Marrying into another family can be a wonderful experience. It all depends on the kind of relationship you have with your new in-laws.
In the best case scenario . . . your in-laws will provide insight into how your spouse was raised, what values they might hold, and how their personality was shaped. They will embrace you with open arms and make you feel a welcome part in a new and larger extended family (that now includes your family as well).
In the worst case scenario . . . your in-laws will create friction and tension at a time when you’re trying to establish a solid footing in your new marriage. They will make you feel like a fish out of water when you’re with them and potentially try to come between you and your new mate.
Which scenario most closely matches the one you find yourself in?
Keep reading for the most common reasons for conflict and how to have a successful relationship with your in-laws.
5 Common Reasons for Conflict With In-Laws
Consciously or unconsciously, your in-laws may have reservations about changes in family dynamics after your wedding. These can often be tied to a mountain of traditions and expectations they’ve created over the years—rituals that include your new spouse.
Expecting these things to continue as they always have, even after you’re married, is an unreasonable, unrealistic expectation. The issues will be compounded if they see you (as a couple) as an appendage to their nuclear family and not as a new family of your own.
Here are some other explanations for the cool breeze you may feel blowing in your direction:
ONE: In-laws may have legitimate concerns related to past relationships they’ve witnessed involving your partner or their other children. This can taint the way your in-laws will view both you and your marriage and sometimes cause them to hold you at arm’s length until you prove yourself. This may manifest as over-protection of their child in the hope of shielding them from negative experiences or disappointment.
Because this concern takes time to resolve, the best way of helping them overcome it is to consistently demonstrate the love and care you have for your new spouse and trust that your relationship will eventually prove its worth and stability. Allowing your in-laws to move through this process at the speed they need will ultimately build the trust and respect you want.
TWO: Letting go of a child is hard. Although marriage doesn’t mean that parents give up their child, it does mean their “baby” is growing up and separating from their family of origin. This can be difficult for all parents, but particularly those who have porous and undefined boundaries with their offspring.
Learning how to observe the marriage from a distance without becoming intrusive or controlling can be a challenge, especially for parents who are prone to trying to control the way their children live or the decisions they make. When family dynamics shift, parents who are used to calling the shots can feel completely out of place. While it’s not right, some of their resentment can be pointed at you.
THREE: Your in-laws may feel shut out. For whatever reason, they may feel you’re not interested in having a relationship with them. Although every parent wants their child to have a dedicated and loyal partner, they also want to be included in your new family.
Marriage can temporarily bring up issues of jealousy for many in-laws who feel as if they are being replaced in your partner’s eyes. Going above and beyond to involve them in your life can work wonders and help ease this concern over time.
FOUR: You may not meet your in-laws’ standards. While it may sound cruel, they probably have expectations for you, just as you have expectations of them. For any one of a million reasons, they may wish their child had married someone else
Though this may sting, their opinions of you or your marriage do not change the underlying fact that your spouse chose you! To own this problem as yours is to take on an unnecessary burden that you have no control over, and the last thing you should do is to try to change to please them.
FIVE: Your personality traits or characteristics may be very different than the cultural norm in their family. Perhaps your parents treated you warmly, with affection and praise, and this is what you were hoping for when you married into your spouse’s family but they are more reserved and aloof.
Just because their style of communication isn’t the same doesn’t mean they dislike you and, in fact, the coldness you feel may not have anything to do with you! Some families are just more quiet and stoic and you will feel this out (and maybe even loosen them up a little) over time. By being yourself, you showcase the person their child fell in love with.
Your new spouse’s family not be the only one giving you grief.
Check out our blog on When Your Family Doesn’t Like Your Fiance‘.
How to Have a Successful Relationship with Your In-laws
>> Be friendly and approachable. No one has ever criticized anyone by being too kind! By going out of your way to be pleasant and warm to your in-laws, you will take away their ability to disparage or resent you and put them at ease. One way to do this is to remind them that you are happy to be a part of their family. Sending thoughtful cards or texts on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day that express the love you have for your spouse can also help them feel good about raising someone you care so much about.
>> Involve your own family! Depending on the relationship you have with your own kin, bringing them together with your in-laws may be a great move for all involved. If both sets of parents have commonalities and get along, this can make for easier, smoother occasions. The benefit to this approach is that any goodwill your in-laws feel toward your parents may naturally extend to you. Not every event needs to be open to your extended family, of course, but include one or both sets of parents whenever you can.
>> Be the better person. As mentioned above, the kind of major change in family dynamics that occurs after marriage is difficult for many people to navigate. Demonstrating patience and refusing to take the bait and become bitter about any perceived injustices can help you avoid future interference and skepticism. After witnessing how well your new marriage is going over the first few months (or years), your in-laws may feel more comfortable.
>> Express your desire for more. As you establish a foundation of trust with your in-laws, don’t be afraid to explore this topic more directly. Clear and open communication is the key to any healthy relationship, including your new marriage and the relationship you have with your spouse’s parents. If you don’t feel you can approach your in-laws directly, your spouse may be able to speak with them or help negotiate a truce . . . but be careful of using them too often as a go-between. The last thing you want is for your partner to feel as if they are caught in a tug-of-war between you and their parents.
>> Set healthy boundaries. Even in the closest of families, boundaries are needed to define where parents’ influence ends and their adult children begin. Whatever you do, don’t wait to set these boundaries in the hope that something will change! And never allow problems with your in-laws to negatively impact the marriage you now share with your partner. You and your spouse have the right to make independent decisions, even if your families do not understand, support, or approve of them. It’s more important to do what is best for you than to try and please your parents. Ultimately, your primarily loyalty and number one priority is your spouse and the success of your marriage, come what may.
Want more tips? Here’s an article with
11 Tips for Getting Along With Your (Future) In-Laws.
Marriage is the creation of a new family but your families of origin may continue to play a crucial role in your lives, for better or worse. Blending two families can be disconcerting and disruptive, particularly if your in-laws have unrealistic and unhealthy boundaries and expectations. It’s perfectly normal for this process to take time, and most important for you to make decisions as a couple that support your new marriage.
Are you struggling to create a healthy and happy relationship with your in-laws?