Today Marriage Monday is tackling the delicate topic of handling difficult "in-laws". Does this subject make you want to run and hide? I will admit I didn't know if I had the courage to tackle this one, but I had to give it a try.
I think it must be a very rare thing, indeed, to enter a marriage and have a wonderful relationship with the in-laws right away. Its a bit like learning to walk all over again, in my opinion. For those of you who fell in love with the family alongside the husband... you are so fortunate. For the rest, I'm guessing its been a long road of learning, compromise and some aches and pains and bumps in the road along the way.
So, here's my little list of what I think is crucial to maintaining relationships with the in-laws.
Respect is crucial to any relationship... even more-so in a relationship with in-laws. Coming into marriage we are all from different backgrounds. We first need to respect the differences between ourselves and our spouses' families. While I am of the firm opinion that you marry the man and not the family, as so many others like to say, that family is important to the man you married and, therefore, you have to cultivate a respectful relationship.. even if you don't agree on everything. Respect their right to their opinions, lifestyles and in return, hopefully, they will also respect your right to be different.
STAND FIRM IN YOUR OWN CONVICTIONS
If such respect is not forthcoming and you have multiple differences in opinion, feel like you are judged constantly and, generally, cannot seem to please your husband's family, you still need to be firm in your own value systems. Within your own household you rule...you are queen and he is king. You both decide what is best for yourselves and your children.
Your in-laws may not agree with your choices, but they are your choices to make. The important thing is to be as loving and respectful in your 'rejection' of their disapproval. Let's face it.. some of us disagree with our own parents at times. Their advice or their ways of dealing with situations don't always appeal to us.. it doesn't mean we don't value their advice and we don't want to deliberately hurt or alienate them by open or angry rejection.
It takes tact to respectfully disagree, but it can be done. Let me hasten to add here that not ALL of the in-laws' advice or opinions may be 'bad' or 'wrong' for you and you have to be careful of not falling into the trap of rejecting them outright merely because of resentment at their interference.
MAINTAINING THE PEACE
Have you ever been in a situation where your husband has fallen out with his family? It is not a nice place to be. You, the wife, need to be peacemaker because, ultimately, even though he is angry, your husband needs to remain being a part of his family. In my own family, one uncle's wife was completely unaccepted by his parents and, as a result, he was torn between his wife and his family.To her credit, she never discouraged his visits to them even though she wouldn't go herself. She was wise enough to realize that a man shouldn't have to be alienated from his family to have a healthy marriage. It must have put strain on their relationship, but she encouraged him nonetheless.
Sometimes a wise wife has to compromise in order to maintain the peace. She must understand and weigh the consequences of each situation individually. Sometimes giving in bears fruit that far outweigh the negative fall out of standing her ground.
There have been many times that I have not wanted to do something that my husband's family had planned.. I didn't feel comfortable with it or it was against my own value system. Several times, though, I weighed the happiness it would bring to my husband and the opportunity for the family to bond against my own feelings and the outcome was enough to confirm that I had made the right decision.
It can be exceedingly difficult to cultivate relationships with people you may feel you have nothing in common with. Coming from such different backgrounds, I never felt that I fit in with my in-laws. They are social, extroverted and strongly opinionated.. I was raised in a more rigid household with far more rules and my father did not encourage us girls to dialogue on current affairs or politics. I felt grossly provincial when in their company. It took many years for me to feel comfortable. When the children came along it became a bit easier as they created a common ground. I also discovered that my love for cooking and baking was a way to reach out to them as none of them were fond of being in the kitchen and they appreciated my culinary efforts.
Finding some kind of common ground is important and sometimes you have to be the one to reach out and make the effort. Some people are blessed with sisters-in-law who bond with them instantly and a sweet and supportive mother-in-law, others have to work a little harder. Its worth it to build relationships with the people who are important to your husband.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
It is unfortunate that some people have to deal with constant disapproval and criticism from their in-laws. I have seen that first-hand and it is not an easy thing to deal with.. the woman in question either becomes indifferent to them and maintains a cool facade beneath which lies a wealth of hurt and bitterness, or she becomes withdrawn and hides behind that wall of pain. Either way, no building of relationship takes place.
The best thing you can do to win over your in-laws is to show them how much you love and care for their son/brother.
All parents, even difficult ones, want the best for their children. They may think they know what the best is and maybe they even think that you are NOT it, but, the proof is in the happiness of that son or daughter.
If you are loving and caring for him and his happiness is shining through.. THAT is something that they cannot deny.
This is crucial, but a little bit tough. It is important that your husband knows and understands what his family may be doing to upset you or undermine your efforts to maintain a good relationship with them. I know that there are people who are vindictive and malicious enough to try to damage their son's/brother's relationship with his wife. It is an unfortunate reality. While, the husband needs to be aware of his wife's feelings, she needs to be VERY careful how she conveys them. Remember, this is HIS family... none of us would like to hear our spouse bad-mouthing our families.
Always remember that people change and grow. I have seen so much growth in my husband's family in the last twenty-one years, in particular his mother. As I've said above, your in-laws may not agree with the way you and your husband have chosen to raise your children or your lifestyle, but, they will warm up eventually when they see how it works for you and how their son is blossoming in the marriage. Don't let past transgressions, unforgiveness or bitterness keep you from enjoying an improved relationship with the people that matter to your husband. Seeing your willingness to cross the barriers will mean a lot to him, especially if there has been bad blood between you in the past.
Never discount or forget the importance of prayer! Praying for your spouse's family is crucial, especially if you are struggling to forgive or battling with their rejection. When you pray with your husband for his family.. despite how rocky your relationship might be, you show him that you care about what and who is important to him. When you pray for his family you invite the Holy Spirit to wrought change to the situation. Prayer yields fruit!
MAINTAIN YOUR UNITY
The most important thing of all is that you and your husband are on the same page. You need to have his support and maintain a united front in the face of any opposition from his family. For instance, my husband and I have a very different value system to his family's and though, over the years, we have been challenged many times on our decisions, we have stood by them together. Twenty one years later, I believe that we have earned the respect of his family even though they still do not agree with our views.
Well, I guess my list wasn't so little after all :)
If you are one of those people who have to deal with difficult in-laws, I really hope that some of the above will be helpful to you. Be sure to visit e-Mom at Chrysalis to see what everyone else has to say on this rather controversial topic. Join in the conversation... I'd love to have your comments.