Q: My wife’s parents are a major source of tension in our relationship and I’m trying to find a way to manage the situation without much luck. How much does THAT relationship need to be part of OUR relationship?
A: I think this is one of those questions that has existed since the dawn of time without ever a singular answer that could possibly suffice for all situations and relationships. As much as we can all howl with laughter as we watch “Meet the Parents,” the realities can often be less than a laughing matter. Stereotypes aside, in my experience I know more people that struggle with In-Law relationships than not. So, what to do, what to do…
First and foremost, acknowledge that blending lives and backgrounds is a complicated process where at times we need to be bold and at other times circumstances require us to tread very lightly. But the fact of the matter is that when you marry someone, you marry the whole of that person. And their life, their history, and their family are all part of what you take on when you get married. Each and every one of us is a product of all that has come before. When I married Greg he already had two children and I remember in all my euphoric naiveté believing that because I loved Greg, I would just naturally have a loving relationship with his kids as well. Not so. What I realized in fairly short order, was that his kids are individuals in their own right and I needed to build a relationship with them around who they are and what they meant to me, not around what Greg meant to me.
So I would encourage you, for your wife’s sake, to try to find some common ground with your in-laws. Find something of value in the relationship and allow that to be the focal point. For example, perhaps you and they have drastically different personalities and belief systems, but they are wonderful loving grandparents. Super! Focus there. If however they lack any redeeming qualities and they are truly doing damage to your family and your relationship, you have to either literally or figuratively put some distance between yourself and them. As husband and wife your first responsibility is to one another and you both have an obligation to guard your relationship against harm and continual discord. Any loving parent would want happiness for their children not constant conflict and friction so keep this in mind as the two of you work to create a UNITED front as it relates to these and all relationships. It never ceases to fascinate and amaze me how powerful family relationships are. And for better or for worse, they continue to be a force for either good or evil in our lives. For what it’s worth, take some really good mental notes on this situation so that you and your wife can reference them in the future in order to be the world best in-laws when the time comes.