Unfortunately, when it comes to in-laws, many people develop the attitude of “they’re not my family so why do I have to get along with them?” However, when you marry someone you really do marry into the whole family. If you love your spouse, it is important to embrace all aspects of your spouse’s life, including your spouse’s family. It’s part of blending two lives into one.
When entering into a marriage, developing a relationship with your in-laws is important. However, it can be tricky at times to navigate your new role and establish your place in the family. There are several steps you can take to help ease this transition and establish a healthy relationship with your in-laws.
1. Participate in Family Functions
One of the best ways to develop a relationship with your in-laws is to participate in their family functions. I’ve worked with people who have never attended the family barbeques or gone to their spouse’s family reunions. It’s important to put in the extra effort to participate in these functions.
Marriage involves some sacrifice. So even though attending your spouse’s Great Uncle Ed’s ninetieth birthday party may not sound like a good way to spend a Friday night, it’s important to attend. Your willingness to attend family functions shows your interest in getting to know your spouse’s family better.
2. Be Open to New Traditions
Every family is different. And you might be thinking “Well my spouse’s family is really different!” It’s important however, to be open to new traditions.
Perhaps you always spent holidays celebrating quietly at home. Meanwhile, your spouse’s family attends large gatherings with extended family that last all day and all night. It can feel like a culture shock. Remember, some families attend religious ceremonies to celebrate, while other families celebrate by drinking heavily and partying late into the night.
However, learning about your spouse’s traditions is important. You don’t have to embrace them all as your own. You and your spouse can discuss which traditions you want to carry on and which ones you might choose to leave behind. Your spouse may be more willing to leave some of them behind if you’ve shown you are open to learning about them.
3. Don’t Complain to Your In-Laws About Your Spouse
This one might seem obvious, but don’t complain about your in-laws to your spouse. I was recently working with someone who experienced enlightenment. He said, “My mother-in-law was always mad at me. And then it dawned on me, it’s because I was always complaining to her about her daughter!”
Sometimes people go to their in-laws to complain about their spouse in hopes it will help create some change. However, if you think your husband is lazy, telling his mother about it isn’t likely to help. She isn’t going to call him and say, “Now Johnny, you should really pick your socks up.” Remember, your in-laws raised your spouse. They will likely be offended by your complaints.
Instead, make sure to talk positively about your spouse. This can go a long way. Complimenting a mother on how she taught her son to be a gentleman or how his father taught him to cook can mean a lot.
4. Set Healthy Boundaries
Remember that it’s okay to set healthy boundaries. You don’t have to be a doormat to your in-laws. If your mother-in-law comes to your house every day and criticizes your housekeeping, if you say nothing, you’ll likely grow resentful.
If you decide to set some boundaries such as asking your in-laws not to stay past 7PM so you can put the kids to bed on time, talk to your spouse about it first. Then present a united front in explaining your request to your in-laws. It’s healthy to set some reasonable expectations, especially about your own house or your children.
5. Don’t Compete
Resist the urge to compete with your in-laws. If your mother-in-law brags that her pecan pie is award winning, let her brag. Or if your father-in-law claims to be the best fisherman in the land, don’t respond by telling him about the fish you caught last weekend.
Also, resist the urge to keep score between your parents and your in-laws. For example if your in-laws buy you a pair of socks for Christmas, don’t tell them about the 50 inch flat screen television your parents bought you. There should be no competition between who is the better grandparent either. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Each family will have different strengths.
It can also be important sometimes to swallow your pride and offer some compliments or ask a question. Tell your mother-in-law you like her pecan pie. Or ask your father-in-law for advice on where to find the best fishing hole. Show some interest and a willingness to appreciate their strengths and it can really open the door to a healthy relationship.