“As a son-in-law or daughter-in-law, what’s required of me? What are my obligations, whether I feel like it or not, in relating to my spouse’s relatives?”
Before I got married, I prayed I wouldn’t have to deal with parents-in-law, especially mother-in-law. I don’t quite understand the emotions and hormones of women, despite being a woman myself and I didn’t want to burden myself with the extra forced relationship. Then I had a change of mind, only because I want to be a mother in my old age, reaping the good of my early labor in my children. Fair point, right?
However, it isn’t as simple to maintain. In most cases, the notion does not sound like a very warm or relaxed relationship. You might feel caught between trying to please them (or trying to avoid offending them) on the one hand, and just wanting to be yourself or wanting your own “space” on the other. That rings a bell? Perhaps, this is why men, with little or no tolerance level, can’t seem to tolerate in-laws as well as the women tend to be able to endure. Or maybe the principle they are adapting is “Good fences make good neighbors”. However, before this principle is in place, let there be an agreement with your mate. Set reasonable boundaries and agree to avoid future issues/quarrels.
A debarring principle too is if you’re a Christian, you tend to owe your in-laws behavior that is consistently Christian in character—as you do anyone else. This doesn’t rule out the reality that if your in-laws are “difficult” people, are controlling and manipulative, or are emotionally or mentally dysfunctional, or don’t share your faith, make them an exception to your Christian love and attention. This may be a particularly hard challenge, regardless, since they’re not just anyone. They’re connected to your spouse through genetics, history, and complex psychological dynamics. The reasonable principle to put at the back of your mind is your spouse. Except you want to hurt them and don’t care about their feelings towards your hardheartedness to his/her relatives and you don’t mind losing your spouse, in some cases as it may turn out to be, then by all means, be informed that you are not cut out to be a member of the society in general. Tolerance, love and understanding help the society live in harmony.
So these are some principles you need to keep in mind to fulfill obligation toward your in-law.
- Work with your spouse.
This is the key rule. Dealing effectively with in-laws all starts with first working conflicts through with your spouse. Remember, you’re in this together.
Never put your spouse in a situation where he or she has to choose between you and a relative. If you do so, you’re putting your spouse in a nearly impossible bind. Instead, try to understand the bond your spouse has with his or her relatives. If possible, try to support that relationship. Even if your spouse has parents from hell, they are his or her parents.
- Set boundaries and limits.
With your spouse, decide what’s important and what’s not, what’s needed and what’s not, what’s acceptable and what’s not. Work as a team, set your family values. Then communicate your values to your in-laws ahead of time so all parties are aligned.
Speaking of boundaries, don’t make promises that you can’t keep.
- Communicate directly.
Whenever possible, avoid communicating through a third party. Don’t ask your spouse to talk to his sister about something she did that hurt your feelings. Talk to your sister-in-law directly. While this might seem unwise, reporting to a third party only breeds contempt to you on the long run.
- Get with the program.
Not every father-in-law lives to snake out your kitchen sink; not every mother-in-law dreams of baking cookies with her grandchildren. Put away the stereotypes and adjust your thinking to the reality of the situation. Don’t expect what people can’t deliver so you don’t get disappointed and begin to act unduly.
- Learn to cool off.
During a heated situation, the best thing to do is nothing. Hard is it may be, remember time heals many wounds — and wounds many heels. While you’re at it, play nice. Spare your in-laws the insults and character attacks. For all you know, you might be walking straight into their trap.
- Be mature.
Your parents have to love you; it’s in the contract. But your in-laws don’t. Accept the fact that your in-laws aren’t your parents and won’t follow the same rules. Try to think “different” — not “better” or “worse.” To make this work, give in on small points and negotiate the key issues.
Learn to see the situation from your in-law’s point of view. And even if you don’t agree, act like a big person.
- Be kind.
Even if you have to grit your teeth, try to say something nice. And if you really can’t say anything nice, shut up and smile.
- Keep your sense of humor.
Someone tells this story: “When I was pregnant with my first child, my father-in-law bought me a special gift: My very own funeral plot. ‘Why a funeral plot?’ When asked why he gave such a gift, ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘you might not make it through the birth and I thought you should be prepared.’ Anyone would have slugged the man upside his head but the daughter-in-law rather laughed and thanked him for his gift. P.S. She and all her children are fine. Who has become the bigger person in this short story?
Whether it is an obligation or right required to be an in-law, remember to stay diplomatic with your relationship as much as you want your marriage to work.