Love Your Spouse But Not Your In-Laws?
Marriage can make you feel like you are a foreign exchange student in a host family’s home. When you walk into their home, your partner may feel comfortable in their familiar surroundings, but you are walking into a whole new world.
This is especially true if you have an interracial, intercultural, or interfaith relationship. You love your partner for who they are, but what if you can’t warm up to your in-laws as easily?
1. Talk to Your Spouse
Sometimes the tension you feel may be in your head. If you are outgoing and your in-laws are more introverted, it may explain why you think they shut down whenever you start a conversation. Your partner will understand the difference. It might be one of the qualities they love about you. Over time you will find some middle ground when it comes to your personalities.
Your partner is already balancing between both families, so be patient with them. They may already be putting in a good word for you each time your marriage comes up in a discussion. Any praise or positive comment may show your in-laws that your partner loves you and will stand up for you.
There are instances in which your spouse is in the same boat you are. Duty requires that you visit your in-laws, and it is an unpleasant experience for both of you. The difference between when they were growing up in the house compared to now is that you are partners in your visits. Your partner understands the tension because it affects them too.
They can provide you insight on what strategies work best for them. If they are likely to change their behaviors in the presence of their family, you should let them know what you see and determine a way to back each other up. You don’t have to go at it alone, and your partner will appreciate your support as well.
2. Talk to Your In-Laws
If visits or weekly meals are customary, it is important to meet such expectations unless it is impossible. These people are your spouse’s family, and your marriage does not mean that you have to sever all ties. Take that time to show some respect for their traditions and share relevant connections if you can. Don’t expect to have your version of your mother-in-law’s chicken soup accepted when she is serving her own, but offer to help by asking what you can bring to complement her meal.
Most people are set in their ways. Their methods have worked for them in the past, and there is no plan to make adjustments, especially when they believe they know what is best for their family member. When their approach is more abrupt, take a breath before anything escalates.
Money is one sore spot, especially if the parents feel that their child should help support them financially. Without divulging into too much detail, work something out that you and your spouse can handle. For example, offer to help with a utility bill or other means of support. Rather than feeling like you don’t care, they are more likely to be appreciated. Be careful to set boundaries so that they do not take advantage of your generosity.
Some of the problems are not with the parents of your spouse, but their siblings. These brothers and sisters may feel jealous or envious of their kin. Other times they have their issues that affect their relationships with others in the family. Sarcasm may be a coping mechanism for a sibling who sees your spouse as the “golden child” of the family. A sister may reject spending time with your children because of their problems starting a family. Patience can make any interaction with in-laws more tolerable, especially when their issues with you are beyond your control.
3. Don’t Talk to Your Children
When it comes to your tension with your in-laws, children can be more intuitive to the challenges than adults give them credit for. The conversations that you have with your spouse or your in-laws should not be shared in front of your children. The youth tend to “parrot” parts of a private conversation that you never wanted the other side to hear.
Also, the stress that you discuss in their earshot can affect any potential for a positive relationship with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Family members are the first role models that a child has. It is not their fault that you may feel like an outsider in the family, but that doesn’t mean that their extended family shares those feelings about your children. It is important for you to “play nice” with your in-laws for their benefit, but also to protect them if the hostility is pointed in your child’s direction.
5. Talk to a Professional
If the tension between you and your in-laws has a negative effect on your family, it may be time to speak with a family therapist. They can offer you more ways to work with the family for the benefit of your spouse and children. However, if your relationship is too toxic to save, they can help you with resources and guidance.