Everyone has an in-law. I have 11 in-laws in my life. I have four sisters-in-law, two brothers-in-law, two daughters-in-law, a son-in-law, a father-in-law and a mother-in-law.
There are three levels of quality of relationship: it’s great; it’s tolerated, or it’s war. You may say, “I’ve got a great relationship with my in-laws, and if that’s the case, just keep doing what you’re doing. But for many of us, it may be that one of those in-law relationships is only tolerated—there’s no big conflict, but it’s just not a great relationship. For others, it’s an open war with division, a lack of understanding, or something was said or done early on that got stuck in someone’s heart and the problem lasts 20 years.
So why is it that in-law relationships can be so problematic? I believe the answer lies in the three Cs—choice, change and competition.
Choice. We pick our friends, but we don’t pick our in-laws. They’re assigned to us generally, right? Through marriage, and now with divorce and remarriage and all the complexity of those relationships, it’s not a choice most of us make to have a relationship with our in-laws.
Change. Holidays and traditions seem to go a certain way and all of a sudden things change when an in-law relationship develops. Perhaps your sister or brother marries someone, and a change in the dynamic occurs in the family. Change can be a problem without effort from one or both parties.
Competition. No one wants to admit it, but competition exists. I’ve heard people say, “My sister got married and now she and her new husband are doing better than we are. They have a bigger house, nicer cars and better jobs.” A competition starts in the heart, and suddenly two sisters-in-law aren’t talking to each other.
Researchers at the University of Michigan followed 373 couples over a period of 26 years and discovered divorce is 20% less likely when the husband has a close relationship with his in-laws. Interestingly, that wasn’t true on the other side. Divorce is 20% more likely to occur when the wife perceives that the in-laws are meddling.
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Think back to the sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. That show was so popular because it exemplifies this very point. Mom walks in from across the street, critiques the wife’s cooking and how she’s raising her kids. Raymond is just trying to keep peace and make it all work.
So the research shows it’s really important for men to develop a good relationship with their wife’s parents, assuming that’s a good relationship between her and them. It works because it’s a biblical principle. Genesis 2:24 says: That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. When you love her parents, you’re showing love to her.
Ask your Heavenly Father today to show you ONE THING you could do to demonstrate love to your in-laws. What adjustments will that require?
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