We started with the subject of in-laws in Episode 6 and learned that there are some powerful but subtle psychological mechanisms that can come into play in our relationships with our in-laws. The more we are aware of these things and of our own “stuff”, the better equipped we are to maintain a healthy relationship with the new set of parents and siblings that usually come with marriage. Today, we finish our discussion before heading over to a fascinating question from a member of the OYF clan.

A Quick Review

In summary, in Episode #6, we discussed the following dynamics based on some great research found in the Journal of Family Therapy:

  1. Jealousy: for time, affection and attention
  2. Competition: comparison and expectations
  3. Transference: stuff missing in my family that I look for, or expect in yours, without (perhaps) even realizing I’m doing so.
  4. Displacement: getting upset with the in-laws because that’s easier than getting made at my spouse, or even my own parents.

We want to affirm again the need to honour our parents and yet we hope that by opening up these areas of struggle that it’ll help normalize some of the challenges of being in a relationship with our in-laws. In-laws can be a major marital issue, which is supported by research. In the Journal Of Marriage and Family (2004), Bryan, Conger & Meehan concluded the following:

Even in long-term marriages, conflicts in extended family relations will erode marital stability, satisfaction and commitment over time.

Those in-law conflicts can actually wear away at the marriage bond and that is why we want you to have some tools and ideas about how to approach these issues so that this can be a point of resilience in your marriage.

Going back to the research from the Journal of Family Therapy, let’s move on!

5. Poor Boundary Regulation

Every family is different, and flexibility is a huge asset in creating a successful marriage. That flexibility also needs to be extended to our in-laws as we all have our own expectations of what the relationship should look like. Whether it be family rituals, levels of parental involvement, or whatever, each one of us has an idea of how things should work out. When couples merge, some of those differences may feel like violations because we expect one thing and reality is another. That’s where boundary regulation comes in – the couple needs to support each other, have good communication, be together and realize that there are some differences that they’ll need to navigate their way through.

To emphasize again, the couple needs to be together at all times. A parent and child can never divorce, but a married couple can, so must do everything they can to preserve that bond. If the parents have overstepped a boundary, the couple (even if one thinks their spouse is in the wrong) needs to be together in the moment but also needs to sort out later (in private) what went on. Try to unpack things and look at it from the other family’s point of view. An apology may be needed, so be big enough to apologize if you were at fault!

If you think about it, the weird part about in-laws is that all of a sudden there’s a close, familial connection with people who are pretty much strangers. Those people have a 20 or 30-year relationship with your spouse, and you’re now received into this family with the same position but none of the history. We need to define those boundaries and how the relationship is going to look in a way that supports the marriage bond first and respect and honours the parents second.

6. Discrepant Role Expectations

What if, for their first baby, the husband has been looking forward to being Awesome Dad #1. He takes time off work, reads all the same baby books Mom does. He is committed to sharing the infant parenting 100% – for everything but the breastfeeding, things will be 50/50. The day after they get home from the hospital, the wife’s Mom shows up, and she thinks she’s the 50% the husband was planning to be.

There is plenty of opportunity for conflict here..and resentment…and bitterness!

This is about role-expectations. The Grandma thought she was doing the right thing and was just trying to help. The wife may have expected it and the poor husband is hurt. Nobody is at fault, but at this point, role expectations need to be negotiated. Some honest conversations are going to have to take place. Remember, the couple needs to be together first and respecting parents second.

In conclusion, all of these six points say the same thing: Spouse first, parents second.  Remember, in-laws generally want the best for the other family members but, because of the six points we’ve talked about, it may not look that way. If we keep the things we’ve talked about in mind, the conflict we find ourselves in may be easier to manage. Don’t internalize things if they don’t go your way, there was probably no intent to offend.

Q&A Section

From Pam: How on earth does one go about helping others who have been involved in an affair or whose spouse has been involved in an affair?

This is such a great question, and an answer you won’t want to miss. Listen to the show to hear the answer given.

Image courtesy of Louish Pixel under the Creative Commons license.