Picture this: you are standing at the alter during your wedding cermony. As you gaze into the eyes of your beloved, you hear the sound of ... banjo music. And that merry banjo minstrel is none other than... your mother-in-law. Tell me, would you have let your mother-in-law play her banjo at your wedding? Before you say “No, but who would?” I would like to celebrate that this is not an imaginary scenario, but rather one that I witnessed with my very own eyes and ears at the wedding of two of my clients a few weeks ago. Was it the bride's lifelong dream to have a banjo serenade from her mother-in-law at her wedding? I doubt it, even though the banjo music was quite lovely. But the bride welcomed the banjo because she welcomed her new mother-in-law into her life, lock stock and barrel. Can you say the same for how you treat your in-laws? When you marry your partner, you are also marrying their family. They may be quirky. They may grate on your nerves. They even might be downright rude. But trying to love your partner without loving their family is like trying to enjoy a piece of wedding cake without loving the taste of flour. It is, quite simply, baked in there, and you cannot deeply commit to your partner without committing to their family. Need more convincing? Here are a few more reasons why it just doesn’t make sense to dislike your in-laws. Your partner is just like their family As much as you would like to think that your partner is so different than their family, the truth is that they are likely not. Odds are that the very thing that annoys you about your in-laws is something that you know and love (or don’t!) about your partner, just perhaps with a different twist. For example, one of my clients was annoyed that her father-in-law always complained about how terrible his life was. According to him, nothing was ever going as he would like it to, no one was considerate of him, and there was nothing he could do to change it. After a few years of this, she found herself avoiding her father-in-law however possible. Her marriage was going well, and one of the things she loved about her husband was that he was always willing to “go with the flow” and follow her lead: with vacations, with house plans, and with ideas of how to raise the children. After all, she was a woman who liked to be in charge! One day, I pointed out to her that the “follower" mentality that she so loved in her husband was the very same mentality that caused her father-in-law to complain so much. Her father-in-law, too, was a follower, but resented where his wife was leading him! Both men were somewhat passive, and unwilling to step up and take charge. The only difference was that one man felt a victim of this fact, and the other embraced it. Once she saw this common pattern, her perspective on both her husband and her father-in-law shifted. She started liking her father-in-law more, because she could see how much he did support his (very controlling) wife. And, more importantly, her father-in-law served as an important warning to her: to make sure to take her husband’s needs into consideration when making decisions, so that he wouldn’t feel as neglected as his father did! You are probably just like them, too As you can see in the story above, my client and her mother-in-law were birds of a feather: both were controlling and liked to have their own way. Just as the stereotype dictates, her husband chose to marry someone just like his mother! And, predictably, my client didn’t like her mother-in-law much at all because “she has to have things her own way all the time!” When I pointed out the irony of this comment, and that their relationship would be better titled “the war of the control freaks,” it shifted how my client saw her mother-in-law. She could appreciate that the woman was ambitious, and wanted the best for her family, just as she herself did. She could also appreciate that she was equally to blame in their control struggles. I saw my client soften toward her mother-in-law and even start to respect her tenacity. She also started to appreciate her husband more, because of what it takes to deal with someone so controlling! There is no such thing as “likable” or “not likable” Unless they are deliberately harming us, a person is only annoying to us because we make it so. For example, one of my friends was annoyed that her mother-in-law always wanted to talk about tabloid gossip. Sure, that is not a topic that my friend chose to focus on, but what is inherently “wrong” or “bad” about wanting to gossip about the latest Kate Middleton news? The simple truth is that there is nothing harmful or hurtful in her mother-in-law getting excited about the tabloids. My friend’s dislike of her mother-in-law simply came from her being judgmental of what was a “good” and “bad” use of time, and nothing more. Once my friend started to see that she was the one who was the problem in the relationship with her mother-in-law, and not vice-versa, it was just the ego-check she needed to put down her judgments and accept her mother-in-law for who she was. Which was a tremendous relief to her husband! So there are a few reasons why it doesn’t make much sense to insist on disliking your in-laws. Can you relate to these examples? How is your partner like his/her family? How are you like them too? Where are you judging your in-laws? There are of course exceptions to the “love thy in-laws” credo. If your in-laws put you or your family in danger, or pose a physical or mental threat, I am not saying that you should get close to them. Wish them well from afar. But I have found that most in-law complaints are not in that category, and are instead based on subjective annoyances like the ones described above. There is so much to be gained by seeing your in-laws from this new perspective. It will give you the space to open your heart and accept them, and, more importantly, to deepen your relationship with your partner. And then who knows? Maybe your in-laws will play the banjo at your next wedding anniversary! Write me a note and share your insights!
Image courtesy of Edward Simpson