A Newlywed's Guide to Navigating In-Laws Use these tips to help welcome your new in-laws, while leaving conflict and resentment at the door. BY IRINA FIRSTEIN, LCSW
Getting to know your spouse's parents takes some careful navigation on your part.
They say when you marry your spouse you marry their family. While this is a common statement, it is still often underestimated how true this really is.
As a marriage therapist, it always amazes me on how little attention is invested in really getting to know one’s future in-laws, understanding their feelings and getting to know the family he/she is about to marry into. During the dating period, the main idea is to make a good impression and get an endorsement, so to speak. Later on, when the wedding is beginning to take shape, it is the little conflicts that begin to show everyone’s true colors and it is often the in-laws that are at the center of the negativity. Resentment builds and long-lasting issues between the groups start as both sides act out around issues of control and the upcoming change that is about to take place.
Remember, when you marry your spouse, you are really entering into their world, their history and relationship dynamics. It is important to take a step back and find out who your new in-laws are, what they value, how they relate to each another and their relationship with your spouse. During these early stages, it is very important to be open and respectful in this process. It is also very important to be empathic and kind.
Your marriage is probably the most wonderful and exciting event in your life. You need to know that to the parents and siblings of your husband or wife—while it may also be a happy event—it is nonetheless one that signifies change and may even feel like a loss. People deal with these issues differently, some more graciously then others. It is important on all sides to handle this sensitively so that long-term hurt, anger and resentments do not arise.
It is also important that both spouses try to learn about rituals, celebrations and other rules in the new family. How do they celebrate holidays, birthdays and anniversaries? It is important to treat each family fairly and with consideration. Try to include both families in the celebration and, if that is not possible, divide the holidays equally.
It is also a good idea to get to know the in-laws on a one-on-one basis. Just remember that it is really important that either side does not feel pushed out. It is a good thing when you and your spouse are able to cultivate individual relationships and really get to know each other and connect.
An issue that comes up in my work with married couples is how much the in-laws should be involved in a couples’ life? Boundaries are important and most of the important decisions should be made by the couple. However, sometimes it is a nice gesture to give the in-laws an opportunity to give some of their own input. The need for boundaries does not mean completely pushing families out. This is a difficult issue to navigate, but it is important to remember that while the final decisions are yours, parents on either side want to have their voice too and should at least be heard.
But what happens when you just cannot seem to get along with your in-laws? This is a very serious issue, because ultimately your spouse is a product of them and by rejecting the parent you are rejecting your spouse. It is important to remember to not act out on these feelings and instead try to really understand where they are coming from. If you just cannot seem to shake your differences, try seeking the help of a professional to understand what is going on. A professional can show you how to best deal with this and, most importantly, not to cause irreparable damage to your marriage.
It is indeed not so easy to keep a balance between being a newly married couple and maintaining a strong connection with both one’s own family as well as that of your husband or wife’s family. It is a challenge that is always evolving and one that is well worth focus, attention and nurturing in order to have a successful marriage.
Irina Firstein LCSW is a relationship and marriage therapist in New York City for over 20 years. She has helped hundreds of couples overcome problems with intimacy and inhibited desire to reestablish a meaningful connection and achieve satisfaction in their marriages. You can visit her website at www.psychotherapist-newyork.com and follow her on Google+.