3 Things You Should Learn About Your In-Laws Before Your Wedding Day
I had an “Aha moment” this week while doing family therapy with a couple and their in-laws. As you know, being a therapist, I listen to stories for a living. So, while the couple and their parents talk about different events that caused them miscommunication, I look for the underlying story that tells me about the current state of their relationship.
I love being a couples and family therapist. I love the intricacy of the movement, or the dance, between each member of the family that paints the whole picture of what is really going in the system that may be missed when it is approached individually.
I cannot tell you enough of how much my couples and families have taught me about myself and my relationships with others in my life. My job offers me the privilege of helping others heal their relationships, and through helping them, I grow to see the world with a more compassionate lens. This is the case with my above couple and their in-laws. While I helped them mend their relationship, they helped me achieve a deeper level of understanding my relationship with my in-laws.
Now, I want to share with you the 3 things you need to know about your in-laws in the premarital period to help you prepare for your wedding day and the future of your marriage.
1. Stress is your #1 enemy, not your in-laws. It can cause you and your in-laws to feel like you’re working against each other.
This is your big day, so I get it, you want to make it perfect and in the most memorable way. By all means, you have every right to plan your wedding the way you desire. Though, a “perfect” wedding often comes with a great amount of stress and most of us, including me, do not realize how much anxiety we accumulate during the wedding preparation. So, do our in-laws.
Think about it, the way you plan your wedding today is very different from the way your in-laws experienced 10, 20, or 30 years ago. What your parents view as helping may not be the same as yours, which can add more pressure to the existing wedding planning stress. Map out a clear plan of who helps with what and how you would like to receive support in order to avoid miscommunication. If you feel stressed, share it with them because it may be what they are experiencing too. It makes people feel closer when they know they’re not alone.
2. Your in-laws want to be included in your wedding planning and/or newlywed life because it makes them feel like “I matter.”
Be sure to include your in-laws in your wedding planning. You will need as much help as you can get to run your big day smoothly. It is in my experience that we tend to underestimate how resourceful our in-laws can be, especially when we offer them the right tasks.
For many of us, it is easier to ask for help from our own family or doing the preparation ourselves than asking for help from our in-laws due to various reasons. Yet, what we think as “keeping it simple” or “not wanting to be a burden” can cause our in-laws to feel excluded, which creates blame.
It is in our human nature to want to belong and we do best when we feel included because it strengthens the “I matter” belief in us. So, count your in-laws in your plan and invite them to be your helpers. The worst that could happen is their saying no to your inquiries. If they do, then move on and utilize help somewhere else. Don’t ignore their help just because you’re afraid of them saying “no” to you and how that message may make you feel.
3. Your in-laws have their set of expectations about the new family member, aka you, and it’s important that you learn what they are.
Exploring family members’ expectations of each other is essential in growing a healthy relationship. It is common for existing members to be concerned about the involvement of the new addition in their family dynamic. That means your in-laws are dying to know if you really want to be part of their family. They want to know if you’re interested in getting to know who they are as individuals rather than their title of being “in-laws.” They desire your willingness to spend time with them because it makes them feel accepted, yet they don’t express their wants openly. They hope that somehow you just… get it, which can cause miscommunication.
It can help you a long way that you take a proactive approach now by learning about your in-law’s expectations of you as the new family member. Here is my recommendation:
· Take your mother in-law out for lunch, meet her for coffee, or stop by to visit her on the way home from work. It doesn’t matter how you make the arrangement, use the time to get to know her on a one-on-one level
· Be curious and open to learn about her view of you as a new family member.
· Explore what she likes to see in your relationship with her and with the rest of the family.
· Share with her what makes you feel welcome and included in the family.
· Remember to share with her your expectations of being a part of their family too.
It is my experience that we make a quality connection when we commit to get to know another person on a personal level because it speaks to our genuineness. It’s especially the case with our in-laws.
Some of our miscommunication issues can be effectively solved by us taking the proactive step by reaching out and making that close connection with our in-laws. Yet, it is a hard road and we are often hesitant to take it. I know how you feel about taking that road because, at times, I am scared to make that move too.
What keeps me over that fear is that I know how much my today’s effort can help me grow my marriage in the long run.
So, I hope you find the courage to build a thriving relationship with your in-laws.