Trials In Marriage – In-Law Relationships

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If you have difficulty with your in-laws I’m sure this post caught your attention. It doesn’t get discussed much on marriage blogs; not because it isn’t an issue, but because it is a huge issue to those who are struggling. Sometimes the things that are the most painful are the hardest to discuss.

Most often you hear of Mother-in-law against Daughter-in-law or vice versa. It has never been more accurately displayed than on the sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s obvious that Ray is his mother’s favorite, and when Ray’s wife, Debra comes into the family, she doesn’t hold back her disdain. Nothing Debra does is good enough, and Marie doesn’t hold back in sharing her opinions either.

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It’s sad, but true–we tend to joke about the things that are the most heart-breaking in our lives. This is a coping mechanism we use to help us deal with the pain. And the pain can be palpable.

When our children grow up our sons choose a woman who will become the leading female influence in his life. Up until this point his Mom had that role. There is a replacement that happens and many mothers aren’t ready to give up their influence. The same is true for Dads. When their daughters grow up and get married, her Dad is no longer the primary influence in her life. The Bible calls it “leaving and cleaving.” It sounds very poetic, but how it works out in each family is nothing at all like reading words that rhyme. If anything, it’s more like what is described in 1 Corinthians as a clanging gong or crashing cymbals–love is no where to be found, only discord.

As Christians we must choose to love our in-laws in a way that glorifies God, both our spouse’s parents and our children’s spouse.

Advice For The Mother-In-Law and Father-In-Law

Deterrents to Peace in the Relationship:

Expectations – What are you expecting your relationship to look like with your son or daughter’s spouse? If your in-laws don’t meet your expectations there is sure to follow disappointment on many levels.

  • Did you son/daughter do things according to your preferences in choosing a spouse?
  • Do you approve of their choice, or had you hoped they would marry someone more compatible to your way of doing things?
  • Are you hoping you’ll share all holidays together with both sides of the family? Or are you hoping to have your kids to yourself on alternate holidays?
  • What about when the grandkids arrive? Will you be the favorite grandparent? Or will you find yourself second fiddle to the cooler, more relevant grandparent?
  • Will you be included as much as you hoped in their lives?

These are all important questions to consider, because if you don’t, they will come rolling in like a steamroller on your emotions.

Peace is possible, but it comes at a cost. We must be willing to die to ourselves and consider other’s more important than ourselves.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 ESV

Relationships are hard work and this couldn’t be more true than when your family begins expanding through marriage. Different cultures and traditions often collide and compromises must be made. We must learn to hold our expectations loosely and allow our children to make their own decisions based on what’s best for their family, and that may or may not line up with our hopes or dreams. We must keep our opinions to ourselves unless asked. We must bridle our tongue to keep from interfering in a realm that’s not ours. And we must love our children enough to let them go and create a family of their own–independent from us.

Competition – Not only are we the in-laws to our child’s spouse, but their spouse’s parents are in-law’s to our child. This relationship between both sets of parents can also cause tension, especially when the way both families do things are in opposition to each other. This is seen most clearly when two different cultures marry. There may be a complete break down of understanding as to the meaning of long-standing family traditions.

When we allow ourselves to compare ourselves to others, especially with in-law relationships, it’s never good. This is a feast for our sinful pride–either we compare ourselves favorably and think we’re better, or we compare ourselves and fall short thinking we’re not good enough. Both thoughts are to be avoided.

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. – James 3:16-18 ESV

Communication, communication, communication is KEY. In order to come to a place of understanding it requires a willingness on both sides to listen and to be heard. Both are crucial to finding a resolve. There is a natural awkwardness when a new marriage takes place. It makes things that were once no brainers, like how holidays are celebrated,  a huge crisis!

Our advice is to let your children make the decision based on what’s best for them.

It may not be the answer you were hoping to hear. You may be tempted to grumble and complain–but don’t! For the sake of your kids and the peace in your family keep your disappointments to yourself. Oh, you will fail at this from time to time, voicing your disappointment, but we must resist the temptation to pressure our kids into doing things our way. When we say more than we should, we must be quick to apologize and communicate our desire to let them make their own decisions.

