. It’s fine to seek out advice, but make sure to always maintain the boundary that lets both parents and parents-in-law know that you and your spouse will have the ultimate say, no matter the opinions to the contrary. Remember the adage, “Good fences make good neighbors.” This applies to relationships with the in-laws as well.
Tell selective stories
Did your spouse say or do something today that really made you mad? Blow off some steam by going for a walk, cleaning the bathroom, or even breaking a dish or two if you want. Just don’t go running to your parents to tell them all about it. Chances are, the whole thing will blow over in a couple of hours and be forgotten. Your parents, however, don’t get to go through the makeup process and they’ll only remember what your spouse did wrong. It’s best not to share stories of your marital strife with your parents if you want to keep them and your spouse on good terms.
In-law relationships are bound to be tricky, but they don’t have to cause you undue marital conflict. Employ these simple techniques to make your life a little easier.