Sometimes it’s hard enough to get along with our own parents and siblings, but when it comes to a spouse’s family, some of us face some giant hurdles…
It could be different ideals, growing up in different parts of the country, different socioeconomic circles, opposing political beliefs, or even just different ways of viewing the world. Whatever the specific divide may be, the in-laws may be totally different than the family we grew up with, but if we’re going to keep our marriages happy and healthy (and at least not tear each other’s hair out during holidays and family reunions), we’ve got to find a way to get along.
Before we get too far into this, it’s important to remind you that no two people (and with it, no two families) are the same. We’ve all got our quirks and our biases, and sometimes we just have to accept people’s idiosyncrasies for what they are.
Even if your father-in-law doesn’t seem to give you the time of day, or your mother-in-law hovers over your shoulder whenever you’re around her – these are the people that raised your spouse, and you should be making an effort to keep things as civil (and better) as possible. You can’t control their behavior, but you can control yours.
Here are a few tips to keep tensions at a minimum and help build the relationship you have with your in-laws:
1. Find Common Ground
It could be sports, a hobby, a particular movie you both enjoy, a passion for cooking or gardening or working on cars – anything to find something to talk about. Just getting a conversation going can help form bonds and relieve tensions. You may have to do a little probing, or ask your spouse for some input on what various members of their family are into.
Once you’ve got something in common to talk about, your differences won’t matter so much – just try to steer clear of the topics you’re likely to butt heads over.
If you’re having trouble finding something you have in common, but still want to work on developing a rapport, it’s not as tough as you think – just ask questions! Show a genuine interest in them, and they are likely to reciprocate.
Forming relationships can be tough, especially if you already started out on the wrong foot, but humility and a genuine interest in the other person will help them open up, and once you find something to talk about (that doesn’t stir either of you up too much), you’re well on your way to not just making peace, but forming a meaningful bond as well.
2. Forget The Intermediary
When you married your spouse, you became a unit, a family, and that’s a total package. Instead of thinking about your in-laws as your spouse’s family, and using your spouse as a filter between yourself and them, accept them as your own!
With our own family members, we tend to give them the benefit of the doubt even if we don’t get along so well. We just accept the fact that they’re blood, and do our best to love them for who they are.
Your spouse’s parents, siblings, aunts and uncles – these people are a part of your family now, and you should treat them as such… and not just for your spouse’s sake. These are people that are now tied to your life, and as with all people, they likely have wisdom, experiences, and insight that are different than your own. These are people you can learn from and grow because of, so be open to the relationships you can have with them as real people, not just through the intermediary of your spouse.
Make an effort to get to know your spouse’s family on a personal level, and that feeling of being an “outsider” will melt away.
3. Focus On The Positives
So maybe it’s tough to get along. Maybe you can’t help but argue from time to time. Maybe you just sense tension every time you’re in the room with your in-laws or have to put up with criticism. Despite all of this, it’s important to remember one huge thing – they helped shape the person you love.
While the previous bit of advice focuses on forming a relationship with in-laws on your own accord, it can be a huge icebreaker to remember that the very first thing you have in common is your spouse. You both love that person. In fact, some of the things that cause tension with you and your spouse’s parents might be directly responsible for the qualities you love about your husband or wife.
Keeping this positive outlook can help you see the other likeable qualities in your in-laws, and will probably make your more at ease (and maybe a little more likeable yourself). The more you can find to admire, the easier it will be to get past the things that drive you crazy.
Now, not all spouse/in-law relationships are problematic. For many couples, the relationships formed with each other’s families are a great source of fulfillment and joy.
For other couples that don’t have good family lives, some of this stuff can be a lot more challenging – or downright undesirable. We don’t get to choose our family members, and some of us have parents, siblings, or other family members who may be cruel or abusive – and while these people are still family, the advice listed here should be tempered with your best judgment. These tips are meant for repairing tense and difficult relationships, not subjecting yourself to torment.
For those with strong relationships with your in-laws, keep it up! You’re helping strengthen your marriage by building bonds with people important to your spouse.
You may always struggle to feel like a true part of your spouse’s family, but making the effort to get to know them personally (and find qualities to appreciate) will bring your closer, and help them open up to you as one of their own.
For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!
Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com
My mother in law lives with me. My husband of 8 year has moved out saying he wants a divorce and will not talk to me. Should I trust my mother in law and believe her when she says she does not know what my husband is think or doing I feel like they are planning again me. My husband said it is over and he is not will to work on it. I don't even know we had problem until it was to late. Help
Not sure about trusting the mother in law. You could talk to her just to see if she had any insight as to why this happened. Maybe he is not willing to work on it, but the question is are you still willing to work on it? Remember its not to late to make a difference. If he never comes around. You will personally grow. Having to do alot of work for my marriage and its changing me and my perspective. One good resource are these blogs. Thank you Dr.Amy.I might also recommend The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. Best of luck to you.
Hi K - That depends on your relationship with your mother in law. If you as his wife do not know what is going on, she may not either. https://www.strongmarriagenow.com/how-to-stop-the-divorce-and-save-your-marriage/
Hi LR - That is a wonderful book. I'm happy to hear our blogs are helping, and best of luck to you in your marriage.