Stronger Marriage

In-Law Trouble Can Often be Prevented with Cooperation

by Glen O. Jenson, Ph.D.
Department of Family and Human Development
Utah State University

What if the marriage ceremony contained a clause asking the soon to be parents’- in-law the following question: “Do you take (name of son/daughter-in-law) to be your legal and lawful son/daughter-in-law to love, honor and cherish, until death we do part?” The ceremony could focus on the soon to be son/daughter-in-law and ask, “Do you take (name of parents-in-law) to be your legal and lawful mother/father-in-law to love, honor, and cherish until death we do part?”

In-law problems can surface from many sources. Problems can arise between a married child and his or her parents, or between a married child and in-laws, or a combination of both.

Research indicates that when in-laws are sources of conflict in a new marriage, that the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law are most likely to be acknowledged as the source of the problem.

Here are some tips sons or daughters-in-law can use to minimize the possibility of difficulties:

* Seek approval for the marriage from your parents and your spouse’s parents.
* When visiting with your partner’s family do it as a couple and make the experience a positive one for all concerned.
* Establish a dwelling apart from both partners’ parents.
* Identify types of social and recreational activities that your new parents-in-law enjoy and try to find ways to enjoy some of the same types of activities.
* Address your new mother and father-in-law with affectionate titles. The closer to “mother and father” or “mom and dad,” the better.
* Resolve to make your own decisions regarding schooling, finances, children, employment, etc. It’s okay to ask for counsel and advice from parents and in-laws, but make sure you and your spouse make the final decision.
* When corresponding or responding to your mother and father-in-law, do it together as a unit or at least mention in the conversation that “we have talked it over and this is what we have decided”.
* Remember that financial aid from in-laws often has strings attached. Know what strings, if any, there are and abide by those expectations or decline the aid.
* Find new ways to learn to appreciate your mother and father-in-law.
* Refrain from telling mother-in-law jokes. Refer to your in-laws in positive ways.
* You will not be able to change your in-laws so try to learn to love them as they are.

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