One of the most complicated parts about becoming a new family after you’re married is figuring out how you and your husband will approach relationships with the in-laws. Typically, when two people join together in matrimony, they not only have to learn how to live with each other, they also have to learn how to handle each other’s families. Some people end up loving their in-laws, while others could really live without them.
I hope you fall into the former category. But from my work as a marriage and family therapist, I know that there is a LARGE group of people that fall into the latter of the two making the topic of in-laws complicated and somewhat cringe-worthy for many people.
Why are Relationships With In-Laws So Hard?
I don’t know if I have the magic answer, but through my experience and work as a marriage and family therapist, it seems there are two BIG contributing factors to this complicated subject: 1) societal norms, and 2) how we view family.
From the time we are born, it seems society is training us to dread or even feel annoyance toward the thought of in-laws even before we have met our significant others. It is one of those subjects that people love to joke about everywhere. Take a moment to think about the amount of movies and TV shows that have an annoying in-law! For me, “Everybody Loves Raymond” immediately comes to mind. It is almost like society tells us it is cool to not like your in-laws and possibly even strange when you do.
Our View of “Family”
Secondly, I think our own lack of flexibility as to what family “IS” and “IS NOT” can cause our relationships to be strained. For the average person, it seems to be very hard to broaden the scope of what family is if it conflicts with their own experience of family. To use a silly example, if you grew up with your mom always making homemade spaghetti sauce and your mother-in-law uses sauce from a can, it may irk you for no other reason than it is different from what you are used to. But not because it is actually wrong or doesn’t still make spaghetti.
You see, even when a person does not like their own family, their family still defines their sense of normal. And let’s be honest, a person seems to have a bias or extra tolerance toward their own family’s annoying traits. But someone else’s annoying traits may not roll off them quite as easily.
How to Strengthen Your Relationship with Your In-Laws
So how does one get around this? And how can YOU keep your relationship with your in laws in a peaceful and harmonious state instead of one filled with annoyance? Well, here are two tips:
1. Look for what your in-laws offer you that your own family does not.
I think the BEST way to create and maintain a strong relationship with your in-laws is to steer clear of trying to recreate the relationship you have with your family with your in-laws. They are different people with different strengths. I think the biggest mistake that happens to in-law relationships is when people try and build new relationships with their in-laws and expect them to act and do things in the same way as their own family.
This expectation is not only unrealistic, it is setting your in-laws up for failure. Additionally, it is important to consider why you need your in-laws to do things the way your family does when you already have your family to do things that way.
In-laws are great for offering us new perspective in life and reminding us there is more than one way to do things and still achieve a successful result. Now this can get extra-sensitive when it involves a new baby. But sometimes if you are open to trying new things, you may find your in-laws might teach you something new. And dare I say better than what your own family has to offer! Sometimes it is our attitude that prevents us from seeing all the good our family can offer us! Your life and time with in-laws will be happier if you are open to growth and flexibility instead of rigidity.
2. Keep your lines of communication calmly open with your in-laws.
It is also important to be able to talk with them about things if you are bothered or worried about a situation. Keeping things to yourself without talking to them may only create tension instead of alleviate it. In regard to baby or baby care, talk to them about things you are worried about beforehand in a proactive way instead of waiting until something negative has happened.
If you are worried they might do something that you do not want, just politely discuss it. “We have been letting Ben cry it out for the last few weeks. So when you lay him down, please do not go in there unless he cries for more than 15 minutes. We have made a lot of progress in his self-soothing skills and we want to keep up our progress!”
Share with them from the heart and allow them to be trusted until they prove otherwise. And when it is a topic of communication that you fear may get tense, have you partner communicate with them if possible. “Hey, Mom, I know you told us you put water in Lilly’s bottle last time you watched her, but we don’t do that because our pediatrician says she only drinks milk.” It is better for your partner to have a tense conversation than you.
Keep Being Intentional With These Techniques
These two techniques may seem overly simple but can be extremely effective. No, they do not ensure your in-laws will be respectful to you or that you will get along. And no, they do not ensure you will want to be best friends with them. However, they can aid in making your relationship the strongest it can be. Every relationship has different potential.
You may be surprised to find how strong your relationship with in-laws can be. I cannot state enough how grateful I am for my in-laws and what I have learned from them! So positive in-law relationships, dare I even say, wonderful in-law relationships are possible. But you will never know unless you try.
And if you can find no other reason to feel motivated, here’s something that might help. The baby in your arms may become just like them! So that is another great reason to identify and appreciate their strengths from the start.