No one ever said being an in-law would be easy. But it doesn’t have to be hugely difficult either, that is if we’re willing to let go of our preferences. Let’s be the kind of parents that our children’s spouse’s enjoy being around by being willing to take the hits of disappointments for the sake of peace.

In our next post we’ll address the relationships between son-in-law and daughter-in-laws to the spouse’s parents.

About Debi Walter

Face it, marriage is hard work. But when cultivated daily the fruit produced will satisfy for a lifetime. We're here to help with ideas and encouragement along the way. Having been married 36 years and counting, we share what we've learned with practical tips, Biblical Truths, Date night ideas to help you plow your own vineyard for God's glory.
This entry was posted in Christian Marriage, communication, Conflict, In-Laws. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Trials In Marriage – In-Law Relationships

  1. Chris says:

    Sitting in the “his mother” seat is not for the faint of heart! As everyone knows, “his mother” is the butt of every joke, expected to be a problem, and expected to fail. I’m constantly walking on eggshells! I have always had a very healthy relationship with my son, and then a girl (who comes from a very dysfunctional home — her dad with severe mental illness, emotional incest, etc.) entered his life. We are currently in weekly family counseling to try to navigate our way through integrating his intended future wife into our family. It’s not easy, as she has acted very disrespectfully toward me and very condescending toward our other children. There have been many tears at our house.

    HOWEVER, although this situation is not one we would have signed up for, as I speak on behalf of myself and my family (I can’t speak for her…), because we call ourselves Christians, because we bear His name, we are committed to pursuing healthy, peaceful, loving relationships all the way around. We’ll just have to keep working at it — until. Above all things, I desire to live a life that tells the truth about who God is… Forgiveness, peace, love, and unity aren’t easy, but they aren’t optional either.

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    • Debi Walter says:

      Chris, What a difficult place to be. But God who is mighty will help you glorify Him and just from this comment I can hear this is your desire. I pray God will help you love her despite her abuse and to show her what the love of Christ is. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend Peacemaker, by Ken Sande. It helped me in navigating similar difficult relationships.
      Blessings to you,
      Debi

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      • Chris says:

        Thank you, Debi. I really appreciate the book recommendation. I was able to preview a bit of it on Amazon and it does look very helpful! I think I’ll receive it Friday — I’m looking forward to learning what I can do better. If you think of it, I would appreciate prayer, that my eyes stay focused on Him, and I can find rest for my weary and wounded heart as I leave this all in His hands.

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      • Debi Walter says:

        Wonderful! Let me know how you like the book. I pray it equips you for the road ahead. I’m doing a personal challenge this month to #lookupwiththanks. I’m on Instagram “TheRomanticVineyard” and posting a picture each day of something God has helped me look up with thanks to Him for. Maybe you’d like to join me by using the same hashtag.
        I will pray for you, Chris. It’s such a hard place to be. But look at what Christ endured for us? He will help you!

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  2. My MIL and I had a great relationship until (weird of all things) her daughter, my husbands sister, had a son. She wasn’t going to have kids, but then changed her mind. As soon as her son was born my MIL did a 180 with her treatment toward me. I, all of a sudden, became a bad mom and my kids were out of control hoodlums, which they aren’t at all. All the attention she gave them stopped and it was like they were outcasts. If this wasn’t bad enough, it got even worse when she got her dog. A dog. Now her Facebook page is plastered with pictures of her dog and grandson. They are all she gushes about. It’s not really any skin off my nose, though. Her not making the effort is on her, not me. It’s her loss, not mine, obviously. I used to feel bad that my kids wouldn’t have a relationship with the woman, but why wish them to have such negativity in their lives. They are super close with my parents. That’s enough. LOL

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    • Debi Walter says:

      Angela, That is so sad, but I’ve heard of such things far too often. It allows us to make decisions now on the way we want to be when our children get married. Having had two of our three children get married, I can tell you God has helped me consider things from my SIL. and DIL’s perspective. Not that I do it all perfectly, but at least I’m making an effort to welcome them and their differences to our family. It’s a great blessing if it’s done right. I’m sad for your MIL. She is the one missing out.
      Blessings,
      Debi

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