Learning how to work with your in-law relationships is a critical piece to the health of your own marriage. It it is also pivotal to the ongoing health of your relationship with your extended family. Yes, it’s true, these relationships can range from terrible to tolerable, and you may be lucky enough to have a great relationship with your in-laws. However, that does not mean there will never be issues to tackle as situations are sure to arise from time to time.
So, if you’re struggling with in-laws, or even if have a great relationship with them, let’s talk about some ways to create a healthy relationship with them.
Fixed and Non-Fixed Relationships
The first step to understanding why it is that in-law relationships tend to feel like they have more tension or a little bit more stress than other relationships in our life, is to understand a very basic aspect of family science. It makes a lot of sense, but sometimes we don’t articulate it very well. It has to do with what we call “fixed and non-fixed” family relationships. All that means is fixed relationships are biological. That’s your biological mother, your biological father, your biological siblings, or your grandparents. Those are what we call fixed relationships. Non-fixed relationships are what we call relationships of choice. These are relationships we choose to be in. They’re not already there when we’re born. These are the relationships we choose, these are our romantic relationships, and our friend relationships, and business relationships and the relationships with our in-laws.
Where To Start
Start to think about your in-law relationships just the way you think about friends in your life. When you think about friendship and peer relationships, these are relationships that we oftentimes look too as a source of strength and resource in our life. You may say to yourself: “I love hanging out with my friend because…” These are people in our lives that we put investment and energy into because we see them as a resource, someone that can help us with different obstacles and stresses in our life, as well as bringing us companionship and joy. Oftentimes we do not think about our in-laws in this same category, we place them in a separate space all on their own, with very different expectations. The best way to think about our in-laws is just like our friends, that they too can be a resource. Sometimes we don’t think about them that way. We think about them as a necessary evil. I’ve married this person, I’m in this relationship, therefore I have to tolerate all of these in-law relationships.
Practical Tips For Your In-Law Relationships
- Find Common Ground. Focus on that common ground of interests. Be intentional about that common ground. No matter how different you might be than your in-laws, you can typically identify a couple of things that you do see eye-to-eye on. Maybe it’s a shared love of sports, TV show you both really like, reading, a hobby, or a leisure activity. Whatever it might be, find those things that you have in common with your in-laws, and when you’re around them, focus on those things. Be intentional to look for the common ground opportunities and fertilize that healthy area of the relationship.
- Show Gratitude. A good way to cut through years of difficulty, or strengthen an already solid relationship is shape comments and conversation around gratitude. This gratitude should be very specific and thoughtful as well. Not just “I love when you come to visit”, but more like: “When you come to visit, I appreciate it that you spend time reading books to the kids, they really look forward to that very thing.” It is that specific thing that adds value to relationship, but is specific and thoughtful to the person receiving the gratitude.
There is no doubting that in-law relationships can come with challenges and we cannot control how someone response to your efforts of a healthier approach; but instead of viewing them as an obstacle to overcome, begin to shift your mindset to a more positive outlook and see them as value that can be brought to YOUR life!