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In-Laws Can Add Joy Or Challenges
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- For better or worse, few relationships have gotten as much "bad press" over the years as that of parents-in-law.
"Parents are often a major component in the happiness or unhappiness of a marriage," said Louise Davis, family and child development specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. The challenges may begin before the vows, during the stressful time of planning the wedding.
"When you decide to marry, you are not only taking on a new husband or wife, but you also are taking on a new family," Davis said. "Parents may need time, just like the spouse, to adjust to the new in-law relationship."
Both sides of the family have expectations of the new couple that can create conflicts and disappointments. These expectations may involve family arrangements at the wedding or future decisions about where to spend holidays and vacations.
Davis said people who did not have good relationships with their parents may transfer those feelings to the parents-in-law.
"Don't compare your spouse's family with your own," she said. "Comparisons often lead to defensiveness, rebuttals, unnecessary arguments and harsh feelings."
Couples need to avoid bringing their parents into their disagreements.
"Don't run to your parents for support when you have an argument with your spouse and be careful about expressing general complaints," Davis said. "Work out your own problems and avoid putting your family against your spouse."
Parents likewise should avoid becoming involved in the couple's problems, but rather give only affirmation and emotional support.
"The parents' roles should be more of a listening and less of an advising role," Davis said. "An exception would be if the parents are specifically asked for advice."
In cases where the parents do not have a good relationship with their own child, the spouse has even more difficult responsibilities. Davis said the spouse should not personally enter into the problem. Instead, their responsibility is to help their partner work through the problem.
Davis said research indicates that a high percentage of couples have problems with their in-laws early in the marriage, but many resolve them within the first five years. She cautioned that grandchildren do not usually heal the problems. Instead, grandchildren can make problems worse if they are used as weapons.
A good habit to develop is sharing the responsibility for maintaining contacts on both sides of the family. Davis said each partner should share in letter writing, calling, sending gifts, and planning visits, holidays and reunions. These efforts help spread the total feeling of family acceptance.
"The good news is that more and more parents are determining within themselves that they will be good in-laws," Davis said. "A good in-law relationship can be almost as strong as the parental relationship. It can bring a great deal of joy to both parent and child."