So I was going to share with you about how my experience with #JanuaryWhole30 was this year but I am still finishing the introduction phase so I figured that post would be better to write about and share with you next week.
For now, I figured I could shed some light on a topic that has probably been on your mind and that is: how to navigate the in-laws.
Evan and I feel very lucky to have good relationships with our in-laws. We often hear stories where that is simply not the case. And to be honest that makes me sad, but it also makes me grateful that God brought us to one another, not only that we would have each other, but for the relationships with our in-laws to be the extra family members we never knew we really needed.
So yeah, our experiences with the in-laws have actually been pretty great, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t had our fair share of disagreements, tension, and hurt feelings among the bunch. Nobody’s perfect after all.
There are times when someone on your side of the family is going to offend your spouse. There are times when your spouse is going to offend someone on your side of the family. And there will most definitely be times when your family offends your spouses family, and their family offends yours.
Each of you are bringing your own family traditions, baggage, and idiosyncrasies into your marriage and learning how to adjust from two separate families to one new family is really hard. REALLY hard. Families are messy, but they are also a blessing.
Here are some of the common problems you will find when dealing with the in-laws and how to tackle them together, biblically, as a couple.
I cannot even begin to tell you the number of times my husband and I have had misunderstandings with the in-laws. In some cases we’ve addressed it, but most of the time we just let it go because either we’ll be able to explain what our moms or sisters meant by their words or actions to one another, or it won’t even be something worth arguing about, and that can make it easier to forgive rather than simply address. (for context, we don’t have dads or brothers immediately around).
Misunderstandings are common in all of our relationships, but somehow when it happens with an in-law, we feel personally responsible for our spouse’s hurt feelings. Somehow we feel like we need to take it upon ourselves to take on the role of peacemaker between our spouse and our relative.
Biblically speaking, how are we supposed to address these situations?
Before you do anything, pause and pray. God’s wisdom is always needed when addressing a family member because left to our own devices, we could be rude, inconsiderate, or even downright hurtful when we are trying work through a misunderstanding. So definitely pray for God to show you the best way to handle the situation.
The Bible tells us in Colossians 4:6, “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person”. EXTEND. GRACE. FIRST.
Regardless of the outcome, know that God, and your spouse, will always stand by you. Think about it this way for a moment. Which relationship matters most to you? Your marriage right? Because your spouse means the world to you, that means that their parents and siblings, and even other family members you might frequently spend time with, become “extra grace required” people. Because of the love and respect you have for your spouse, you need to be willing to extend extra grace to the ones THEY love. In doing so, you will be able to approach any misunderstandings or hurtful situations in a way that exudes forgiveness and understanding.
- Unwanted Opinions
So many of you sent in responses that fell under this umbrella and the next. Specifically when it comes to grandchildren (also known as, your children, or future children). It appears that unwanted opinions from the in-laws can cause a lot of strive and tension between you and your spouse. I know my husband and I have certainly had moments where one of us was offended by an opinion that was offered by a family member rather than having asked for said opinion. And we find that we spend more time fighting with each other about that issue than actually addressing the family member. Anyone else?
So how would God want you to handle and address these situations with your in-laws?
Set boundaries. Galatians 6:5 says, “for each will have to bear his own load”. Though your parents mean well, often times their unwanted opinions (in the form of criticism, advice, etc) are actually hindering you from carrying the load God intended for you to carry. You will have to lovingly approach you in-laws (or your parents if they are the offender here), and talk to them about how God has a plan for you and your spouse, and you intend to live according to HIS will, provided HE will show you the way. God does not call the equipped, but He equips the called. If He called you into marriage, or parenthood, or the like, you can rest assured that He will help you navigate through the ups and downs. Your parents, can rest assured knowing that God is with you on this journey so they can let you go, “therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and holdfast to his wife…” (Ephesians 5:31a). Because of this, you and your spouse need to maintain a united front. You two need to always address the in-laws as a team, with both of you on the same page, “…and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31b).
