In-Laws

inlaws

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:

  1. Express love to the parents for all they do
  2. Explain they have a need to further strengthen their couple identity
  3. 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.

References

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 .

United We Stand

disciplineRichard B. Miller, PhD, the Director of the School of Family Life at BYU said taught about the hierarchy, power and control which exist in a family and why these aspects are so important.  In some ways, the way power should be allocated in a family seems obvious, such as, “Parents are the leaders in the family,” however, I believe in today’s world, this may be easier said than done.  Parents seem to be too controlling, or too lax.  They are either trying to enforce rules too harshly and applying consequences which are too severe, or they let their children run their lives because they are afraid to say ‘no’ or indulge their children’s every whim.  In each situation, parents are not only doing their children a huge disservice by raising them in such a way they will not become highly functioning adults, but they are also undermining themselves as the executive committee of the family.

To avoid these problems, there is a better way.  The Family:  A Proclamation to the World states, “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.”  When I think about teaching a child in love, yelling and punishing does not come to mind, I picture softer language, more understanding, and concern.  Just as well, I imagine action being taken.  Teaching isn’t something that is done passively, it requires paying close attention to what children need. In addition to teaching in love and righteousness, we are told to teach them to abide by laws, both God’s laws and the laws of the land.  If we are to teach this, surely we are expected to set an example by enforcing laws on the family level.

For parents to teach these things successfully, they must show their children a united front.

My husband and I come from very different families.  There are 8 children in my family, and he only has one sister.  I had a regimented schedule every day, and he was a latchkey kid.  It didn’t occur to us at the time of our first child’s birth that these differences along with the different ways we were parented may cause some upheaval, but it hit us soon enough.  Some of our children’s behaviors didn’t bother me at all, but enraged him, and vice versa.  And once the children figured this out, they played us against each other, and they won.  To remain united, parents must have a united purpose, and that purpose must include a deep love for each other, and for the children.

The Devastating Effects of Pornography

family-breaking-upIn “The State of the Nation Report: Fractured Families” from December 2006, Appendix 5, Pornography, sexual infidelity and family breakdown, it reads:  “A fundamental building block of most stable family relationships, and an explicit promise of marriage, is that of sexual exclusiveness and fidelity. When the assumption or promise of fidelity is breached, the subsequent loss of trust between individuals is highly damaging, and frequently terminal for the relationship.”

It is followed by various alarming statistics which show the impact of the Internet on marriages.  Divorce attorneys state of all their divorces over the past year, in 62% “Internet had been a significant factor in divorces.”

Improper use of the Internet and addiction to pornography do so much more damage than break up a marriage.  It can cause a myriad of problems, many of which take a lifetime to recover from, if at all.  Some of these include:

  • Diminished trust in spouse
  • Developing cynical attitudes about love
  • Believing marriage is sexually confining
  • Believing that raising children and having a family is an unattractive prospect
  • Developing tolerance toward sexually explicit material, thereby requiring more novel or bizarre material to achieve the same level of arousal or interest

In order to protect a marriage from being burdened by the harsh realities of pornography addiction, it is vital to have open communication about the subject as soon as possible, preferably before marriage.  Full disclosure and honesty are an important part of any marriage, but when safeguarding against things such as pornography and infidelity overall, it is important both parties are completely transparent and be willing to set and accept boundaries.

Sadly, I know too many people who have an addiction to pornography, and it hurts everyone involved.  It eats at the soul of both the offender and the spouse, and is usually the root cause of many other marital issues.  Additionally, when there is contention and discord amongst the parents, there is no way the children can escape unscathed.  Taking the necessary steps to recover from such an addiction are far more difficult than taking the steps to prevent it from happening.  It is well worth the time setting up blocks on the internet, discussing sexuality openly, and being honest with one another should any problems surface.

When discussing the reasons pornography is such a problem, Victor Cline, a psychologist specializing in treating such addictions states, “Love is presented as a physical thing and nothing more. Movies legitimize adultery, infidelity, and immorality because ‘the physical attraction is so beautiful.’ All they are doing is justifying irresponsibility, telling us that passion overwhelms and justifies all. Well, in my view this is an antisocial message, destructive and Satanic in impact. It degrades love, and it is destructive of human personality and male-female relationships.”

