Loving the Family you Married

Ever notice how many orphans there are in romantic comedies?

Okay, maybe not actual orphans, but at least one of the main characters always seems to be (by choice or fate) alone in the world. If they have family, you rarely meet them. The script writers do this to keep the story clean and simple. And in Hollywood’s version, an “orphan” is free to jump right into the family life of his or her romantic partner, and after some initial friction, falls effortlessly in love with the family they never had.

Not that it’s news to you, but romantic comedies are totally unrealistic!

Loving your Mother-in-lawIn real life, you probably won’t find yourself dating or marrying an orphan. More likely, your romantic partner has at least one set of parents and siblings, maybe more. If you marry him, you make them part of your life.  This week, I’m sharing stories from two friends about their relationships with in-laws: specifically, their mothers-in-law.

Overall, when it comes to in-laws, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot you can’t control or change. Focusing on those things will cause you (and them) endless frustration. Instead, focus on your own attitude, approach, and expectations. You’ll be more successful, and a lot happier.

Personality-wise, Rachel and her mother-in-law are near opposites. Raised in Washington state, Rachel is outgoing and likeable, but private and very even-keeled. Rachel’s husband Grant was raised in the south. His mom is very, well, southern. She’s effusive and bubbly, always wanting to share, and usually excited. Rachel can find this exhausting, but she decided early on that she wanted the relationship to work.

How does Rachel do it?

“You know how a lot of marriage books say loving your husband is a choice you make daily? Loving your in-laws is the same deal. I choose to love Grant’s mom, to let her be herself, to look for common ground (we’re both Christians), to accentuate the things we have in common (we both value family), and do my best to ignore the things we don’t. It works for us, and I know Grant appreciates it.”

Hailey has the opposite problem – it’s her similarities with her mother-in-law that can cause friction. They’re both extroverted and highly verbal. They process by talking, and they tend to say whatever is on their minds, sometimes before they’ve thought it through. Her mother-in-law has a tendency to share too much with Hailey, especially about her concerns for her son (Hailey’s husband).

Like Rachel, Hailey committed from the start to build a healthy relationship with her mother-in-law. So she learned to lovingly set boundaries on their conversations. She redirects or changes the subject altogether to avoid engaging in criticism (even the well-meaning kind) of her husband. Doing so preserves her relationship with her mother-in-law without putting Hailey in a position that feels disloyal to her husband.

Another step Hailey took was to find active time she and her mother-in-law could spend together, like going for walks or running errands. It gave them a low-pressure setting to observe and learn about each other that didn’t have to be about “deep sharing.”  Hailey asked questions that honored her mother-in-law’s experience and provided positive  topics, like asking about favorite moments or memories of her own husband.  Their relationship isn’t perfect, but knowing each other well helps them to move past any rough patches.

Marriage is a relationship. Anyone who has been married will tell you that you have to work at it. Relationships with your in-laws are the same. Like Rachel and Hailey, you have to make a choice and then make it work. If you love the person you married, loving the people in their lives can take your relationship to a higher level.

Do you have a mother-in-law, or are you one? What’s your best piece of in-law advice? Tell us what you’re working through in the comments.


Read more about love and family in the life of a professional woman in Work, Love, Pray.