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7 Pieces of Advice for In-laws of Young Married Couples

By July 9, 2014August 13th, 2014Encouragement, Family, Marriage

I often teach and write about the experiences that I have working with relationships. Personal experience is often some of the best information I have to protect and help other relationships.

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 in-laws.

And, the in-laws who are causing a problem are now rejecting this post. ūüôā

The crazy thing about this issue is that I once talked about the issue but now I live the issue. So I realize I am on shaky ground by speaking to a subject I haven’t yet mastered.¬†We have been in-laws now for a couple of years and it is still relatively new for us. But now at least I see both sides of the issue.¬†Cheryl and I are trying to be good in-laws by learning from other people’s experiences we have encountered in ministry.

I’m speaking primarily in this post about parental in-laws, but these will also apply to other relatives of couples.¬†This type post gets me in trouble. It’s a sensitive issue. Keep in mind this is an opinion blog. And this is an opinion post. But these are gained through years of experience working with young couples. Apply as necessary.

Here’s some of my best advice for in-laws:

Remember “leave and cleave”. ¬†It’s Biblical. 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. Yes, they are still family, but they¬†are creating something new. Their new will likely look different from yours — hopefully even better. No doubt you will 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. Again,¬†they are still part of you. But, in the formulation of a new “them” they have to leave some things behind.

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 if you have a private world of communication with your child. And if they are trying to be a good husband or wife they will not keep secrets from their spouse. Yes, you should always be a safe place for your child. And there may be times where it is necessary for them to come to you in secret. But those should be rare. Very 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 in-laws. How welcoming is it if you spend most your time talking to them complaining how little you see them? Yes, it’s hard when they don’t seem to want to — or 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. They are trying to form their own identity as a family. Hopefully they will solicit your input at times but don’t offer it unless you’re asked.

Offer advice only if you’re asked. I thought this one merited¬†repeating. Again, it’s not that you don’t have for good advice. And they would probably be better off if they listened to your advice more often. Most likely you have experience they don’t yet have. But most young 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 a fun 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 environment you can create for them the more often they will want to be a part of that environment.

Love them unconditionally. I would say equally, but that’s hard — isn’t it? You’re going to naturally lean towards favoring your own child, especially when there is friction or conflict in the relationship. Be patient with them. Give grace generously. Hold you’re tongue when you’re tempted to say something that could be hurtful. Forgive quickly when needed. Remember, you are supposed to be the maturer people in this season of life.

The point of this post — and this blog — is to help. I’m not trying to stir more frustration. Other blogs do that well. :). Seriously, my aim is to address issues I see often and help us learn from other people’s experiences.¬†I realize this is a hard season for many parents. But, with careful intentionality it can be a great season.

Remember, we are new at this.

What other tips do you have? 

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 20 Comments

  • Haley says:

    My husband and I are a young married couple and this was so helpful, I passed this on to my mother in law and my mother. This was something I'm glad you shared I know first hand the damage that outside influences can have on a marriage..

  • JMD says:

    My husband and I are in-laws. We've seen what destructive in-law behavior can do to a marriage and are trying to not be those types of in-laws. I just don't understand why in-laws would want to have a negative influence on their children's marriages. We, personally, want more than anything for our children to have healthy, life-long marriages, and we want to preserve our relationships with our children. What better way to ensure that continued relationship than by choosing to love who they love. I always looked at it this way: a son-in-law or daughter-in-law LOVES my child. What more could we ask for? And obviously this is the person my child loves. We figure our job is to make sure our son-in-law and daughter-in-law knows we are FOR them and FOR the marriage. We have stepped back to allow our married children the opportunity to form their own, solid, family unit, make their own decisions, and want them to develop their own traditions for their families. They know they are welcome, but not obligated, to attend family functions. My children's spouses complete them and I truly love them both. I feel strongly about this, and your post was well-written. Thank you.

  • John S. Knox says:

    Thanks for the good reminders! I don't think most parental in-laws understand how counter-effective it is to be shamefully told, "Now, you sit down and keep your mouth shut and just listen to me this time"–Zero productive value especially if this advice comes from people who have their own dysfunctionality left unfixed and if the demanded change is only to serve selfish parental needs. However, I remember my father actually asking me, "Would you like some advice?" To which I responded, "Sure." Then, he went on for a bit about how he would handle my own in-laws drama, but at the end, he sincerely said to me, "But hey, son–it is your life and you are a moral, smart, adult man. This is just my take and you might have a better plan in mind than I do." I felt approved and allowed to improve without being insulted and disrespected. My in-laws (and my mother), on the other hand, would just nag and shame and deride and play passive-aggressive games until all we wanted to do is avoid their presence at all costs. And we have. I think the biggest problem was their sense of parental entitlement and control, which was unwarranted and unproductive, to say the least. You have to give young marrieds the right to make mistakes and learn from them, and truthfully, children are not born to take care of the in-laws' emotional needs. And by respecting the married kids, by showing them overwhelming love and support, the young marrieds will in turn pass that on to their own in-laws when their kids get married. Love always multiplies; it never divides.

  • Cathy says:

    EXCELLENT POST! I am a new "mother in law" — and I agree with this 100%% On the other hand having a mother in law- have you any advice to include in this for in laws to stay out of OUR child rearing and respect the decisions WE make for our children?! We do have a unique situation, (Very unique) which I would like to seek your advice on with this topic if you have time. Not sure if I can share here or elsewhere? ūüôā

  • Donna says:

    Thank you for this! Having 5 daughter in laws and a close relationship with all of my sons this has been a hard thing to accept. Thankfully I get along good with all the daughters also. I try to strive to have a good friendship with them all and keep my nose out of their busniess. God Bless you I love reading all of your blogs.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Bless you mother of boys! We have boys too. It is more of a challenge — especially for the mom.

  • Vicki says:

    I have been a mother-in-law for more than 12 years now, and I think all of your points were excellent! I am very fortunate and blessed to have an amazing MIL myself, and I did my best to follow her lead. There have been times I have not been what I should, but I have learned that going to my SIL or DIL and apologizing, goes a long way to repairing that relationship. So that is one thing I would add to your points–admit when you have done something you shouldn't have and apologize.

  • Lisa says:

    I am an in-law, thank you for posting. We are learning to navigate having grown married children. This was helpful.

  • Jennifer says:

    Great advice! I wish my ex mother in law had seen this years ago.

  • Phyllis says:

    good job, Ron. You hit very important and touchy subjects that make an open door or shut down the communication.