In helping marriages, I often try to share some of the barriers that I have seen to having a good marriage. My theory is that if couples are aware of the barriers before they become an issue it’s much easier to deal with them when they arise.
One of the consistent barriers I have seen in having a strong marriage is the way the couple deals with outside influences. It could be friends, family, work, or hobbies. It’s mostly people.
One of those primary outside influences that many couples struggle with is dealing with parents.
I am a parent of adult married children – two of them. Cheryl and I are trying to be good parents and in-laws by learning from other people’s experiences we have encountered in ministry.
Here’s some of my best advice for parents of married adult children:
Remember “leave and cleave” and let them experience it. Two people are trying to become one. That’s the goal. That means the two can’t be part of another unit in the same way they have been. Yes, they are still family, but they are creating something new. Their relationship will likely look different from yours — hopefully it will even be better.
No doubt you have influenced who they are as a couple. That may be in good and bad ways. Let them as a couple determine what they keep of your influence and what they leave behind. That may include leaving behind some of the family traditions you have too. And that obviously can be harder to accept.
Know this: Everything you say to your child impacts their spouse. One way or another. And it will likely either be repeated and injure your relationship with their spouse or cause a hidden wedge in their relationship. You can’t expect them to become one as a couple if you have a private world of communication with your child. If they are trying to be a good husband or wife they will not keep secrets from their spouse.
There may be times where it is necessary for them to come to you in secret. But those should be rare in my opinion. You can help them reduce friction in their marriage by not contributing to or promoting private conversations.
They sense the pressure to “come see you”. Chances are they have pressure elsewhere too. Maybe even from other parents. How welcoming is it if you spend most your time talking to them complaining how little you see them?
Yes, it’s hard when you feel slighted in the amount of attention you receive, but guilt and complaining won’t accomplish what you’re attempting. It might even get them there, but it won’t promote quality time with them. And it will often build resentment.
Get rid of the phrase “What you should do is”. It isn’t helpful because it’s usually received with an immediate pushback. Again, they are trying to form their own identity as a family.
Offer advice only if you’re asked. It’s not that you don’t have some good advice. And they might even be better off if they listened to your advice from experience more often. But most couples want to discover things on their own just as you possibly did when you were younger.
Unsolicited advice is almost never seen as valuable as solicited advice.
Be an encouraging place to hang out. All young couples need to see healthy people and healthy relationships. Marriage is hard without any outside influences. So the more healthy and fun environment you can create for them the more often they will want to be a part of that environment.
Love them both unconditionally. I would even say equally, but I understand that’s hard. You’re going to naturally lean towards favoring your own child, especially when there is friction or conflict in the relationship. Be patient with both of them. Give grace generously to both. And, perhaps most difficult, hold your tongue when you’re tempted to say something that could be hurtful.
Finally, forgive quickly when needed. Remember, you are supposed to be the maturer people in this season of life.
I am praying with you as we attempt healthy parenting of adult married children.