But, what if my in-laws really aren’t that great at this whole boundary thing? They call at all hours of the night and expect an answer, they show up unannounced, expect to be part of every decision we make, etc?
Well, my dear friend, your in-laws are not the one with the boundary issue here. You are. And for that, I have a book recommendation for you: check out the book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend. This book did wonders for me and my own boundary issues with allowing others (family and non-family alike) to control, manipulate, and overstep lines that I had drawn. And I assure you, it will be a game changer for you.
Your in-laws should not be interfering with your marriage and parenting (unless for whatever reason you are an unfit parent, I guess there are always exceptions). But the majority of those reading this post are likely not in an unfit parenting situation, so your in-laws need to know that how you raise your children and handle your marriage is up to you and your spouse, and the two of you alone. Your parents will actually respect you more if you have clear boundaries of their role as parents, in-laws, and grandparents in your lives.
This one is a hard one, because honestly, there isn’t anything YOU can do about it. “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Proverbs 27:4). Jealousy is an emotion that we cannot stand against. You can’t rationalize it, you can’t justify it, you can barely even explain it. Dealing with jealousy from a family member is difficult. This is typically found on YOUR side of the family toward the other side, and there’s usually a little bit of this for both you and your spouse. One side might be saying “you’re always spending so much time with their side” while the other says “why did you adopt their traditions and abandon ours?” and it can continue on to say “you have a better relationship with (insert family member here), I wish we had that”, you get the picture.
Whether the jealousy is that obvious, or if it’s more subtle with frequent “I miss you”s after they’ve noticed you were spending time with your spouses side. It can be annoying and frustrating trying to explain, you now have ONE BIG family with new traditions and new people to share your time with. That doesn’t mean you love the family you came from any less. The Bible tell us, “Love is patient and kind, it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
My prayer for you is that this jealousy fades as your family grows in your relationships with one another. Change is hard, and this is a common reaction. The more your family grows to love your spouse’s family, the easier it is for this feeling to fade away.
I saved this one for last, mostly for flow, but certainly not because this isn’t a very common issue. You grow up with your family’s traditions you entire life, some even passing from generation to generation. And then, you marry someone who “all of a sudden” has their own traditions, I mean, what is that? How are you ever going to be able to do ALL of both of these sets of traditions? Short answer? You’re not.
If you haven’t already had this talk with your spouse, now would actually be a good time to do so. You’re going to want to really evaluate which traditions mean most to both of you, and compromise. Sure, there will be some backlash from your in-laws when you end up choosing one of your family’s traditions over theirs. This is where you need to be prepared on how to handle it.
STEP ONE: Decide which traditions from each side of the family you want to continue.
STEP TWO: Come up with at least one new tradition for the two of you. This will help you to start your new family’s traditions. As in, the family of the two of you, and your future children.
STEP THREE: Talk to the parents. Explain to them how it’s just not possible to keep things exactly as they were when you were growing up. Explain to your parents that your spouse is your family now, and you have to do what works best for the both of you. This means that there will be a little give and take on both sides.
The Bible states on numerous occasions that you will leave your mother and father and stand by your spouse. This doesn’t mean you abandon your family, but it does mean your priorities have now shifted. Your spouse becomes top priority now so the traditions you make and do together must take precedence over those you once had with your parents and siblings.
You gotta cut your parents some slack though, they spent all this time building traditions as a family, so make sure you approach this situation with tenderness. It’s sad for them when change happens, especially when it feels like a loss. Try to approach this in a positive light and let them know that they are welcome to change and make new traditions along with you as a new, larger, family.
I hope this sheds some light on some of the common tensions and discomforts with in-laws. Remember that God has placed you in the lives of those around you to reflect the light of who He is. When things get rocky or uncomfortable, always approach with grace first. Jesus set the example of love, even to those who hated Him. So I think we can do the same.