Mother-in-Law Madness & Other Family Issues

mother_in_law_issuesPerhaps one of the trickiest challenges to navigate in marriage involves the extended family. Laying the ground work for good relationship foundations should ideally begin even before a couple announces their engagement and intention to live happily ever after. Starting off on the right foot with the in-laws, from the first introduction, can help prevent much future heartache and stress. Remember: As long as you have a relationship with your spouse, you will have a relationship with his family. Getting along well in both situations is obviously to everyone’s advantage!

Often the toughest person to win over when a couple’s relationship becomes serious is a disapproving parent. In our society, the classic “mother-in-law” problem is usually what first comes to mind. As the parent who typically has the most time investment in her children (and their choices), this tendency comes as no real surprise. Even if her child’s selection of a spouse seems perfect, the fear of being replaced in importance, “losing” her child or no longer being needed at all, may loom large. This issue is more pronounced when children who are younger marry, as opposed to those who are older or have already been living independently for some time.

The separation/letting go struggle may not just come from the parenting end, but also from a young adult struggling to separate from the parent’s influence. If your mother and significant other aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, it can be tricky to navigate.

One of the most common mistakes is trying to stay neutral, and one of the worst mistakes is siding with your parent over your partner. The need to be supportive of your spouse, even if you don’t agree with their stance, is of vital importance. You may not be able to stay out of the clash 100%, but you need to support your partner on some level. Trying to mediate or “tranquilize the problem” is often not the answer either, as it prevents a one-on-one discussion between the two disagreeing parties who need to deal directly with each other in order to fully resolve the issue.

Presenting with your partner as a “united front” is key to dealing with other issues too, such as how to raise your children. Often grandparents and other relatives can be critical of the discipline or rules you set in your household. Showing respect for their opinions, while at the same time sticking to your own, can put the issue to rest in a diplomatic way.

Agreeing on family traditions, particularly during the holidays, is also an issue to be decided as a couple. Each partner needs to consider which traditions they deem most meaningful and want to keep. They may need to educate each other on their importance. This may be particularly necessary if traditions have a religious significance, and the couple comes from different backgrounds/faiths. A compromise or blending of traditions establishes new ones that are significant just for you as a couple, and strengthens your personal bond.

While a comfortable, loving relationship with your extended family is obviously ideal, keeping the relationship civil may be as good as it gets. Getting past the anger and frustration largely depends on your ability to assertively communicate your feelings and your preferences. Keeping your distance from controversial topics or events and refusing to compete with other family members may be the wisest strategy you employ. Look for the positive and search for something to appreciate in every situation.

From the very beginning, treat your partner’s parents and siblings as you would your own, or as you would treat your best friend. Try not to find fault with them, or their way of doing things. Just because there are differences, it doesn’t make them wrong. Develop an attitude of tolerance or better yet, of acceptance. All of your efforts will go a long way in strengthening your relationship with your significant other as well, and making the “happily ever after” a truism.

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