It’s very common for married couples to experience conflict with their in-laws on one or both sides of the family. Sometimes this can be a minor annoyance; other times, it’s a major source of stress. Whatever your situation, it’s challenging to navigate these complex–and sometimes difficult–relationships.
In-law conflict is almost inevitable for every marriage. The good news is, it’s possible to navigate it successfully while continuing to enjoy relationships with both of your families. Let’s dive into some of the things you and your spouse can do to ease the tension between your marriage and your extended families.
Present a united front
When you said, “I do,” you promised to be a forever team. You symbolically became one on the altar when you became husband and wife. And while you each married into a new family, God is clear on what He expects husbands and wives to do when they are joined:
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24 (ESV)
Part of effectively presenting a united front as a married couple is “leaving and cleaving”–in other words, your first loyalty now lies with your spouse, not your family. And as close as one or both of you may be with your relatives, that means you side with one another first–not your mom, your dad, your siblings, or anyone else.
Agree from the beginning of your marriage that you’ll always be a team. Then, when conflicts and difficulty arise, you can look to one another first as you tackle those issues.
Agree to support one another in the face of criticism
Part of presenting a united front means being vocally supportive of each other when one of your family members is critical. We often see problems come up when a mother- or father-in-law criticizes their child’s spouse. But the problem is compounded when their adult child is silent.
The truth is, sometimes moms and dads have a hard time transitioning out of the “parent” role, even after their kids are grown and married. They might think your spouse can’t take care of you as well as they did–and unfortunately, they might be vocal about it.
Let’s say your mother is critical of your wife’s cooking. Maybe she can’t imagine how your wife could possibly be as accomplished of a cook as she is. Or perhaps she think you shouldn’t have to take shifts in the kitchen. You could say something like, “Actually, I think she’s a great cook. I love how we approach meals,” or “I like pitching in. I’ve learned that I’m a pretty good cook myself.”
Using humor to defend your spouse can also be a light-hearted, but effective, way of getting your message across. You could say, “Mom, you’ve gotta share your favorite recipes with us! It’s so hard to come by food like that these days.”
It’s so important for you to speak up if one of your parents is lambasting your spouse for any reason. Don’t let it slide, and whatever you do, don’t join in.
Avoid comparing your spouse’s unique strengths and weaknesses to those of your parents (or other family members), and don’t take critical remarks to heart. Chances are, your mom or dad is having a difficult time adjusting to the changes in your life.
Be kind, but firm. In time, they’ll see that you are loyal to your spouse and they’ll gain more confidence in his or her ability to care for you well.
Put it into practice
Have you and your spouse ever discussed presenting a united front or defending one another when an in-law is rude or overly critical? In the coming week, talk with your spouse about ways you can better support one another when conflict arises with either side of the family.
Next week, we’ll share more tips for navigating difficult relationships with your in-laws in part 2.
Do you and your spouse have difficult in-laws on one or both sides of your family? How do you work together to handle issues when they come up? Have your strategies been successful? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.