Keeping a Healthy Relationship with Your In-Laws

So we’re talking a lot in these recent podcasts about how to protect and nurture upstream relationships with our parents. And one of the most tricky relationships you’re ever going to try to protect is your relationship with your in-laws, right? Your father-in-law, your mother-in-law, your wife’s parents, or if you’re a mom listening to this, your husband’s parents. And I always listen to David Brooks, great author. He’s come in to faith recently, and he’s saying some of the most mind blowing things. But anyway, he gave a quote that really got me pondering. He said, “If you want to complain about your wife, talk to her mother, not yours. She will always forgive your wife, your mother never will.”

In other words, if you go to your parents with the problems that you have with your wife, then your parents will likely begin to develop a bitterness towards your wife. And this is the same, of course, if you are a mom or wife listening to this and you go to your parents to complain about your husband.

Why is that? Well, each of our parents have a very deep reservoir of grace for us. They know us, they know our mistakes, so they likely will forgive us very readily for even some major failings in our life. However, our parents don’t have that history with our spouses. And so oftentimes they will take up an offense against your wife if you go to your parents and start to complain in detail about ways that your wife is falling short.

And so I think this is great advice. I don’t know if it always makes sense to go to your mother-in-law to complain about your wife. I haven’t done that, I don’t know how that works out. But the part of this that I really loved and I thought was important just to point out to you guys, is that you need to be proactive in protecting the relationship that your wife has with your parents. If you want your family to be multi-generationally healthy for decades, then do not blow up that bridge.

And there’s a lot of things you can do to protect that. One of the things that April and I, we kind of have a rule, and that is if there’s a hard conversation that is being had between one of us and an upstream generation, then if it’s with my parents, then I’m going to be more involved in the challenging conversation and if it’s her parents, she’s going to be more involved. Again, the same principle that David Brooks is talking about. I know that my parents have endless amounts of grace for me, I know that my wife’s parents have endless amounts of grace for her, and so we’re going to leverage that grace to protect each other’s relationships with their in-laws because we value those relationships so highly. So be proactive in protecting those relationships, build those bridges and don’t blow them up. But yeah, Jeff, what are your thoughts about this one?

Yeah. I mean, so many thoughts here. I guess two thoughts just to briefly end is one, I just think just don’t do it at all. Like you’re a unified front that has to be facing … Once you’re that entity, you are separate from your parents. Now you’re part of the multi-generational line, but you’re separate, which means you have to be unified towards them.

Now, I’m not saying don’t do it at all, but I just think, like you said, I’ve never thought of a situation where it has happened, but the heart of what we’re saying is exactly what you said, is not just don’t do it, but actually actively do the opposite. Actively represent your spouse and protect your spouse well towards your line, right?

And in one way, this usually tends to play out, I’ve heard among our friends and stuff like that, we don’t have experience with this, but I think this is where people have to be most careful or where it plays out the most. Is when someone, like with what you just talked about, when one spouse wants to make a family change, but then … Like let’s say the husband wants to take the family in a certain direction and then his in-laws aren’t going to love that, but then they somehow need to be involved or told. So then the spouse has to go tell them, the wife has to go tell them or talk to them about it, but then that can very easily turn dicey. I’m just thinking, if you’re that spouse, if you’re the messenger spouse, meaning it’s not something that you buy into a ton, if that makes sense, but you got to realize, man, the minute you step out of that door and go talk to them, you’re the messenger of the entity, you’re not the messenger of you.

So that’s where I see that one get really dicey because then what happens is then the mom or the in-laws will start disagreeing or whatever and then the spouse, who maybe doesn’t believe in the change as much as the spouse who made the decision, then kind of [inaudible 00:04:30]. You know what I mean? It starts getting really weird and then it starts breaking down multi-authority things. And so that’s where you have to take that completely out of the ball game, right? You make a unified decision and that decision is then informed to a different generation or a different line and then even if you don’t super believe in it, you got to defend it to the point at which you believe the entity is doing it.

And that’s hard, but I think that is just a really practical tip because that’s where I see it play out the most weird, awkward, muddy way, right? And so I would just say that. Like can you say you do that? Can you say you’re a unified front in that way? And maybe talk to your spouse about that, ask them if they feel like you are, and then vice versa, because I think all of us can grow and learn at that. So that’s what I would end with.

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