Ask an Expert | Building Bridges: Strategies for Successful In-Law Relationships


By Amy Torres

How often have you heard people complain about their mother-in-law meddling in their relationship, their father-in-law being stubborn, or some other in-law problem?

When two people get married, they bring their families of origin into the relationship. It’s part of the package. These interactions can significantly influence marital happiness in both positive and negative ways. In fact, John Gottman, Ph.D., world-renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, identifies in-law conflict as one of the top predictors of marital discord. It’s a delicate dance of managing and balancing expectations, traditions, and emotions.

While these relationships can be complex, there are ways of navigating them to create harmony. A key strategy in managing in-law dynamics is maintaining a united front. This approach involves both partners supporting each other and jointly deciding how to handle a situation. Liz Hale, Ph.D., and marriage and family therapist, notes, “Couples must lean into each other and decide together. There is security in knowing they have each other’s back.” This solidarity is crucial when dealing with in-laws, as it fosters a sense of security and partnership.

If your partner struggles to get along with your parents, remember, your partner needs your support, so don’t leave them to fend for themselves. Instead, use a team approach where you discuss and agree on how you will handle each situation, from holiday gatherings to everyday interactions. Empathize with your partner’s feelings about your family and avoid getting defensive. While it’s essential to present a united front, you must also respect each other’s need for autonomy in handling certain aspects of their relationship with your parents. Stay on the same page when conflict happens, and focus on dealing with it constructively.

Consider these strategies to create in-law harmony.

  1. Stay Calm and Be Respectful: Respect and empathy are essential for understanding and accommodating differing perspectives. Work to understand your in-laws’ point of view. If disagreements arise, maintain a calm and respectful demeanor. Avoid heated arguments or blaming, as this will only escalate tensions.
  2. Set Healthy Boundaries:Clear, respectful boundaries are vital. These should be established and upheld jointly, emphasizing the couple’s united approach to interactions.
  3. Find Common Ground:Look for shared interests or values with your in-laws to help build strong connections. If conflicts arise, focus on finding solutions that work for everyone involved. This will likely include compromise and flexibility.
  4. Communicate Effectively: Use preventive communication to address potential issues early on by being open and honest, both as a couple and with your in-laws. This is critical for any healthy relationship and is especially important with in-law relationships.

In-law relationships are an integral part of the marital journey. By approaching them with empathy, respect, and effective communication, couples can navigate these waters smoothly and can turn potential challenges into opportunities to understand and gain support and harmony.

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