In-law relationships can have a significant impact on a marriage. That’s why conflict with in-laws requires a united front that puts your marital relationship before the relationship you have with your parents. Perhaps you’ve experienced varying levels of joy and tension while interacting with your mother-in-law or father-in-law. But when the dynamics between spouses and each other’s parents become overwhelmingly negative, it’s not just the short-term marital satisfaction that takes a hit. For some couples, in-law conflict actually increases the risk of divorce, especially when topics of disagreement center on sensitive issues like family values, finances, children, career choices, and family business ventures.
How can married couples address, resolve, and ideally avoid conflict with their in-laws in a respectful, tactful, and effective way? These guidelines may help:
Remember: Marriage Comes First
This might sound somewhat insensitive, but when two people choose to get married, their marriage needs to take priority over the relationship that each spouse shares with their parents. For a marriage to fulfill its intended goal of becoming a fulfilling, lifelong commitment, spouses must be willing to protect their union from detracting external influences—even if those influences come from within the family.
Putting your marriage first looks like:
- Being on each other’s team
- Standing up for each other in front of in-laws
- Making final decisions together
- Deferring to each other’s opinions and needs over the opinions and needs of parents
- Not oversharing nor disclosing intimate details with in-laws
Create Healthy Boundaries and Communicate These Boundaries Clearly
Setting boundaries might have a negative connotation, especially when it comes to boundaries with your in-laws. But having healthy boundaries isn’t about keeping your in-laws away nor trying to control them. Boundaries, when created with honest intention, create space for healthy in-law relationships to flourish—relationships that don’t encroach on the marital relationship.
Areas that can benefit from having boundaries include: holiday rotations, medical decisions, family visits (e.g., how often, how long), and money (e.g., whether it is acceptable for you and your spouse to loan or gift money to family members).
If your spouse’s parents disagree with something the two of you have decided, you are not obligated to change simply to appease them. You are not even obligated to offer a justification. Responses like “We’re not looking for input on this issue,” “Respectfully, this isn’t up for discussion,” and “We understand how you feel” are sufficient. It’s not your job to change their minds—it’s your job to honor your marriage.
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Lead With Respect
Most things are more easily done with kindness! Make a commitment to treat your in-laws with respect even when you disagree. Check your emotions and be curious about your own judgments.
Additionally, avoid the temptation to complain to your spouse about their parents. If there is a genuine issue that needs to be addressed, approach it with your partner in a direct way. If the issue ultimately needs to be brought directly to your in-laws, allow your spouse to take the lead.
Finally, if you and your spouse truly struggle with your in-laws or have a hard time establishing and maintaining boundaries, consider marriage counseling. Family dynamics are rarely simple and can have an immense impact on your family. Professional support can help.
Your Marriage Comes First
Relationship therapy helps couples navigate recurring points of conflict, such as addressing the importance of your marriage over in-law relationships. To begin exploring these topics at a marriage counseling retreat please contact The Marriage Restoration Project today or schedule a free consultation call with Rabbi Slatkin.