When two people get married, they are doing much more than gaining a spouse, they are gaining their spouse’s entire family, their traditions, rules, and an additional set of parents. For some, this may an enjoyable and enriching part of life, however, this isn’t the case for everyone. Many times the traditions your family have, their humor, and the rules by which you have lived by will differ from your new spouse’s and it may be difficult to fit in. This is why it is crucial to stand strong together, communicate the differences of your families to each other so you are both aware and prepared, and be kind and respectful in the process. Not everyone will do things the same way, but isn’t that what makes life great?
In Genesis 2:24, we read, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” It is crucial that a couple develops their own marital identity. Unfortunately, some parents try to prevent this because they are unwilling to relinquish control of their children or have enmeshment difficulties. They may even try to make their son/daughter feel guilty for not being able to attend family activities.
James M. Harper and Susanne Frost Olsen, the director and assistant director of BYU School of Family Life explain how to solve this problem. If married children are having enmeshment difficulties with their parents and parents-in-law, they may want to:
- Express love to the parents for all they do
- Explain they have a need to further strengthen their couple identity
- Explain how the expectations for being together with the family are getting in the way of their couple relationship.
Not everyone is blessed with parents who were sensitive and understanding as well as supportive in our marriages. Some parents may need more reminders than others that their marriage comes first. However, focusing on building a strong marital identity will help to sustain a marriage through the most difficult times. Additionally, as parents, we need to do all we can to ensure our children leave the nest and get married with our love and support, because we will be in-laws as well.
In order to do this, as in-laws, we must remember to:
- Encourage marital identity by maintaining the marital boundary of the children
- Avoid intrusion
- Offer advice only when sought
- Be accepting rather than critical
- Work toward developing a personal, positive relationship with your son/daughter in-law (Harper 2005)
My husband and I have struggled with parents trying to make us feel bad for not making it to every family event. We didn’t always have the support we needed as a couple to help us feel our union was accepted. Since we know what this feeling is like, we make a conscious effort to discuss how we will show our children we value the time and effort they put into their own families, but show them our love. We will teach them they need to cleave to their spouse, and to enjoy the added benefit of an additional set of parents whom they can hopefully count on to love and support them as well.
James M. Harper, S. F. (2005). Creating Healthy Ties With In-Laws and Extended Families. In S. F. James M. Harper, Helping and Healing Our Families (p. Chapter 37). Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company .