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better in-law

Be a Better In-Law: How to strengthen your extended relationships

Oftentimes, the in-law relationship is the one that is the most strained. And, it is also the relationship that causes the most contention in a marriage. So how we can strengthen those bonds?

Dr. Liz Hale shares the acronym that will help you be a better in-law.


How to Be a Better In-Law

We shared a question with our Studio 5 viewers on social media recently: “What has improved your in-law interactions?” While most of the comments were positive, there were a few posts that made us realize this is a very complicated matter, and some in-law relationships are hard or even impossible.

Why are in-law relationships so difficult?

In-laws become out-laws due to loyalties, unmet expectations, and forced family functions. Dr. John Gottman discovered in his research that in-law troubles are one of the top five causes of marital demise. And it’s brutal. There have been many times when Liz has wanted to bring in these extended in-law and family members and educate them on the power they have to either support or separate a couple. In the tug of war between your family-of-origin (the family you grew up in) and your more current nuclear family, the latter loses the war because this family is younger, newer, and the ties aren’t nearly as strong as they are in a family with a long history.

Ties not only bind but they gag.

“Meet the Parents” is a comedy that has some clever and, albeit, painful scenes between a woman’s father and the boyfriend she brings home for the first time. This boyfriend, played by Ben Stiller, desperately wants this family to accept and embrace him. This is when a father’s caution gets the best of what other wise might be a really loving relationship.

Do not be responsible for giving an in-law a cause for pause. Do not be the reason for them to say, “I don’t want to be a part of your family anymore.”

And that’s where the I in in-laws begins. It start with the person in the mirror.

I: I. The I’s have it. How am I going to make a difference for good here? It starts with me. What responsibility do I have in my relationships? How am I improving and including? At the end of the day, what kind of daughter-in-law, or mother or sister-in-law, do I want to be regardless of anyone else’s behavior?

We make the mistake of believing that we have great insight into a family member’s marriage. And we don‘t. There are elements of that marriage that we can’t possibly see or understand. Do not play marriage therapist. Do not take sides unless someone is being truly harmed. You can lighten any difficulty an individual or couple are experiencing by being kind and loving and accepting. This is where many marriages could be spared. How can I be good to this person who I’m connected to via marriage?

And that’s where the never’s come in.

N : Never. A dear friend of Liz’s was sharing her frustration about her daughter-in-law and one-year-old granddaughter who are currently living with her while her son works out-of-state. Her friend has raised 6 children; no doubt about it she knows how to parent. Liz’s dear friend sincerely wants to “help” this young mother. She has the best of intentions in wanting to suggest that it’s time to feed this baby solid foods now or that this baby should learn to explore the room without this young mother hovering over her now. And she can’t figure out why her daughter-in-law is not absolutely joyful over all of her great suggestions.

Never share unless your family member has asked for your help or opinion. Never.

Liz loves this quote:

Dear Mom-in-Law,
Please stop telling me how to raise my kids. I live with one of yours and I’ve seen your work.

This leads into the next point; it’s all about Love:

L: Love. We are here to learn how to love. We didn’t come her to BE loved we came here TO love.

A: Accept. Accept limits, styles, backgrounds, personalities, political preferences, and differences. Let not just your heart, but your mind, be expanded.

W: Words. Are. Powerful. Consider what you can say to strengthen the connection between you. Sometimes words and titles get in the way. Consider dropping the word “in-law” when you speak of or about each other. ”This is my sister, “ “This is my daughter,” “This is my father/mother,” OR “This is our son. He’s really a bonus son; he married our daughter, Beth!”

Consider loving words you can share in person or apart:

“Our son picked you, and we would have too!”

“Marriage made us family. Love made you my daughter.”

“Mother-in-law by chance, friend by choice.”

S: Seek. Seek out members of your partner’s family. At a family gathering, be certain that you make the rounds and inquire about each person’s life as much as possible.

Seek out a sister-in-law and see how her recent trip to Europe went. You don’t need to wait for your spouse to inquire or update you.

Perhaps there’s an in-law you’re not very close to but every birthday you send him a gift card from Starbucks, just because you know that’s what he loves. And maybe for now that’s good enough. Seek and share from the heart. Even a little can be enough to seek and maintain some connection.

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