Articles for Married Couples

Everything listed under: in-laws

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    4 Tips for Becoming a Team in Marriage

    After you marry, who should you approach first as your confidant, to ask for an opinion or to work through an issue? Your spouse or your parents? Many couples wrestle with this in the early stages of marriage.

    One woman shared that she resented her husband of two years going to his mother about everything. He responded that he is closer to his mother and that she knows him better.

    “My husband and I dealt with this in the first few years of our marriage,” says marriage educator, wife and mother, Gena Ellis. “When I showed up on my parents’ doorstep, my mother told me to go home. She said I didn’t live there anymore and I needed to go home to my husband. My husband was not being mean or hurting me. I was just spoiled and mad that things weren’t going my way, so I ran home to Mama. I am grateful my mom set these boundaries.”

    Even though you love your spouse, learning how to get along together and grow your trust level takes time.

    “I think a lot of men don’t realize how their relationship with their mom can lead to their wife's insecurity in the marriage relationship,” says marriage coach Dr. David Banks. 

    “For example, many well-intentioned men do not realize that confiding in mom after getting married is like being traded from one sports team to another and going back to your former coach for advice. This actually works against building trust in the marriage and figuring out how to rely on each other.”

    Both Ellis and Banks agree that parents should receive, raise and ultimately, release their children.

    “It is truly in a couple's best interest if parents are a safety net rather than the first line of defense,” Ellis says. “If your adult child is having trouble 'cutting the apron strings,' helping him/her do that provides the best chance of a healthy and successful marriage. It is not helpful to say things like, ‘You will always have a room here.’ Or, ‘If she starts treating you bad, you just come home to Mama.’”

    If you are a newlywed, Banks and Ellis offer these tips as you leave your parents and join forces with your spouse.

    • First, sit down together and talk about what it means to be a team.

    • Resist the urge to run to your parents at every turn. Set healthy boundaries for you as the couple and for your parents. Constantly turning to your parents creates difficulty in building trust and confidence in each other.

    • Watch the influences you allow around your marriage. People who have a negative view of marriage don’t typically help you to build a healthy relationship with your spouse. In other words, you may have hung out with people before marriage that you should see less often now.

    • Consider attending a marriage enrichment class. There are great tools to help you build a strong, lasting marriage.

    “Loyalty is foundational to a healthy marriage team,” Banks says. “You may feel like your parents know you better and can offer better advice. But think of your marriage as your new team. Even though your old team knows you better, your job now is to make sure your new team knows you. This isn’t about giving up your relationship with your parents. It is about creating a new system where there is balance and everyone understands their appropriate role.”

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    How to Deal with Meddling Parents

    “We love his parents, but they have a way of creating chaos between the two of us that has gotten to the point that we are seriously considering divorce,” says Karen.

    “I see this scenario in my office frequently,” says psychologist Dr. Susan Hickman. “In most instances, the parents of the now adult child didn’t have good boundaries when they were raising their child. Now that their child is grown and has a family of their own, the parents believe they have the right to be involved at this same level with their grandchildren and the parents.”

    Think helicopter parents who seek to control all aspects of their child’s life. Now fast forward to what this looks like when their child marries and attempts to raise children in a healthy environment.

    “I’m watching what his parents are doing, thinking this is insane,” Karen says. “They have a key to our home and will show up unannounced, which I think is rude. They talk about me to my husband and seem to constantly be trying to pit us against each other. When I tried to talk with my husband about this, he became angry and felt like I was dishonoring his parents.”

    “Being raised in this type of environment is like being emotionally blackmailed,” Hickman says. “The terror you felt as a child who is vulnerable to the parent stays the same over time. As an adult, when you're dealing with your parents you still feel that same terror you felt when you were 4. This is why so many young adults have difficulty breaking free. Only by violating these assumptions can this unhealthy chain be broken.”

    Karen and Bob are struggling with next steps. However, many young adults actually recognize the problem and seek help, which can create even more friction between the couple and parents. And, boundaries and limits often anger parents. Then they can become even more difficult.

    “As adults start breaking free from this toxic family dynamic they should expect resistance from the parents,” Hickman says. “In the process of creating a new dynamic you will probably experience pressure to get back in line. This is a sign that you are moving in the right direction.”

    Here are Hickman's suggestions for breaking free:

    • Set boundaries and stick with them – Your marriage and family are your first priority.

    • Be patient – Things will not change overnight.

    • Learn to disengage – Don’t participate in manipulative behavior. This is not as much about you as you might think.

    • If your parents choose not to have a relationship with you because of the boundaries set, that is their choice. Don’t feel guilty about it.

    • Don’t be afraid to seek help – An objective party who can encourage you and help you keep perspective.

    “Many couples have successfully walked this road and eventually developed a healthy relationship with parents,” Hickman says. “Don’t give up!”

