Helping Your Parents Adjust to Your Marriage

One of the biggest challenges a newly married couple faces is what to do with the in-laws. In fact this is such a universally recognized issue that it is the brunt of jokes and sitcoms all pointing to the problems of meddling parents who get in the middle of the couples goal of marital bliss. It isn’t long before lines are drawn in the sand with loyalty to one’s spouse pitted against loyalty to one’s parents. With this type of either/or thinking it is no wonder so many marriages get off to a rocky start.

So how does a newly married couple deal with the in-law issue? One of the things it is important to understand is that your parents are going through an adjustment just as you are. They are adjusting to the fact that they are no longer the primary influence in your life and they struggle with how to be a parent to a married child. There really isn’t much out there on how to be a good in-law. So most parents just have to figure this out on their own and most usually struggle with letting go of their influence and control in the life of their child. So they continue to parent their child even though he/she is married now and tend to see the new spouse as a threat to their influence which causes power and control struggles for who will be the primary influence into the adult child/spouse. The only way to help make this transition a smooth one is to recognize the difficult task of adjustment going on for your parents and to take certain steps that allow you to continue to honor your parents while helping them to understand their new role.

First, you need to thank your parents for all they have done to raise you in the right way. Start by acknowledging your parents influence in your life and the things they have done well in preparing you for life. One of the things most missing for parents today is gratitude for all they have sacrificed for their children. Every parent needs to hear they have done a good job as they are constantly analyzing where they messed up or things they should have done before you got to adulthood. Reassuring them on the job they have done will put their hearts at ease and allow them to hear what you are going to say to them about their new role in your life.

Second, let them know that you are committed to making your marriage last the for the long haul and, next to God, your marriage is your primary focus. This will help your parents know that your marriage comes first in any decision you make which means that your spouse has to be a part of those decisions.

Third, tell them that you appreciate their advice but that you won’t talk about your spouse or the marriage with them because it wouldn’t be fair to your spouse. This sets the boundary early on that they will not have a direct influence into the marriage unless the two of you ask for their advice. Many parents really want to see their kids succeed so they will have a tendency to handle that desire by constantly speaking into your marriage through you. This creates problems because you feel like you have to at least act on the advice given (that’s what you did most of your life) and usually that advice is one sided as they are only getting what they see or hear from you. It is important to hold the line on this to help your parents understand where the limit is on their influence into your marriage.

Fourth, let them know that you know they want you to have a successful marriage and to do that you need to form new traditions together as a couple. One of the most divisive issues in a new marriage is what traditions to continue from each person’s past. There is a loss for your parents when you get married because the family traditions that you are so used to where everyone is present now suddenly have to be shared with another person’s family. The newly married couple can feel torn between the two families with questions of loyalty and equal time coming up in the conversation frequently. It is important to establish with both sets of in-laws that you will do what you can to be fair with everyone but in the end you have to make the best decision for the two of you. Setting this expectation early will help your parents begin the transition to the new reality without prolonging it. Too many couples cave in to the most demanding parents and only prolong the day when this type of discussion will have to happen anyway. By prolonging it, you create more problems because the demanding parents don’t understand why you are drawing those lines now that you have already been doing it after you got married.

In all of this remember that your parents are going through a transition at the same time you are. By taking steps to set boundaries with them you are actually helping them to make the transitions in the best way possible. You need to be prepared for them to push back and even blame your spouse for being the one who is making this decision and having too much control over you. It is important that you stand your ground and let them know it is a joint decision and that it is what is best for your marriage. You may even ask your parents if they want what’s best for your marriage and when they say of course you can let them know this is an important step in helping you start off right. In the end you will help your parents with the transition, strengthen the bond with your spouse, and set up a future of a great relationship with your in-laws.
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