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Dealing with the In-Laws

Struggles with the in-laws is a common frustration for many. I have known couples that have split up due to issues with their in-laws. Relating to in-laws can be difficult, but it's important to remember that our children are watching how we handle ourselves. Being a healthy parent means learning to love those who are different from ourselves. If parents can break through the struggles in relating to their in-laws, then it sets their children up for some very important traits. Some of these traits are flexibility, understanding another's perspective, and problem solving. The potential payoffs are big!

It is important to remember that you picked your spouse in part based on traits that you wished you had. Don't worry, this is a completely normal thing to do. Simply put, people tend to choose mates with different strengths and skill sets than their own. This is called the law of complementarity. Finding a complimentary mate seems like a really good idea, until we meet the family that formed that complimentary mate! They are so different!

In my experience, most couples are formed out of opposing family systems. One family system is called a closed system. In closed family systems, there is a lot of openness toward members within the family, but the system is closed off to those outside of the family. In an open family system, the members are more distant from one another, but more open to those outside of the system. This is important for one main reason; many times individuals marry the opposite family structure, but expect it to function like the one they were raised within. This is where problems with the in-laws comes in.

"Marriage is a battlefield for each spouse's family of origin." This was a quote from an instructor that I could not seem to get out of my head. It rang so true when I heard it. The more I have reflected on that in my own life the more I believe it. Most spouses want their family to function much like their family of origin. The problem is that the in-laws can see that! It's safe to say that in-laws are lobbying for their structure of family to be recreated as well. All of a sudden we are at odds! Understanding these reasons for the familial differences is the first step to a better relationship with the in-laws.

There are some practical ideas that I have found to relieve the tension and to create a loving relationship. First and foremost, have kids. Just kidding, but it does seem to have a positive effect! In all seriousness, one thing that can help is to point out the differences. When there's an elephant in the room say so. In some families these differences can be the source of a lot of fun. The key is that once the elephant is out in the open it makes it easier to enjoy and learn from those differences. When I go over to my spouse's house it is like stepping into a different culture. Our families are complete opposite from one another. My family was nice and peaceful, hers was loud and dramatic. I have learned to be open to the fact that the way my family did things was just that... the way we did them. Not necessarily right or wrong. Challenge yourself to see differences for just that and stay out of the trap of thinking, "my family did it right". After about 10 years of marriage I have grown to be more similar to this family that I've been married to. I have become a more balanced individual because of them and I love them! It truly is an opportunity for growth.

The other option is you could just stay mad at them and let it drive your marriage apart. But your children are watching!

By Nick A Macaluso
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