In-Laws or Outlaws?

This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.

—GENESIS 2:24

A couple had a fight that led to each of them giving the other the silent treatment. Night passed, and neither spoke a word. On the way to church the next morning, they drove silently down a country road for several miles. As they passed a barnyard with a corral full of mules, the husband decided to break the silence. Turning to his wife, he sarcastically commented, “Relatives of yours?” Without missing a beat, the wife calmly replied, “Yes, my in-laws.”

You may laugh at that story, but there’s a lot of truth to be gleaned from it. When two people join in marriage, they are joining not only themselves but also their families for life. Different family traditions, practices, and values come into play and must be dealt with. If you add to that the many blended families there are today, the complications can be doubled. For any marriage to be successful, couples must find a way to reconcile the differing outlooks and expectations of their families. As they work out solutions for financial problems, communication weaknesses, and the tendency of pride to appear, they must also confront the battles and struggles that rise from melding two different sets of opinions, tastes, and traditions from their respective families.

As we learned in the previous chapter, arguing over opinions is unwise, yet far too many couples embark on a foolish journey that would be easily curtailed by a more humble approach. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Take the issue of holiday traditions, for example. Many young couples are surprised when they find themselves locking horns in this arena. Both have brought into the marriage certain family traditions, things that are fond and familiar, that make the holidays feel like the holidays. When their first major holiday season as a unit arrives, each expects to honor their family’s long-standing traditions. This assumption is often furthered by the parents who feel the same way, thinking that their traditions will be passed on to this new household. If this doesn’t happen, a family rift may develop. The new member of the family is now viewed as an adversary rather than an addition to the family, and in-laws suddenly seem like outlaws.

As fallen human beings, we don’t always choose the right path, and sometimes in a marriage, the couple discovers that they do not like each other’s family or their traditions and do not wish to be around their in-laws. Instead of the extended family becoming a source of joy, it becomes a wedge in the couple’s relationship. Because of the tension and strife in the family, holidays and special occasions are robbed of the blessing they are meant to impart.

My brothers and sisters, this should not be! That’s why I’ve written this chapter. We all need to learn how to live in peace and harmony with our spouse’s family of origin. And let me point out that this is a two-sided coin. Both husband and wife have families, so both become in-laws after saying “I do.” Both must learn to invest the time and effort it takes to create a genuine bond of love with new family members. Remember, different isn’t wrong—it’s just different.

Excerpt from “Happily… Even After” now available on Amazon.

BARRY STAGNER

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