This makes me wonder if pornography has become such a problem because of a lack of education.  If people were to understand that showing love is not the same as having sex, and learn how to show love in an appropriate manner, they would likely be more fulfilled and less likely to seek out satisfaction in damaging ways.  My hope is that this chain is broken with us.  We should regularly discuss the gross and obscene things we see in the media, and there are many, which degrade women by objectifying them, and concentrate on showing love in a way that would pleasing unto the Lord.

Those who are married and take part in or have problems with pornography would be wise to remember what President Ezra Taft Benson taught.  He suggested to ask ourselves when we are without our partners, “Would my spouse be pleased if he or she knew I was doing this?”  Since we are bound as one though marriage, it is important to realize the acts of one spouse directly affect the other.  When both are not living in a way that would bring them closer to Heavenly Father, it makes progression as a couple nearly impossible.

I believe learning and progression are two of the main reasons we are commanded to be married.  In April 2016 General Conference, we were taught the importance of having regular family councils, one of which consists of a husband and a wife discussing their relationship, how to make it better and helps to understand one another.  Having these regular councils are one way to make a marriage more intimate.  Intimacy in a marriage is not only sexual, it should be deeply emotional.  Learning how to love and be intimate emotionally will likely ensure a healthy sexual relationship, which brings people even closer together.

Gridlock

gridlockThere are some arguments in a marriage that never seem to go away.  They are a source of contention every time they are brought up, but the issue never goes away because it never gets solved.  My husband and I have one such issue that has been debated over and over.  We try to avoid it, but every Sunday during church, I can feel it creeping up.  I’m confident it will even happen this Sunday, however, my mental preparation doesn’t soothe the aggravation away.  At some point during our church meeting, my husband will lean over or hand me a note asking if we are going out to dinner.  Somehow, this enrages me every single week.  Even if dinner is sitting in a crock pot on the counter, he will ask, because he wants to go out to eat on Sundays just like he did with his family.  He has fond memories of going out to dinner with his parents and grandparents after church, and he wants his family to share in the Sundays he enjoyed.  However, my Sundays were spent at home with my family, as we shared a meal around our kitchen table.  It was my favorite meal of the week, and I fondly remember sitting with all my siblings and playing games after we finished eating.

We both have great memories which we want our family to share in, but neither one of us can seem to break from our own traditions to see the other’s side.  When we eat at home, he will pout, when we go out, I’m grumpy and dragging my feet.  We are in gridlock.

In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman explains how to overcome this issue.  He advises, “You don’t have to solve the problem to get past gridlock.  Neither of you has to give in or lose.  The goal is to be able to acknowledge and discuss the issue without hurting each other.”  He suggests the way to navigate through gridlock is to search for the underlying dreams of your partner.  This way you will see what their needs truly are, and you will help them realize their dreams, because after all, you want the one you love to achieve their dreams.

My husband and I have both communicated what our dreams are for Sunday afternoons, and why we feel the way we do.  Since it is still a point of contention, we need to work on creating a plan or possibly a schedule that will enable both of us to be happy with some other arrangement, and we need to do it before Sunday, so I don’t have to be annoyed in the middle of service again!

Conflicts in Marriage

There is no question there will be conflicts in marriage.  They are unavoidable.  Dan Wile, author of After the Honeymoon wrote, “When choosing a long-term partner…you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years.”  In response, Dr. John Gottman comments, “Marriages are successful to the degree that the problems you choose are ones you can cope with.” This is an interesting concept to consider when most of us are looking for what we like in a spouse, not concentrating on what problems we can cope with.  However, focusing on the latter may make for a more successful marriage.  When couples are able to live with each others’ problems amicably, and learn to cope using healthy strategies, they are likely to have a longer lasting, less stressful marriage.

