Top 5 Tips for Dealing with Your In-Laws

If money is one of the top reasons that couples get into a fight, perhaps dealing with our parents and in-laws can rank a close second. This is especially true in the Asian context, where many of us either live with our parents or in-laws. Or even if we don’t, they still have some sort of influence over their children’s lives.

For example, when Joy and I first got married, my mum, like all well-meaning mums, had a lot of suggestions and recommendations as to how to bring up our kids. While we value her opinion and advice, not everything was aligned with how Joy and I wanted to build our family. I had to have a heart-to-heart talk with my mum, explaining that yes, we loved her and valued her, but we were doing this our way.  

It wasn’t easy at first, but looking back, I think it would’ve been more complicated if we didn’t put our foot down and communicate it as frankly and as openly as we did. 

First off, let’s make it clear: we love our parents and our spouse’s parents, and we respect and honour them. But in this post, we want to help you navigate some of the sticky situations that can cause conflict between husband and wife related to extended family. 

Whoever has the stronger connection does the conversation.
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5 Important Tips for Dealing with In-Laws

Here are our top 5 tips, or principles, to help you navigate your relationship with in-laws: 

1. The marriage relationship comes first. 

This is the most important thing you need to remember: no matter what happens, always put your spouse first. That means, if push comes to shove and you need to choose between your mum’s opinion and your spouse’s, you choose your spouse’s. 

Why is this important? When two people become married, they essentially become a whole new family unit. And this new family unit needs to function as one, as a separate entity from all other connections. 

That’s not to say we need to sever family ties; on the contrary, as we learn to operate as our own new family, we grow in maturity, which can enable us to relate better with our extended family members. 

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, the marriage relationship comes first, and your children come second. Extended family will have to bow to these first two relationship priorities! 

2. Husband and wife need to come to agreement on major decisions. 

Next, as you prioritise each other over your extended family, remember that you have to come to an agreement on major decisions. It’s not for the husband and his mother or the wife and her mother to decide where the kids go to school or where your next house should be. These decisions belong only to husband and wife. 

3. Whoever has the stronger connection does the conversation. 

Another important point is this: whoever has the stronger connection with the extended family member should be the one to initiate any serious discussion. 

For example, there was a time when Joy and my mum had a bit of a misunderstanding. Because I’m the one with the stronger relationship with my mum, I had to step in and speak on behalf of Joy. Thankfully we were able to sort things out, and they’re now closer than ever. 

4. It’s more difficult to set boundaries when you live in the same house. 

This next principle may be a bit tricky, especially if you’re among those couples who still live with your parents in the same house. Sometimes it’s a case where our parents are elderly and need someone to stay with them. But if it’s in any way possible to move out and have your own place, we highly recommend it. 

Yes, it’s more difficult to set boundaries when you live in the same house as your parents or in-laws, but you still need to learn to set them. Boundaries are healthy and can keep you and your family aware of where your values lie. For example, you might set a time when you and your spouse already retire to your room, or for you and the kids to be alone.  

5. Learn to speak their love language.

Our parents are human, too, and just like we have our own love language, so do they. Learning their love language can mean that you will be able to make them feel loved. 

For example, does your mother-in-law love quality time? If having dinner at her house (assuming you don’t live together) once a week or once every two weeks is doable for your schedule, perhaps you might want to consider it. Things like this help you build connection and cultivate the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren as well. 

Dealing with In-Laws with Love  

We hope these tips can help you learn to deal with your in-laws with love, respect, and honour. The good news is, though these relationships, we can keep growing in our communication and other inter-personal skills! 

If you want to read a bit more on this topic, we talk about this, among many other topics, in our book, Can’t We Just Get Along?! 

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