In many marriages, the peaceful union between husband and wife is disrupted by clashes with the in-laws. As much as a spouse would like for everyone to get along, disagreements with partner’s family will break out for one reason or another.
More often than not, these fundamental differences in opinion can seriously get in the way of a marriage’s growth. It’s disheartening for many to marry a wonderful partner, only to get more than they bargained for.
This is especially true if the partners come from vastly different backgrounds. There’s a bigger chance for there to be a significant difference in values, beliefs and culture.
As a result, certain families may not feel all that comfortable that their loved one married someone who seems so different from them. Worse, underlying feelings of suspicion and hostility may even develop over time.
Paul, a freelance web designer and graphic artist from Seattle, knew this reality all too well. “My wife’s parents are a bit old-fashioned, so at first they couldn’t fully appreciate – let alone understand – the nature of my work.”
What worried Paul’s in-laws so much is that he didn’t work in a traditional office like the rest of his wife’s family. “They were kind of freaked out that I wasn’t getting a steady paycheck…they didn’t know that I was actually making more than enough to support myself, their daughter and our future children,” Paul added.
On top of these factors, it could also be that the in-laws are having a hard time letting their child go. The lifelong bond that parents share with their children can make it hard for them to accept that their child now has a family of their own.
Most of the time, in-law related disputes boil down to a failure to embrace change. Chances are you were not the same person you were a decade ago. This applies to everyone as well because major milestones in our lives can change us in many ways.
When these life-changing transitions are met with resistance, it causes disharmony among people, especially in an emotionally-sensitive context such as marriage.
So the most important step to striking middle ground with your in-laws is to understand where each of you is coming from. As discussed earlier, some in-laws feel threatened by an outsider coming into the family. The irrational fear of having their loved one “taken away” from them could be overriding their better judgment.
However, you also need to consider your own position. If you’re not getting along with your in-laws, you probably feel that your own values are under attack in the face of their criticism. It’s perfectly natural to react defensively to a perceived threat.
But at the end of the day, these are merely PERCEPTIONS which are pre-empted by fear; this is what fuels the cycle of negativity. Furthermore, it’s likely that you and your in-laws have different ideas of what’s best for your spouse, thus causing all the drama.
But try to look at it this way: if there’s one thing you have in common with your spouse’s family, it’s that all of you want to be there for your partner.
Let that thought be present in your mind as you deal with your in-laws. Try to remember that they’re so worked up because like you, they care so fiercely for your spouse.
When you take an objective look at both sides of the story, you’ll have a better appreciation of the bigger picture. This new perspective will help plant the seeds of empathy which will blossom into mutual understanding.
Of course, your partner also needs to understand your own sentiments. Let him or her relay to their family that they should let your spouse live his or her life. After all, they are guests in your marriage (as opposed to the ones “running the show”).
All in all, your empathy and your spouse’s support will help both sides arrive at a compromise – or at the very least, agree to disagree on some key issues. Eventually, mutual respect will flourish and you can enjoy a smoother marriage with your spouse.