Meet the IN-LAWS (November, 2005)

There is perhaps no greater psychological drama than that of attempting to gain the acceptance of your future in-laws. Even movies like “Meet the Parents” only approach the issue with a fraction of the complexity it really entails.

“So often couples forget that they are not only marrying the love of their life, but their spouse’s family as well. In-laws can be both your greatest support and greatest point of sensitivity. A positive relationship with your in-laws can be extremely important for marital satisfaction,” said Kimberly Edstrom Schiller, a senior counselor for a New York-and-Chicago-based employee assistance program.

But fear not. By remembering six key guidelines, even the most fumbling wife or husband can gain the acceptance of the in-laws.

Six-step plan

  1. Remember, it’s not a popularity contest. Don’t view winning over the in-laws as situations where you need to bake the best apple pie in the county every weekend. Relax and be yourself. The qualities that won over your future spouse will undoubtedly win over his or her parents.
  2. Treat your spouse with respect and genuine concern. Wash the dishes, sweep and serve the food.
  3. Send flowers. If your mother-in-law has to be in a hospital, send over some flowers.
  4. Strive for common ground. “No one has ever professed that you need to love your in-laws as much as you love your spouse, but try to find the commonalities, even if it is solely the fact that you all love your spouse”, Schiller said.
  5. Work to change your relationship. Schiller said, “If you do not like the type of relationship you have with your in-laws, help to change it. Discuss your feelings and what type of relationship you hope to have with them. This will help to prevent an emotional triangle from being formed.”
  6. Don’t criticize. There’s always a temptation to vent frustration about the in-laws, but try to avoid it. “No one wants to hear how off-base or screwed up their own parents are, not even from a spouse. Asking questions to gain a better understanding about why your spouse feels that way can have a more positive impact on your relationship,” Schiller said. On the other hand, if your spouse needs to criticize his or her parents, just listen.

Schiller warned that a constantly negative viewpoint of your in-laws could jaundice the intimacy you share with your spouse. “If you are always looking at what upsets you about your in-laws and the negative side of them,” she said, “there is a greater likelihood that will negatively affect the relationship you have with your spouse.”

All in all, Schiller said, a healthy camaraderie with your in-laws will benefit your own relationship with your spouse. “Marriage is about showing love and gratitude, giving respect, communication, trust, sharing feelings, caring for another and allowing you to set boundaries. Make the effort to respect, love, trust and communicate with your in-laws. Your marriage will be that much fuller for your efforts.”