When you get married, you're not just getting married with a single person but with his or her whole family. Therefore, you certainly have to deal with different kinds of relationships and the most intimate of these relationships will be with your spoused parents - your mother-in-law or father-in-law. In the following are five typical areas that will call for understanding and negotiation.
The first issue that will likely demand your attention is holidays. At the top of the list will be Christmas. In western culture, more families get together at Christmas than at any other holiday. The problem is usually that his parents want both of you at their house on Christmas Day and her parents want the same. If they both live in the same town, that may be possible. If they live in the same state, it could be Christmas Eve at one set of parents and Christmas Day with the other. However, when they live seperately far from each other, you may have to negotiate Christmas with his parents this year and her parents next year. There may be other holidays that will be deemed extremely important for one or both of your families. Unless you have spent a great deal of time with in-laws before marriage, you may be blindsided by these expectations.
The second issue shall be traditions. A young wife complained that her sister and her have always taken their mother out for dinner on her mother's birthday. Now she's married and her husband says she don't have the money for her to fly back for Mom's birthday. She's finding this really hard to accept. But she didn't want her mother and sister to feel badly towards him and she's just afraid that's what will happen. A young husband complained, "For as long as he can remember, on Fourth of July, my family has a fish fry and the men go fishing early in the morning. It's an all-day event. It's the one time each year that I get to see all of his cousins. My wife thinks that they should spend the day with her parents but all her parents do is to go out to a restaurant for the evening meal. But we could do that at any time." Traditions are often undergirded by deep emotions and should never be treated lightly.
The third issue is that you shall remember that your in-laws wil also have expectations. Unless you have spent a great deal of time with them before marriage you may be blindsided by these expectations. A husband said, "I found out the hard way that when my wife and I go out to a restaurant with her parents, they expect to pay for our meal one time and they expect me to pay for it the next time. I just felt so embarrassed when my wife said, 'It's your time to pay.'" When we go out with my parents, they always pay for our meal. It had never crossed my mind that they were expecting me to pay."
Some of these expectations will have religious overtones. A young wife said, "I found out that when we spend the weekend with his parents, they expect us to go to the synagogue with them on Friday nights even though both of us are Christians. I feel very uncomfortable but I don't want to hurt their feelings. I'm wondering if, when they coem to visit us, they will go to church with us Sunday." Her husband said, "when we go to visit her folks for a weekend, they expect me to wear a suit when I go to church with them on Sunday morning. We attend a contemporary church and I only have one suit that I bought for my grandmother's funeral five years ago. I feel uncomfortable wearing it."
The fourth issue you may confront with is that each of your in-laws may also have patterns of behavior that you find irritating or troublesome. You may discover that your father-in-law goes out with "the boys" every thursday night and normally comes home intoxicated and verbally abuses his wife. Your mother-in-law tells your wife about this behavior and she tells you. You wish there may be something you could do but you feel helpless. You're troubled by your father-in-law's behavior but you may also be irritated that every time your wife talks to her mother, she'll get upset.
Married for seven months, Shirley complained: "My mother-in-law is the most organized woman I know. You can see her closets. Every shoe is in the right place and all of her dresses are color coordinated. The problem is that I'm not very organized and when she comes to our apartment, she tries to give me some suggestions that she thinks will make my life easier and in order. I'm sorry but that's not who I am. Besides,I don't have time to keep everything organized."
The fifth issue is that they may also have strongly held religious beliefs that differ from yours.
A husband complained, "everytime I'm around her father, it's like he's trying to convert me to his brand of Christianity. I'm a Christian but I'm not as dogmatic and pushy as he is. I think religion is a personal matter and I resent him trying to pressure me to agree with him."