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    Make Holiday Memories, Not Misery

    Although it has been many years ago, Deanna Brann, clinical psychologist and author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law, has no problem recalling "The Thanksgiving from Hell."

    It was the first Thanksgiving she and her husband spent with her son, new daughter-in-law and granddaughters. Although looking forward to seeing them, Deanna was quite uneasy. Her daughter-in-law was apprehensive, too. The stress and tension on both sides caused a huge explosion. That's why that particular holiday is remembered as hellish by both women.

    There have probably already been a few interesting discussions about this year’s holiday gatherings with the in-laws. While a first holiday together can be awkward for everyone, you may also be dealing with the stress from annual pressure from both sides of the family. Maybe each side wants you to be there because, “It just won’t be the same if you aren’t here.” Yet trying to please everyone can make the whole season miserable.

    If you are the in-laws, remember what holidays were like when you were newlyweds or raising children. What would happen if you backed off on the pressure to be at your home on a certain day? Everybody might enjoy celebrating the holidays more when there's a little flexibility.

    For couples trying to navigate the holidays with in-laws, Brann offers tips to help you create great memories instead of misery.

    • Have realistic expectations. Hope for the best, but be realistic. Families are families - and they are going to act how they act.

    • Don’t take it personally. Stressful times and tension can cause behavior to be exaggerated.  Remember that your in-laws’ indiscretions are more about them than they are about you. And your mother-in-law is probably not trying to get on your nerves. Keeping this in mind can help maintain the peace.

    • Be a team player. Remember you really aren’t on opposing teams. Different opinions about certain aspects of the holiday are okay. Find ways to share the workload. Plan fun outings that can help keep people out of trouble.

    • Hunt for humor. Finding humor in situations can help maintain your sanity by helping you create enough emotional distance so you won't take people’s words and actions so personally. Plus, you'll have some great stories to tell your friends.

    • It's just one day. You can make it through one day of just about anything. Knowing that there is an end to the evening - and that soon you'll be seeing their taillights (buckling your seat belt) - can make all the difference. If you or your guests are staying overnight, you can close the guestroom door soon enough.

    • Plan your exit strategy in advance. Visiting couples should agree beforehand how long to stay - and then leave at the predetermined time. If you're traveling, getting a hotel room or staying elsewhere can lessen the stress.

    Don’t let others steal your joy. A little advance planning, along with a good attitude, can make for a pleasant holiday season.

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    7 Tips for Setting Healthy Holiday Boundaries

    Whether it's your first holiday as a married couple or not, it's helpful to have a plan for how you're going to handle the holidays together.

    • Set a specific time to talk about how you want to spend the holidays. Remember that you are on the same team and your spouse is your first priority… not your family.

    • As negotiations proceed, keep in mind that it isn’t your job to please everybody. You may make some decisions that disappoint one family or the other. That’s okay. People will adjust.

    • Before making any decisions, make sure all your options are on the table.

    • Once the decision has been made, each spouse should call their family to pass along the information. Be sure to say, “We have decided that…” instead of, “We can’t be with you Christmas day because he/she wants to be with his/her family." That will do nothing but create problems for you.

    • Avoid committing to any invitations before checking with your spouse, even if you are certain he/she will want to go.

    • Be respectful of each other as you navigate this territory.

    • Finally, entertain the idea of starting your own traditions and consider including the in-laws. 

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    Dealing with Difficult In-Laws

    If you have in-laws who seem cross the line a lot, here are some constructive strategies for dealing with them.

    Don't assume they are intentionally trying to be difficult. In many instances, people think they are being helpful. They don't realize that dropping by unannounced or giving unsolicited marital or parenting advice is not appreciated. Get with your spouse and brainstorm things that your in-laws could do that would be helpful. Then sit down with your in-laws and talk about what you would appreciate them doing. Also discuss things that you would like them to stop.

    What if you believe it is truly unhealthy for your family to be around your in-laws? Your first responsibility is to your spouse and family. If being around your in-laws creates safety issues or requires you to put your family in an unhealthy environment, you'll want to set limits. When you know you'll be with your in-laws, decide as a team how much time you will spend there. Perhaps a code word or signal that the tension is mounting and it is time to wrap up the visit would be helpful.

    Be careful about anticipating how things will be. In many instances, anticipating being around difficult in-laws can increase tension and actually make the situation worse.

    Stand your ground. Many couples experience marital distress because one spouse doesn't want to hurt his/her parents' feelings and doesn't see how them "investing" in the marriage is harmful. If your spouse is uncomfortable with how the in-laws relate to you and your family, it is important to realize that the two of you are a team - not the two of you plus the in-laws.

