There is this stigma that can too often be placed on the in-law relationship. Our world tells the dating and the newlywed—to beware!—that getting married to the one you love also means a commitment to an entire family photo album’s worth of individuals. It tells those who are married that in-laws are here to stay, so get along, stick that smile on your face, you’re stuck whether you like it or not. So what about this stigma? Yes, in-laws are here to stay, and marriage does mean a commitment to your spouse’s family—but to everything else this stigma drags in, I think our world is wrong. Why do we have to beware? Why do we have to choose wisely on the premise of in-laws? Why is it a negative thing that they are here to stay, and what if I want that? Can we not go into our in-law relationships with an unbiased outlook and an open heart, with grace and without preconceived notions? Clearly, the stigma and attitude surrounding the in-law relationship is flawed. It causes walls to build up before we even allow ourselves to be known, our in-laws to be understood, and a relationship to bud—or even flourish.
A shift needs to take place in the perspective of the in-law relationship. Whether your in-laws are supportive and respectful, or perhaps a little off-beat and different than yourself, the relationships are in fact here to stay—so why not purposefully invest and build upon them, getting to know each individual fully, and treating each relationship as the unique blend that is is—of family, and perhaps one day, of friend?
Set Aside Expectations
If there is one thing I have learned from all relationships past and present, it’s that unrealistic expectations only set us up for disappointment. Is it realistic to expect that your mother and father-in-law be just like your own parents? Or that you will be sharing heart to hearts with your sister-in-law right from the start? Or that your relationship with your in-laws will take a giant leap forward when you move from dating to saying “I do”? Maybe, but maybe not. Your in-laws may in fact be very similar to to your mother, father, brother, aunt; but they may also be very very different. Just like in any relationship, the chance of an instant connection is always there, and perhaps you will be complete confidants after that first family vacation; but with many relationships they are slow to warm up, and feeling comfortable takes time—so it is important to go into them with expectations aside, an openness to what they can become, who these new family members are to you, and how you learn to be with one another. Set aside the expectation that your relationship with your in-laws will be just like that of the family you grew up with. If you don’t, you’ll only find yourself battling a mindset of comparing and feeling disappointed; which can completely blind you from the wonderful potential of the relationships right before you.
Stay True to Yourself
The words are so simple: Stay true to yourself. How easy it sounds, but how overwhelming a new family can be at first! Sometimes it seems easier to protect ourselves and please others by holding back who we are—but how can our in-laws truly know us if we keep our guards up and get caught up in thoughts such as “Will they like me? Will they accept me? Will they think I am a good fit? Will I like them?” Thoughts like these can cloud even those most confidant of women’s conscious, making it a challenge to just be herself. From the very start of your relationship with your in-laws, choose not to dwell on these questions, but rather focus on being yourself. Even for the woman who has known her in-laws for years, when it comes to raising her children, managing a household, planning family gatherings, pursuing her career, making marital decisions, and loving her husband—staying true to herself and confidently showing herself to her in-laws can be difficult! It is impossible for your in-laws to let their guard down before knowing who you really are. So show them. Just as you need to understand the things that make your mother/father/sister/brother in-law uniquely them, they also need to gain a mutual understanding of you. Knowing your roots, dreams, passions, interests, and heart makes it not only easier to connect with you on a deeper level, but also shows that you care to open yourself up to being known.
You might not understand why every holiday gathering must include the dusting off and playing of family instruments, why that inside joke is up-roaringly funny, or why they coordinate outfits on summer vacations. But hey, perhaps they don’t know either! The important thing is, that no matter how different your new family from your own mom, dad, and siblings—embracing the quirks is essential to your relationship. This means completely engaging and becoming apart of the off-beat and goofy traditions, not complaining, not comparing, and perhaps feeling completely ridiculous. What joy comes from the freedom to just except the differences, the quirks, and the plethora of personalities for what they are! And just think of how much love and acceptance this shows your new family when you dive right in, no questions asked.
Be Intentional to See the Individual
They are more than just your new family, or a labeled group with a hyphenated name. They are individuals. So treat them as such. Pursue them, like you would a dear friend. Relationships can only grow when time is invested. And spending time, with purpose and intent to know them more, builds relational confidence. Ask your mother-in-law out to coffee. Enjoy some one on one time with your husband’s siblings. Take time out of a family visit to spend individualized moments and conversation tailored specifically for that person. When you take the time to get to know them, each in-law, at a very specific and personalized level, that’s when relationships start to flourish. Thats when you begin to really see that person for their heart, their soul, their loves, their roots—and not just as a relative who you are connected to through your significant other, but a relative who you are connected to through a meaningful understanding of who they are.
You may have just a few in-laws or perhaps you’re the one with a stadium full of family to call your own—whatever your dynamic, pouring into your in-law relationships and treating them as the gift that they are is something you’ll never regret. And just like any relationship, there may be bumps, there may be valleys—but getting to the point of truly knowing your in-laws just as you would like to be known—is completely worth it. So the next time you are confronted with the stigma of the in-law relationship, ask yourself, how can I shift it?
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