This article is one of 30 that will soon be published in the 30:1 Marriage Daily Devotional book and eBook series.
Dealing with the In-Laws
There have been jokes about the “in-laws” for decades, probably since the beginning of the handing of the bride in marriage. Thankfully, I have wonderful in-laws—a true sense of family; more than likely because my own family was somewhat dysfunctional—whose is not? For both husband and wife, the in-laws become a new set of parents, and in some certain circumstances, this can be a difficulty. How should married couples adjust and cope with the in-law situation(s): holiday time, visits, suggestions for life, and perhaps even the arranging of time.
First, we must lay down a healthy foundation of marriage. Jesus said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Matt 19:5). For starters, the husband and wife are never divided by anyone—they are one flesh. Unfortunately, this does not negate the fact that some in-laws may seem to divide your time or your opinions. However, this is where the unity of husband and wife is essential. I have found that it’s actually rare for in-laws to divide married couples—guilt-trips—sure—those happen. But for the most part, either the husband or the wife is to blame, by still being attached to their parents, not understanding the unity of one flesh. One is maybe the, “daddy’s girl,” and the other is the, “momma’s boy.” This is not biblical. While we do see it in Scripture evidenced by Jacob’s life, it is still unhealthy. Jacob didn’t take a wife until he left his parent’s home—probably because he was coddled by Rebecca (Gen 25:28; 27:13).
Each spouse stills holds his or her parent as the authoritative role in their life—this too can be unhealthy. We are told to “honor our father and mother” but in the same way that their marriage is honored and unified, so is yours. We respect their wisdom, love, and boundaries, in the same that they should now respect ours. When I meet with couples who have difficulty with either domineering or manipulative in-laws, my advice is to first check your own actions. As the daughter or son, ask yourself if you are the reason that you’re parents are manipulating your marriage; meaning, do one of you go to your parents every time the two of you are in need of financial or counseling support? Do you talk to them about the disagreements that you have? Healthy boundaries in marriage are ones which are decided and agreed upon. These can be from everything to how you spend money, to how you argue, to how you share information.
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In-laws can play an important role within marriage: each set is able to bless you with guidance, direction, and support. Remember, they have chartered the waters that you are about to navigate. Newlyweds sometimes forget that it may seem normal to tell mom or dad about their troubles, as they always have, but now that the two of them are one flesh, these problems should be dealt with by them. If you’re still going to mom and dad for needs and advice then they have a vested interest in the day-to-day welfare of your marriage. While it is acceptable to receive guidance, support, and direction, from time to time, doing it daily or weekly places the parent ahead of the spouse. Basically, the in-laws have been invited in to be mediators. A parent’s natural instinct is to help out—to make sure that things are healthy and protected.
However, what ends up happening is the other spouse feels inadequate, insecure, and/or manipulated. And walls of bitterness can be built. Healthy marriages have healthy relationships with the in-laws. Everyone has and accepts boundaries. Like Vegas, what happens in your marriage should probably stay in your marriage—only go for help with in-laws when you’re ready for constructive criticism, need discernment regarding financial situations (for insight), or how to cook a meal. Otherwise, use a counselor, a pastor, or a friend.
• As the idiom states, “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.” In-laws can have a treasure trove of knowledge for your disposal, but you may be inviting them into your affairs, to mediate and rectify your situation. Remember, they’re parents, that’s what parents do.
Matthew Fretwell is married, has three daughters, loves Jesus, being a dad, people, and coffee. Besides being an author (Denied Desires; Identity Theft, Sanctificagious, 30:1 Manhood), he’s Pastor of a comeback, church planting church (Oak Hall Baptist) in Sandston, Virginia, and is the founder of Job 31 Ministries. Matt’s an advocate board member of Living Bread Ministries, a global comprehensive Church Planting organization. He also writes for Church Planter Magazine.