Dealing with your spouse’s family, especially his or her parents can be quite stressful. Sometimes your mother-in-law criticizes the way you raise your children. Perhaps your brother-in-law excludes you in the family reunion. Maybe you feel like your spouse’s entire clan is ganging up on you. In most families, there are interpersonal challenges. It’s hard enough to deal with one’s own clan; it’s doubly hard to deal with one’s spouse’s clan.
However, it’s important to exert every effort to get along with, even establish a close relationship, with one’s in-laws. Not only because you have no choice (technically, you married into their family), but because in-laws are a rich source of support and caring. There is nothing that says you can’t expand your family; in fact, you are giving your children greater stability when you are in good terms with everyone.
The following are some tips on how to build healthy relationships with one’s in-laws:
Earn Their Positive Regard
Problems arise when we have the mentality that our spouse’s family should automatically accept us, simply because their loved one chose us to marry. While it’s an ideal, the reality is: we are strangers to our in-laws. To be really accepted into the fold takes work; at the very least we should exert the effort to establish rapport with everyone. After all, you can’t expect your in-laws to like you if you yourself don’t work on the relationship.
So do your best to earn your in-laws positive regard. Create opportunities to get to know them — and for them to get to know you. Invite them for dinner (or at least, lunch!). Bring them small gifts. Express gratitude easily and gerously. Show interest in what they have to say. Compliment them. Offer to help out – especially when you are a guest in their homes. And be patient; relationships take time. What’s important is that you consistently communicate your openness to be part of their family.
Your in-laws are not YOU; they have a different way of doing things than you do. They might feel strongly about giving the baby his or her own room; you’re from the co-sleeping school of thought. You don’t like junk foods ever; your father-in-law wins his way to your child’s heart through sweets. Your mother-in-law may think you’re starving her child; you’re quite confident that you’re doing a good job as a spouse. The possible areas of contention between a spouse and in-laws are broad and limitless.
What’s important is that you set your boundaries beforehand. Just because you want to earn their approval doesn’t mean that you have to give up your values and beliefs. At the end of the day you are raising your own family —a different family from theirs. While your in-law’s input and experience are valuable, you have to use your own values as compass for what to do.
So make a list of what for you are non-negotiables, and what you can concede to your spouse’s family. And then, discuss this with your spouse. If the two of you are in consensus regarding an issue, then you can both communicate your boundaries to the family.
Strike That Balance
It’s important to set boundaries, but it’s as important to be reasonable. When there’s conflict with the in-laws, don’t make your spouse choose between you and his or her family. You don’t want your in-laws to do the same (blackmail their loved one into an agreement), so play fair. All issues can be attacked objectively, if you only present facts instead of emotions.
It’s important to concede from the very beginning that your spouse will always have loyalties to his or her family of origin. And the closer your spouse is to the family, the stronger is this bond. Be willing to compromise. This will work well for you when it’s your spouse turn to have conflict with your own family!