In-laws of course! When I first married, I had no clue that I was also agreeing to be part of an entire family system where I didn't know the rules. Whether or not my in-laws were present, they showed up in my husband's worldview, behaviors, habits, likes and dislikes. I was unaware that "for better or worse" also meant having to deal with the clash my own worldview, behaviors, habits, likes and dislikes created with my husband's. Sometimes it felt like a detective, on the hunt for clues to my husband's behaviors, especially the ones I didn't like. It was easy to point fingers and poke fun at the in-laws. It wasn't so easy to accept that my own family system wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
Now, over 30 years later, mom of four and a mother-in-law (MIL) to two, I have gained perspective from both sides of the equation. Perhaps the following tips will help you gain some insight or ideas on how to improve your current relationships.
The first one is to be intentional about what my "kids-in-law" really like, or how they feel loved. Is it time spent together? Gifts? Acts of service? Getting to know their love language and acting on it, goes a long way. Naturally, this would apply both ways. If you have a MIL or FIL, find ways to reach out in their love language.
Second, keep negative criticism and unsolicited advice out of the picture. As a parent who loves their kid, we want our kids to learn from our mistakes and not go through what we did. However, giving advice is rarely, if ever, welcomed. First ask if they want your opinion. If not, let it be.
If something negative really must be said, then layer it with positive ones. A spoonful of sugar really helps the medicine go down.
What do you do if you are in the position of getting that unasked-for advice? This is where good boundaries come in. First, consider whether or not the message is warranted and if you want to accept it. Then set your boundary around that. I remember my FIL stepping in to discipline my children when they were young. I asked him politely to let me know if my kids were bothering him, and I would take care of it. I wanted to be in charge of my kids' discipline, but I didn't want to ignore his opinions on the matter.
Third, if you can find common ground with your in-laws, forming an alliance, then you have someone who can help you through difficult times, instead of an added stress. Ideally, in-laws can give you insight, support, love and appreciation. I know this does not always happen, but consider the impact a poor relationship will have on your marriage. Then you will have a lot more to deal with as you try to solidify your relationship with your mate. Remember, you are marrying far more than just the one you love.
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