…I was marrying into a family
I’ve always known this and never had any ideals about marriage being about “just the two of us”…but I guess I didn’t realize how diverse families could be until I started to hear some of the stories from friends regarding their in-laws, as well as experiencing it myself.(Anyone have stories to share?)
You know the families in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”? Well Skywalker’s family were the Greeks and my family were the stoic ones. I remember the first time I had dinner with his family…I think three people were trying to have independent conversations with me….at the same time. I was a little overwhelmed. And tired afterwards. (^_^) I’m very blessed though, to have a good relationship with my in-laws. Nearly every Sunday we have lunch as a family of six adults and four kids. And we receive a regular supply of Chinese soups and other cooked goodies that we don’t otherwise have the time to make from scratch. Ok maybe we’re actually spoiled. Ha ha. On the flip side, Skywalker finds my family very serious and stoic…you couldn’t tell if someone was joking or not. (I swear we’re pretty easy going as a family!) It’s harder because we’re not in the same city as my parents….but we are both getting more used to our families now.
Where I’m cautious about being part of a new family is not knowing where everyone’s lines and boundaries are. There were things normal and accepted in each of our families that respectively rubbed us the wrong way. We’ve come to realize that unless something is outright “wrong” (i.e. addictions, gambling, abuse, theft, etc), the way our families are needs to be accepted as just how they are. It’s easier to change ourselves to not be bothered by it than it will be to change them. There are customs, practices and traditions deeply embedded into each of our families such that we might not even be aware of until our spouse points it out or you come into conflict with them. It’s even funner when your spouse points it out in yourself.
This chapter of the book only deals with mother/father-in-laws but in reality there are sibling-in-laws, their respective spouses and children, grandparents, step parents and ex-spouses too. But to just focus on the parent-in-laws, here are five typical areas that require some extra understanding and negotiation:
- Holidays. In Western cultures, Christmas is the big one where every family wants their family home. If you don’t happen to live in the same city, there’s some negotiating to do. Don’t forget cultural holidays too if you are of different cultures.
- Family traditions. Is there an annual fishing trip the family goes on? How about birthdays and anniversaries?
- Expectations. Do they expect you to pay if you go out for dinner? Are the men expected to clean up if the ladies cooked?
- Patterns of behavior. These are the particularly irritating ones. Maybe your FIL always drinks after dinner which results in crude behavior. Or maybe your MIL is a neat-freak and is always trying to “help” you organize better.
- Strong religious practices. It could be your church demonination, the way you wear or don’t wear a crucifix, your decision to baptize your child or not, how you interpret a piece of scripture, etc etc.
All of those are friction points that could cause family rifts. While it might be easier to just move 2000km away to avoid most of it…family conflict will arise. Gary Chapman offers three ways to mitigate issues:
- Learn to Listen. Like really listen so you truly understand why it’s so important to them. Even if you have a different view on the matter. If you’re respectfully listening to understand them, they will likely respect your point of view too. Also try to speak for yourself by saying “I felt this…” (offering your perspective) instead of “You did this…” (laying blame or accusing).
- Learn to Negotiate. This builds on learning to listen and it start with making a proposal or a request to your in-laws (as opposed to making a demand). Now they have the floor to accept/reject/modify the proposal. And as you respectfully listen to each other, it’s easier to reach a solution that works for everyone.
- Learn their Love Language. As family, you hope the goal is always to build a better relationship than what’s already there. By learning what each of their love languages are and by finding ways to speak that love language, you generate a positive climate for that relationship to grow in. It’ll make listening and negotiating easier too.
Skywalker and I are better at helping each other understand our respective family customs/habits/behaviors now. And we’re understanding the importance of having each other’s backs when there’s disagreement with our families. Ultimately, as a married couple, we are our own family and this family is our priority.
I know I know…just wait til we have kids. That’ll kick family challenges up a knotch. =)