Managing In-Law Conflicts

When we marry, we may believe that we married just our best friend. Yet we soon find that we also married his/her family. Sometimes extended family connections are kept light and distant; others are deep and enmeshed. The issue of how to manage these family connections sometimes brings a spirit of divisiveness into an otherwise cordial marriage. Sociologist and researcher John Gottman describes the conflict this way:

“Such conflicts usually surface quite early in a marriage…. [but] can be triggered or revived at many other times…. At the core of the tension is a turf battle between the two women for the husbands love. The wife is watching to see whether her husband backs her or his mother…wondering, ‘Which family are you really in?’ Often the mother is asking the same question. The man, for his part… loves them both and does not want to have to choose.” [John M. Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, p 190]

Dr. Gottman then gives this advice:

“The only way out of this dilemma is for the husband to side with his wife… Although this may sound harsh, remember that one of the basic tasks of a marriage is to establish a sense of ‘we-ness’ between husband and wife. So the husband must let his mother know that his wife does indeed come first.” [John M. Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, p 190]

It should also be stated that the counter side of this situation should also have the wife siding with her husband over her parents. The new couple/family need to compromise on which of the family traditions and celebrations they will participate in and also begin the process of establishing their own. If in-law issues are a source of conflict in your relationship, we at Swinton & Associates Counseling are here to help guide you through the process of resolution and acceptance.

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