For example, I prefer things neat and orderly, while my husband doesn’t mind a mess.  In fact, he doesn’t even notice when he has left shoes, clothes, papers, his backpack, and everything else strewn about the house.  Since I prefer everything in its proper place, this could easily cause contention, and at times it does.  However, for the most part, both of us let it slide.  I don’t bother him by constantly asking him to pick up everything that is out of place, and he tries to remember to put things away.  When I do ask him to pick something up, even if he doesn’t want to, he complies because he knows I’m only asking because I have reached my maximum level of tolerance for things out of order.

Not surprisingly, I knew my husband was like this before he was my husband, just as he knew I was particular long before he proposed to me.  We knew this was an unsolvable problem that we’d be dealing with it for many years to come, and we have figured out how to cope without making each other crazy.  I didn’t have any preconceived notions that he would be clean and tidy the moment he said  ‘I do’, just as I don’t expect him to be any different than he is now 10 years down the road.  Sure, this is something we could both escalate to the point of a yelling match, but what is the point of that since we know the other won’t change?  I would rather enjoy a happier marriage in which we can both let some things slide.

It’s Not About You

There is simply no room in a marriage for selfishness.  However, couples don’t always take into account what this means.  Does it mean you are not allowed to have wants? Does it mean you can’t think about yourself?  The answers to these questions is a resounding yes.  Once you are married, you are no longer an individual, so having individual wants and needs no longer serves a purpose, unless your wants and needs are in perfect alignment with your partner’s, assuming you are both equal partners.

When you have a true partnership, there isn’t a single decision made, one without the other.  The cliché of those macho men who do whatever they want and don’t consider their wife’s opinions because they are “real men” have never known true partnership.  Husbands in a true partnership are sensitive to the fact that they are only half the equation and wouldn’t do anything to undermine their relationship with such pettiness.  They are emotionally intelligent men who understand a marriage is not about what he wants but about what they want.  Just as well, women are not excused from this behavior.  There are those who feel they have their husbands “whipped” in a sense, and they can get whatever they want.  Unfortunately, unless they want an unhappy marriage, their attitudes must change.

When I was a child, my father told me when I was being adverse that I needed an attitude adjustment.  I believe those in a marriage who are wishing they could have more, or mourning the loss of things they did in their single lives need just the same medicine if there is any hope of fulfillment.  In order to have a happy marriage, it is of vital importance to put your spouse first.  Think of what his/her needs and desires are, and help fulfill them.  Be endlessly supportive and kind.  Don’t make a decision your partner isn’t aware of or doesn’t know about, and this will ensure your lines of communication stay open.  At times, you will be annoyed or frustrated, but let this be a reminder to humble yourself, and put yourself aside for the betterment of your union.

Turn Towards Each Other

I am proud I am an independent woman.  I love that I can cook, clean, mow the yard, do the finances, hold a good job (if I needed to), and take care of the kids all at the same time.  I know how to change a tire, I’m handy with tools, and I don’t mind getting dirty.  On top of all that, I can solve most problems that come my way all by myself.  However, that doesn’t mean I should do everything by myself.  It is possible that my independence has alienated my spouse to some degree, which is just one reason to focus more on turning towards my spouse.

Much like most problems, admitting it is my first step on the road to recovery.  I don’t turn toward my spouse, I typically turn away.  Doing this may signal lack of need, lack of trust, disinterest and/or negative feelings for my spouse.  Even if this is not my intent (which it is not-I’m simply an independent problem solver) my husband doesn’t always remember that.  Much in the same way, when my husband turns away from me, even if he is not consciously turning away, I tend to believe the worst case scenario.

It is vital we take notice when our spouse is turning toward us, and reciprocate.  By looking to the other for our needs, and paying more attention to their needs, we will be able to build a relationship in which we can rely on one another.  When you let your spouse know you need him and you value his thoughts and opinions, it is likely he will rise to the occasion while at the same time feeling more loved and more valued.  Additionally, when your spouse does the same for you, and lets you know he needs you, make sure to be present.  Help them to see they made a great choice by turning to you.  Share in one another’s happiness, be up when he is up, and down when he is down, and you will have a marriage filled with understanding, a stronger desire to be with each other and a deeper sense of closeness.  Marriage means you don’t have to do everything on your own, you get to share it with someone else.  You can have someone there to help you through all of the bad times, as well as someone there to share the joy of all the great times if you turn towards each other.