Marriage & In-laws

Rev. Vincent O’Malley, C.M

A spouse not only marries his/her beloved, but also marries into the beloved’s family. While the newlyweds are in the process of developing their own nuclear family, they cannot escape the influence and impact, direct and indirect, of the spouse’s original family. Each spouse brings a familial history and array of familial expectations. Spouses marry into a family.

Positively speaking, many in-laws warmly welcome the new partner as one of the spouse’s own family. Generous assistance may be offered to help prepare the newlyweds’ apartment or home. When children come along, grandparents might be viewed as built-in baby-sitters. Family gatherings may include not only the spouse’s siblings, but also an extended family of grandparents, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews. Most families have many delightful communal experiences.

What to call in-laws might present an immediate issue. Some fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law might suggest that the new in-law call him “Dad” and her “Mom,” or by the parent’s first name. Priest-uncles might invite the new in-law not to call the priest “Father So-and-so,” but “Uncle So-and-so,” as his nieces and nephews call him. Sometimes, it takes time for a newlywed to get used to calling somebody other than his/her own parents, “Mom and Dad.” Be patient with this transition.
Negatively speaking, situations with some in-laws might add stress to the newlyweds’ situation. I would identify areas of potential pitfalls as control, culture, and communications.

A. Control. Newlyweds legitimately need to establish their own independent married life. Sometimes, however, tensions arise in a struggle for control with in-laws. Some newlyweds want to have nothing to do with their parents. Some parents want to have too much to do with their children’s lives. A healthy balance is needed: young couples can benefit from involvement with their parents, and parents can offer much advice and assistance to the young couple. Parents, siblings, and newlyweds need to review their proper use of control: is it healthy, is it balanced?

 B. Culture. Culture includes race, ethnicity, religion, education, and the arts. Expectations and perceptions develop according to a family’s culture. One spouse’s cultural background might invite effusive emotional expression, while the other spouse’s cultural background may call for great emotional reserve and little emotional expression. One culture may be “in-your-face” and loud, while the other spouse’s culture may call for gentleness and subtlety of expression. Inter-religious marriages bring differences of beliefs and practices which are discussed rarely before the marriage, e.g,. in which religion to raise the children, which in turn impacts on the nuclear and extended families.

C. Communications. Some extended families get together frequently, even weekly. Other families get together only for weddings and funerals, and rarely in-between these events. A spouse whose family rarely had gathered might feel overwhelmed by parties for every in-law’s birthday, anniversary, holydays, and holidays.

Overall may I suggest a healthy balance in relations with one’s in-laws. The word “interdependence” better than independence describes our human relationships. We need each other. We benefit from our relationships with each other. We want our relationships to be characterized by freedom, mutual love, peace and joy. Relationships ought not to be smothering, overwhelming, or excessively demanding. Go into marriage with your eyes, mind, heart and soul wide open. Spouses marry not only the beloved, but also marry into the beloved’s extended family.