Being married for almost ten years, I’ve learned a lesson or two about dealing with the in-laws. Couples don’t realize how extended family has such a big impact on their relationship. A lot of newlywed couples have a difficult time dealing with this sensitive topic. While I do not claim that these tips are the only sure practices to totally eradicate challenges you might encounter, I do believe that practicing these can protect your marriage, as well as improve your relationship with your in-laws. So I listed down five topics I highly encourage you to discuss with your partner, even as early as your engagement days and even all throughout your marriage. These might also change over the years that you are married, so you might want to revisit this every so often.
You know the line you usually hear at wedding speeches, “I have not lost a son, but I have gained a daughter” (or vice-versa)? Well this shouldn’t just remain a line. Be determined that once you are married, both of you become children of both your parents. Agree that there will be no favoritism, and that if you see your parents showing more interest in you as their child, but are disregarding your spouse in subtle or blatant ways, gently remind them to show the same love to your partner as they do to you. Behavior like this may eventually make your spouse feel left out or unimportant in your family.
You have to remember that as you marry your spouse, you marry into his family, therefore marrying into their traditions. Holidays are one of the most important topics regarding this. While you may desire to keep both your families happy and indulge their requests, you only have one body and can not always be physically present in both sides for every occasion. Discuss with your spouse how to break down the holidays. Find out which holidays are more important per family and try to divide it equally. Should there be holidays that are equally important to both, find ways to share them. Maybe you can try alternating years? Another tip in terms of timing is informing them of your schedule in advance to also help manage their expectations.
Most close-knit families love to vacation together. We know in particular how close Filipino families can be. My husband would often ask me how I could sit down from lunch to dinner just talking to my family about the most random things. (Obviously, his upbringing was not the same!) Enter the topic of family vacations. Decide as a couple how many of your allotted vacation days you want to spend on your own, and how many you want to spend with family. There is no right or wrong answer here. Some couples actually enjoy spending all their vacation days with their extended family. The point is, both of you, as husband and wife, need to agree on how you really want to do it. This will help in protecting each partner from resentment of not having a say in this matter. Learn to compromise with each other. The decision is not made by one person alone.
One thing you need to understand early on is that though you are now one as husband and wife, you are still two individuals with different preferences and personalities. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, you can’t expect your partner to think, feel, and behave like you. Believe me, that is the number one cause of arguments. So how does this relate to your in-laws? Early on, ask your spouse if there are any topics that are off-limits in terms of you discussing it with your extended family. Don’t also resent your spouse for things they are uncomfortable discussing. One of the strongest foundations of a marriage is respect for each other’s individuality.
Now this is a very tricky one. Some parents will always think they know best since they are the “parents”. This is sometimes where intrusion comes in. Your in-laws may tell you to do things a certain way, and because it is their way, they think it is right. (Keep in mind though that many parents do this believing that they just want to help or make things better for you.) Many couples end up fighting when tension rises because of the stress this intrusion can bring. So how will you deal with this? You can try establishing a mindset of protecting each other from intrusion (in a loving and respectful way of course!). If you see you parents overstepping in your family business, and it is causing your partner stress, respectfully approach them about it. Acknowledge that you know their intentions are good, but that you also as a family, need to learn your own practices and even make your own mistakes or victories as you together. Another tip would be to find things you can ask their advice about. This way, your parents still feel that they are able to help you.