Ella* will never forget sitting in her mother-in-law’s kitchen trying to politely explain for the 100th time why just eating the vegetables in the beef stew her mother-in-law made didn’t really work. Ella and her husband, Lee, had been married five years. Ella was a long-time vegetarian, and Lee had stopped eating red meat after they married. Yet Ella’s mother-in-law insisted on cooking meat whenever they’d visit. Finally, her mother-in-law said, “Don’t you think it’s about time to get over this whole not-eating-meat phase? My son never had a problem with it until . . .” Though she didn’t finish the sentence, Ella was only too aware of what she meant.
For many people conflict with in-laws is guaranteed almost as much as death and paying taxes. As newly married couples quickly discover: You don’t just marry your spouse, you marry their family. That means you need to figure out how to manage conflict in a healthy way that honors all parties. Here are some tips to handle clashes when they arise:
Set clear boundaries with in-laws
Matthew’s mother lived five minutes from Matthew and his wife, Lilly, so she would often drop by unannounced. One day Lilly was in the middle of cleaning for a party she was hosting later that evening. Rather than communicate clearly to her mother-in-law that she was busy, she sat and fumed during the visit, feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Afterward, she complained to Matthew. They decided to unite in their decision.
They both communicated to his mom that she would need to phone or text before coming over. And the next time it happened, Lilly didn’t express her frustration. She simply explained, “I love that you want to drop by. Unfortunately, now isn’t a good time. But how about if we get together later this week for a visit?”
If your in-laws are behaving in a way that doesn’t work for you, don’t up the conflict level by having a tantrum. Instead, communicate with your spouse and work together to set boundaries, and then together communicate with your in-laws and keep those boundaries.
Remember their opinions are just that — opinions
Joy and Steve were grateful that Joy’s parents loved spending time with their three children. But Steve dreaded the continual parenting “tips” Joy’s dad gave him. “It feels like he thinks I’m doing everything wrong,” Steve complained.
Many in-laws like to freely share their thoughts, but it helps to think of their opinions as different — not right or wrong. Remembering that you don’t have to agree, follow or argue about them is also important. They’re simply opinions.
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Make every effort to be kind
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” says Romans 12:18. This is especially true as it relates to in-laws. It’s always best to remember that they play a significant role in your spouse’s life, so even if they are difficult to get along with, they still deserve respect. Going into a conflict with metaphorical guns a-blazin’ is not going to win any battles. That means you may need to bite your tongue at times. And when you do need to speak, ask yourself, Will my words honor who this person is? Be kind in your interactions. Such kindness will help pave a smoother road toward getting along—and even appreciating each other.
*Names have been changed.