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He Said, She Said: Dealing with The In-Laws

Image Credit: Alamy

It’s been said that when you get married, you always marry into the family. There’s a lot of truth to that, especially when in reality it gets hard to establish a good relationship with everyone when you’re ever so keen on “the one.” There’s the parents, the siblings, the aunts, the uncles, and not to mention the kids. Finding your place within the family can be hard and intimidating. So what does one do when they can’t get along with their significant other’s family?

In a study by sexuality counselor, Ian Kerner from Good In Bed for CNN, the relationship you have with your in-laws can greatly affect the relationship you have with your significant other. Managing the in-laws isn’t easy but it is important to tend too. Getting to know them is vital ingredient to a healthy relationship. After all, it may affect your odds of staying together over the long haul. That being said, you don’t need to be best friends with your father-in-law or mother-in-law, but you do want things to be civil and run cordially for everyone involved.

Though we hear from a soon-to-be husband, Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research tells Kerner in the CNN article that being a daughter-in-law is actually trickier than a son-in-law. In many ways, it can backfire for women as the closeness a wife gives a mother-in-law, creates a sense of access and ability to cross boundaries and meddle.

On one hand, a woman may be more likely to form a bond with a man’s parents when she wants to change something about him or get him to agree with her about an aspect of child-rearing — essentially, trying to get his parents on her “side.” This closeness can result in a unified front against the husband and, as you might imagine, is apt to infuriate him.

In all simplicity, there are some wise, truthful words from the well known Rabbi Shmuley who says, “Your in-laws are your spouse’s parents. You must therefore always honor them, even if you don’t feel affection toward them. While you can’t always control your emotions, you can always control your actions.”

This week we hear from Scott of South Bend, Indiana who wants to ask for his girlfriend’s father for his daughter’s hand in marriage but is having trouble warming up to her parents–or rather, them warming up to him. Scott wonders when and how should he approach her folks. Our team sit at the round table and discuss this week’s relationship dilemma.

He Said She Said P2 - Scott February 14

Sunny says…

Let me start by saying that I totally get what you’re up against. Parents like your potential in-laws aren’t rare in my culture or community, so I’ve seen the personification of your situation many times over. You said her father is pretty cold to you but is a strict parent. Strict parents have a hard time accepting things and/or people (mostly the latter) that go against what they had envisioned for their kid – hence the cold shoulder. But, with that said, these parents really, really love their kids, too. And that’s the bit you should appeal to. You and they love the same person. That’s your approach. If I were you, I would talk to her first and then as a team, I would take on the parents together. It’s not ideal, but considering she knows her parents better than anyone, it might be the most effective. They don’t care that you want to marry her (after all, to them their kid is perfect and who wouldn’t want to marry her?), but they might be moved by the fact that she wants to marry you. But all the while, remember that this is her family. These people are the reason she’s here. They’ve provided for her, loved her, cared for her. If things get heated, which I think you should anticipate, she should never be in a position where she has to choose between her family and you. With that said, take a deep breath and prepare to sacrifice yourself to the verbal beat down of the century that is most likely coming your way from her dad. But you have to remember at the end of it, it’s not going to be you that wins them over, it’s going to be her. And if he loves her and you show them respect and that you’re dedicated to her, he’ll eventually give in. But your strongest strategy would be having you and your girlfriend going in this together. Team work makes the dream work.

Godwin says…

Thanks for your email. I would like to start off by saying that I was in a very similar situation compared to you. While I won’t go talking about my previous relationship’s strict guardian (I’m going to use that term throughout my paragraph) in a public forum, I will say that the best way to get to someone is to continue to shower them with love and respect. You might have to be prepared for the long road ahead, but time passes and even the sturdiest castles and fortresses will crumble away to nothingness, replaced by loving nature. At times I wanted to argue with her guardian so bad, but I knew that as a parent, one of kin and of flesh and blood, that they do what they do because they care deeply for their own. They might even project their attitudes and aspirations on them (which I think is wrong; everyone should have agency to pursue what they want to). Get to know “your future in-laws” more, especially her father. The best way to get to know someone is to play detective; find out what his interests and hobbies are. When people get older, we tend to gravitate towards people who share our interests, especially when socialize comes to a stand still when parents are so busy taking care of their children. Get to know her father at a more personal level; bribes are also helpful (booze? cigars? Bluray box set of his favourite show? Tickets to see a game?). Her father can clearly see that you really love your girlfriend; he might be scared of change. Develop that situation awareness more and the right time will come to ask for their blessing.

Nicole says…

I’m sorry to hear that you are dealing with these challenges. It is never easy when there person you love has a difficult or challenging family member, especially a parent.  Especially when that parent is rude and bigoted.

You mention that you want to follow a gentlemanly route and ask for her hand in marriage. I totally think that’s noble and lovely, but sometimes it’s just not the best option. You write that the father is cold to you. What happens if you ask and he says no? Would that create tension in your relationship with your girlfriend or, worse yet, in hers with her father?  Is your girlfriend the sort who wants her father’s blessing in a proposal? I think your first step is to weigh that out because it is possible that you may never get her father’s behavior towards you to change and it’s also possible that your girlfriend might not even want her father’s implied permission to marry you.

After you weigh that out I think your best course of action is to talk to your girlfriend about possibly sitting down with her parents together. Parents love their children and sometimes seeing their children advocate for themselves and their own futures is enough to make them start to change themselves. Her parents still might not approve or agree, but they might just be willing to accept things and, in time, you. Of course, the best piece of advice I can give you is just to continue to show them respect and that you care about them. After all, they raised the woman you love.  They may have their issues, but they clearly did something right. Hope that helps.

Chris says…

That’s a tough situation, but I think I am going to have to agree with Nicole. What were to happen if you were to ask her father and he said “no” to you? Would it change your plan to marry your girlfriend? If not, then you are relying less on her family’s approval of you than you think. I believe that her mother is right, just let the comments of the father “roll over” you for now. After all, fighting with him is not going to help you feel better about your situation, is it? Everyone here is right when they say that you should approach the parents as a team, but your only focus right now should be the particulars of your engagement. Make sure that this is what you both want and talk over living with each other/your next move. When YOU GUYS are ready, then talk to her parents. They (or the father) may be upset, but if they love their daughter – they’ll get over it. Good luck, Scott.

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While our team of writers have given their advice with the best of intentions, they nor anyone of this site assume responsibility for your actions or the results of them.

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