    Focus on those things over which you have control. You may try to do an extreme makeover on your in-laws' behavior, but in the end you will probably feel frustrated and discouraged. It might be better to focus on your own behavior and the things you do have control over, like:

    • How much time you spend with them

    • Topics that are off limits for discussion

    • How you allow their behavior to impact you

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    3 Tips for Satisfaction in Love and Marriage

    Before marriage, engaged couples usually have a few expectations about their day-to-day roles. Who will manage the money? Who should initiate romance? What will the arrangements be if or when children arrive? Who will be responsible for housework, laundry and such?

    If someone warned you before marriage or in its early stages about some real tension-causing issues most couples face, you may have dismissed any such idea. You probably thought your relationship was different than any other.

    After the wedding, things do change, but not always the way anyone thinks it will. When conflict arises, some couples may even question whether they have what it takes to keep the marriage afloat. Add unmet expectations, misunderstandings and hurt feelings to the mix and things can get messy. What can couples do when this happens?

    “Though people are trained from an early age to analyze problems and create solutions, we must be careful to remember that marriage is a relationship to be nurtured, not a project to complete or a problem to be solved,” says Dr. Gary Chapman, relationship counselor and author of The Five Love Languages.

    Chapman wants couples to understand that love is not the only foundation for marriage. “The tingles,” as he calls it, is that early-stage feeling of euphoric love which only lasts for about two years. When that feeling is gone, couples enter the stage of marriage where they must intentionally nurture their love and grow together as a couple. Additionally, they must be prepared for common stumbling blocks that occur.

    Chapman offers some guidance to help all couples intentionally move toward a healthy, long-lasting marriage.

    • Understand that allegiances change after marriage, even as you are marrying into a family. When two people become one, they become each other’s priority. Let the in-laws know this as you make your own decisions together, but honor them in the process. And in-laws – it’s best not to give advice unless someone asks you.

    • Learn your mate’s love language and speak it often. If you don’t know if their love language is gifts, physical touch, acts of service, quality time or words of affirmation, watch them around others or listen to their complaints and their requests for some clues. Complaining about something or asking for something repeatedly can usually indicate what they need from you.

    • Realize that all couples have conflict and struggle with selfishness. Make sure you understand what you expect from each other, before marriage if possible. Be a good listener. Try to understand your mate when you disagree, then affirm what your mate says and share with one another. Don't try to prove you are right and he/she is wrong. The relationship loses when one person has to win. “Two people arguing goes downhill fast,” Chapman says, “But two listeners build each other up.”

    According to Chapman, two selfish, demanding people cannot have a good marriage. It takes time to master the art of loving each other well and learn how to give each other pleasure in a relationship. In the end, the most satisfied couples make an effort to serve each other, not themselves.

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    How Boundaries Can Protect Your Marriage

    Have you “friended” an old flame on Facebook without telling your spouse?

    Once you marry, is it okay to have close friends of the opposite sex?

    If asked to choose between going out with your friends or staying home with your spouse, which would you prefer?

    Do you discuss details about your marriage relationship with your parents?

    How you answer these questions can have a dramatic impact on your current or future marriage relationship.

    Most people are excited about spending the rest of their life with the one they love. However, the journey gets complicated when one person wants to do something or believes they have a right to do something and their spouse doesn’t share that same viewpoint. While the questions would be great discussion topics before you marry, it's probably safe to say that most couples don’t talk about these issues until they hit them square in the face.

    “Social media, friends of the opposite sex and in-laws are part of life,” says Dr. David Banks, relationship coach. “How you handle them can either enhance your marriage relationship or hurt it, which is why boundaries are important. Most people think of boundaries in marriage as bondage. In reality they are the key to keeping your marriage healthy. Think of a four-way stop or a railroad crossing signal. These are in place to protect you from danger.”

    Dr. Banks encourages couples to talk about these issues and to put a plan in place that builds up their marriage.

    “A hot topic for couples is the role that in-laws will play in their marriage so they don’t inadvertently become outlaws,” Banks says. “Some in-laws want to hover and be super-involved in the newlyweds’ lives. This is not appropriate. You can be supportive without interfering with the couple as they learn how to make their relationship work. Couples have to learn how to crawl before they can walk.”

    Other topics you might want to discuss include:

    • How to decline an invitation from the in-laws. Never throw your mate under the bus by saying, "We’re not coming because my wife/husband doesn’t want to come over to your house." Create ground rules that will help you build a healthy relationship with your in-laws. Just because Sunday dinner at your parents' house has been a ritual for years does not mean you have to keep doing that after you marry.
    • The importance of working together as a team. The goal is not what is best for you, but what is best for the team. Is "friending" an old flame really worth the tension it can create in your relationship?
    • How will you be intentional about taking care of your relationship? Avoid talking outside your relationship about things you haven’t talked about together. Discussing marital issues with an opposite-sex co-worker or friend can endanger the health of your marriage.
    • When facing a decision, ask yourself, "Will this be helpful to my marriage?" If the answer is no, don’t do it.

    These may be topics you didn’t discuss prior to marriage. However, there is no better time than the present to do something that will help you tighten the knot.