10 reasons why you must work on your relationship with your in-lawsJun 23, 2022
It is no secret that in-law relationships can be one of the most challenging aspects of getting married, especially for women. It seems that in-laws, especially mothers-in-law, have the unique ability to push our buttons and trigger issues for our families even if they live on a different continent and you see them once or twice a year. In fact, almost two-thirds of the participants in one long term study reported that friction with their husband’s mother was the root cause of their ongoing stress and unhappiness.
The reason for the issues in the in-law relationships is a conversation for another day. Today, let us consider why, despite the challenges, it may be a good idea to keep working at this relationship.
One thing that may comfort young couples is the knowledge that just because they are experiencing challenges in this area, it does not mean that there is something wrong or that they are in an unhealthy relationship. Conflict, in fact, is almost to be expected when people with different personalities, habits and lifestyles interact with each other regularly. What sometimes derails relationships is not the presence of conflict per se, but the poor way in which it is handled.
Many young women in particular, start out their married life with good intentions. They desire a good relationship with their mother-in-law and believe that they have the skills to make it work. When things get messy and despite trying their best, when they perceive criticism or rejection, it can be very discouraging.
Given the complicated nature of the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship, it is easy to give up on trying to make it better and resign ourselves to the stress and tension that interactions with in-laws cause.
As a young couple trying to establish their own relationship, it is understandable that the couple gets frustrated with the parents of their spouses when they perceive that instead of supporting the couple in their new life, they are adding to stress and conflict.
Nadia, a woman in her 30s who has been married for 8 years is a good example of someone who initially tried her best but when her efforts were not reciprocated, decided that she will live her own life and not bother any more. “Why should I”, she echoed what many young women in her situation tell me. “They are not my parents. We earn our own money and my husband even supports them. They need us more than we need them. Why should I take nonsense from them that I don’t even accept from my own parents? Why should I bother if despite my best efforts, they are not even nice to me? My mother-in-law constantly criticizes the way I do things and she is very open about her disapproval of my choices”
“Well, as it turns out”, I told Nadia, “there are actually many reasons why it is a good idea to work on your relationship with your in-laws, despite the challenges”.
Here are some of the reasons I shared with her:
1. You are going to be related for a long time!
If you are planning to hang on to your spouse, his family is going to part of your life for a while. This is not a temporary situation that will go away. It is not like a boss that you don’t like where you can pray for a transfer to another department or that the boss gets transferred! Given that you are likely going to have to interact for the foreseeable future, is it not time to consider how this can be less stressful relationship?
2. Your marriage will benefit if you make peace
As Nadia and many other women have discovered, a stressful relationship with your in-laws is highly likely to impact your marriage in a negative way. When you get along with your spouse’s family, you are sending your spouse the message that “your family is important to me because you are important to me”. When you make an effort to get closer to his family, it is an act of love. You are rising above your own wishes and making an effort because it is important to the one that you love. It is, what we call, a huge deposit in the relationship bank account with your spouse
3. What goes around comes around
It seems a long way off but one day you will be a mother in law. The children that you will have brought up will see you as a role model of how to interact with their spouse’s family. They will internalize the value of family bonds and develop relationship skills that enable them to foster good relationships even with people who may be different than them.
If you have maintained family relationships along the way, your children and their spouses will be inspired and learn from your behaviour. Your daughter-in-law will see or hear about the effort that you made with your mother-in-law and be inspired by it.
4. Good relationships are essential for health and wellbeing and relationships which are strained drain your emotional and physical energy
Sometimes we think that when we are working at relationships, it is a huge sacrifice. We think that we are the martyrs, who are on the giving end and not benefitting in any way.
Research suggests that on the contrary, when we practice love, compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit in relationships, we are the primary beneficiaries.
Working at difficult relationships rather than giving up on them is good for us in two ways: firstly, it improves the relationship, which itself is good for health and wellbeing and secondly, the practice of these virtues itself enhances our emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing. In a very interesting recent study, researchers found that practicing love towards others makes us happier regardless of the actions of the other person. So, it turns out that rather than being a huge sacrifice, resolving our relationships is actually a gift of peace and happiness that we are giving ourselves.
5. Focusing on what we can control and living from our values
Living from our own values rather than in reaction to someone else’s behaviour is the ultimate empowerment. It changes our story from victim to one who is at cause in our lives – a much more inspiring way to live, don’t you think?
When we are waiting for others to change before we will be happy or before we will change, it is a life filled with resentments, upset and anger. Once we start living from our values we can really begin to focus on other things and take charge of our own happiness. This is true freedom, unencumbered by calculations and expectations about how others will behave.
6. The bliss of blamelessness
The more reactive you are in relationships the more complicated they get. With the ongoing cycle of tit-for-tat it becomes increasingly more difficult to separate who did what to whom and when. When we are used to reacting in a negative way to others behaviours, we soon find that our own negative responses cause further negativity.
While we may desire love and respect, this can NEVER come from responding with negativity. On the other hand, when we are focused on living our values, when we practice unilateral virtue, life is much simpler. Moreover, we experience what is called “the bliss of blamelessness”. We have a clear conscience, can focus on what we control and are spiritually free rather than encumbered with guilt and regret.
7. If you can do this, you can do anything – if you can get along well with your in-laws, all other relationships will be a piece of cake!!
We want to feel good about ourselves. We seek self esteem and confidence. Self esteem and self respect are the result of being able to live out our commitments. When we are living our best self in relationships, we feel better about ourselves and this further increases our ability to get along in other relationships and respond effectively to people whom we may perceive to be difficult or unfair.
8. The ultimate beneficiaries of a healthy family relationship are your children.
When mothers do not get along with in-laws it can negatively impact the children’s relationship with their grandparents since mothers are usually the gatekeepers to access to children, at least while they are young. It is often heartbreaking to see grandparents pining to see their grandkids who are being kept away from them because of conflict with the daughter in law.
While you may lash out at your mother-in-law by keeping your children away from her, your children will be the true casualties of this war in which no one wins.
9. Parenting is a tough job and you need all the support you can get.
Too many women regret the stance that they have taken with in-laws when they recognize that if their relationship was better, they may have had more support with babysitting and childcare. Once little ones come in the picture you are likely to feel much less invincible and independent and will be grateful for any help that you can get.
Your relationship with your in-laws also impacts parenting support from a different source. Recent research indicates that your husband is likely to be more involved in parenting if you have a positive relationship with his family. In other words, if mothers work at getting along with their in-laws, their spouses are more likely to be helpful around the house and involved with the children.
10. Love in every heart, peace in every home: You can be the change that you want to see in the world.
Many of us are saddened and overwhelmed with the conflict and violence that we see in the world and feel powerless to do anything about it. But here is the thing: we actually can do something about it. We can be the change by letting go of resentments and practicing peace in our homes. Then at least, we are part of the solution and not the problem.
After considering these reasons, Nadia was convinced that she needed to work on her relationship with her in-laws rather than resign herself to the idea that she could not do anything.
How about you?
Which is the reason that is most inspiring to you to work at this relationship? What is one tiny step that you can take to make your relationship better?
Have you signed up for the webinar yet? We will discuss 3 strategies to turn Conflict into Connection with your in-laws. Here’s the link.
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