John and Luann, Bill and Marilyn—what do these four people have in common? You guessed it—they are our parents. Like almost every other couple, when we married we immediately gained in-laws and extended family on both sides. Unlike many couples, our parents were already dear friends and we haven’t struggled like so many couples with whom we talk.
After nearly 30 years of working with couples, however, we have learned a few things that have been important truths, or axioms in in-law relationships.
Here is Part 1 of our nine in-law axioms that we believe:
1. Make your first priority to honor Jesus
As a couple, your goal is to reflect your relationship with Jesus to your parents regardless of their faith background. You are only responsible for your choices and responses. Be sure that your emotions, tone, and expressions are those of grace and respect.
This doesn’t mean being a push-over or allowing yourselves to be manipulated. It means that your spirit exudes the Spirit of Christ. To do this, look at the list of nine qualities produced by the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Specifically and regularly ask God to make these evident in your difficult relationship. Then choose to make it so through God’s empowerment.
2. You must have each other’s back
You are married to each other, not to your parents. When you married you left your parents and bonded with your spouse. Consciously or subconsciously, a parent may try to test your allegiance.
Be sure not to complain about your spouse to your parents. You want your parents to think the best of your spouse. If you have significant marital issues, seek a godly Christian counselor, pastor or mentor.
A husband can have a close bond with his mother and can see his role as protecting his mother from his wife. This confuses his wife and empowers his mom. Men, if necessary protect your wife from your mother vs. siding with your mother.
3. You should encourage your spouse’s relationship with their parents
We’ve seen a spouse get jealous of their mate’s relationship with their parents. As a result, the spouse can actually create tension with their in-laws through possessiveness and effort to sequester their mate from their parents.
If you read this and recognize that you have done this to your spouse, the hardest and best thing you can do is verbally repent of your control and insecurity to God, your mate, and your in-laws.
In most cases, freeing your spouse to invest in their relationship with their parents will actually draw your spouse closer to you in appreciation. You will be honoring those relationships and bring blessing on your marriage.
4. Always begin by assuming the best
It’s possible that what you are perceiving isn’t what your in-laws are intending to communicate. Their intentions may be innocent and well-meaning. If they seem reserved, perhaps they are respecting your relational space. If they are intrusive, they may be compensating for a negative experience they had with their in-laws or they may just want to help.
In marriage and with in-laws, projecting negative intentions when we really don’t know the facts will create unnecessary distance, friction, and walls.
If you don’t know their intentions you might simply ask. A simple, “Thank you for ________. What prompted you to ________?” Can give you (and perhaps them!) an insight into their motives. Remember, only God truly knows the motives of the heart (Proverbs 16:2) and you do well to assume the best.
Next week we’ll cover five more axioms for in-laws. Which of these resonates with you? What other truths have you found important with your in-laws as you build your marriage?