“Nita wrote a note,” Faye says about her daughter-in-law. “She thanked me for the way I brought up my son and told me what she especially likes about him. As his mom, I know his faults better than anyone, but I love hearing that she thinks he’s wonderful.”
Nita has caught the heart of what it means to honor her husband’s mother, and you can do the same. How can you love and respect your spouse’s parents and yet protect your marriage from parental meddling? Here are some ideas for finding balance:
- Be realistic. Few families do things exactly the same. Unless those differences are contrary to your Christian beliefs, what you learn about your spouse’s family can add a rich dimension to your marriage. Discuss with your spouse the good aspects of both families. How can you build on those qualities as husband and wife? By contrast, some differences can be unsettling if one of you came from an alcoholic or abusive background. Talk honestly together about patterns you don’t want to continue.
- Find the perks. A relationship with your in-laws may enrich your life. Because his father set extremely high expectations, Tony often wondered if he could measure up. Now his father-in-law gives him the encouragement he needs. “I’m not afraid to ask him how to do something,” Tony says. “I can learn and succeed without fearing failure.”
- Value open communication, but watch for unspoken signals. Learn to recognize when your in-laws are polite but exhausted, especially if they don’t have your energy level. Think about what is best for them.
- Begin your own traditions while respecting theirs. Holidays offer great potential for hurt. Parents wonder, Who will come to my house—and on what day? Before emotions get bruised, seek a compromise that seems fair to both families. Does everyone live close enough to combine a celebration? More often, it’s necessary to alternate times and seasons and say, “We’d like to be with you on the exact day, but what really counts is that we’re together.”
- Establish boundaries. When you’re newly married, what could be worse than having someone continually drop in at any moment of the day or night? Drop-ins can be embarrassing and disrupt your feeling of privacy. If you live near your in-laws, ask them to phone before coming. Do the same for them.
- Choose to forgive. Forgiveness is God’s way for us to move on. “It’s a relief to have my daughter-in-law speak up when she’s upset,” one mother says. “At first that threatened me, but it’s easier than feeling anger simmer below the surface. When I know what’s wrong, we can deal with it, ask forgiveness and give each other a hug.”
- Be there for your in-laws during the tough times. How we respond to accidents, financial crisis, illness or death often determines whether we grow together as families.
- Face non-negotiables together as a couple. While many situations in family relationships are negotiable, some are not. Kyle came from a family that built up overwhelming debt. Nicole’s family uses credit only when necessary and pays off the bill as soon as it comes. Kyle and Nicole decided they wanted to follow the pattern set in Nicole’s family. But Kyle felt pressure from his family to buy a house he couldn’t afford. When he and Nicole talked and prayed about it, they knew they needed to ask his parents to stop pressuring them to overspend.
- Help your in-laws feel wanted. What can warm the hearts of parents more than knowing you care about them. When Becky and Jason travel to the town where both their parents live, her mom works hard to keep everyone fed and happy. Becky and Jason decided to invite her parents to visit them for a quiet weekend, saying, “Let’s just enjoy talking together.”
- Accept the blessing of peace. No matter how hard you try, you may never reach the place where your in-law relationships are ideal. Though you’ve done your best, you may need to remember God’s magnificent grace. Because He accepts all of us as we are, you can offer that same gift to others.
Lois Walfrid Johnson has two daughters-in-law and a son-in-law who show her the perks of being a mom.
© 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.
Boundaries in Marriage
By Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
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Learn when to say yes and when to say no – to your spouse and to others – to make the most of your marriage. Only when a husband and wife know and respect other’s needs, choices, and freedom can they give themselves freely and lovingly to one another.
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