We’ve all heard the jokes about in-laws. The stories of monster-in-laws and overprotective fathers-in-law make it pretty easy to come into a marriage with preconceived notions about what these relationships might look like. When I got married, I had no idea about in-laws, both my sets of grandparents had passed away before I was born. Over the years, relations with my in-laws have been tricky, there have been many misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and anger. As I searched through the well-intentioned advice of experts on in-law relations, I felt a sense of sadness. I saw what was possible, things I wish I had known before I was married.
I wish someone had taught me about the importance of boundaries before I was married. Boundaries are important because they help others know what is acceptable in your relationship. In the beginning stages of my relationship with my mother-in-law, I was so busy trying to get her to like me that I accepted everything. Later on down the road, when I discovered the importance of boundaries, it seemed much harder to implement them where I felt I needed them.
Actions to Consider
Talk to your spouse about what is important to you, find out what YOU value, which will give you a good idea of where to start with your boundaries. As you move forward with your in-laws, both you and your spouse need to be open and engaged in conversations about what is important to you both to create unity in your marriage. Boundaries are healthy, and they lay the foothold to a stronger relationship as they allow each person to feel validated and respected. As you begin to talk to your in-laws about boundaries, learn what theirs are as well, and work towards helping each other respect the boundaries that are set.
In relationships, it can often be easier to point out all the things that aren’t going right and miss the things that are. It is no different when it comes to in-laws, they don’t always get it right, and neither do we. We need to have patience and develop an understanding - learn to ask questions, and dig deeper. Practice having an attitude of gratitude towards your in-laws. See the things that they do right, see all the times they show up for your children, see the phone calls, the letters, the words of encouragement. Focusing on the positive will help you see your in-laws as friends and not intruders into your life.
Stephen Covey once said, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” Over the years, I have learned that it is essential to accept the differences that come in all relationships, especially your in-laws. We are all different. We have different life experiences, things that make us unique. These qualities can sometimes cause frustration; however, if you work to foster understanding and honesty in your relationship, you can begin to celebrate those differences that make you stronger.
Any relationship takes time, patience, and energy to strengthen. Even though my relationship with my in-laws is sometimes strained, I have learned how healing forgiveness can be. There will be growing pains as you work on your relationship with your in-laws. There will be times when you are hurt, and there will be times when you are inflicting the hurt. Forgiveness will not always come easy, but it will give you the freedom to continue strengthening your relationship in a healthy way.
Do something to show your in-laws gratitude, maybe a quick phone call or a text. Whatever you choose, make sure they know you are grateful to be a part of their family.