Struggling with in-laws? USU experts have some advice

Getting along with the in-laws can be a tricky — but essential — part of the marriage journey. Utah State University experts have some advice.

Getting along with the in-laws can be a tricky — but essential — part of the marriage journey. Utah State University experts have some advice. (Utah State University)

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LOGAN — You can joke about your in-laws all you want — they're not going anywhere.

So, it's worth investing in the relationship. Utah State University marriage and family experts Amy Torres and Lisa Schainker recently published their findings about in-laws after much of their own research, and they shared some tips to ease what can sometimes be a strained in-law relationship.

Examine your expectations

Most of us have heard a joke about a crazy mother in-law or stubborn father in-law, and movies and TV shows make in-laws seem like a nightmare. Remember, however, not every in-law relationship is doomed to fail.

"You don't have to have that conflict," Torres said.

If things do get tense, take a step back and reflect on your own background — what was your family life like? Is the way you were raised necessarily the right way or best way?

Then, have a heart-to-heart with your spouse. "Talk about what you did growing up, and decide what you're going to incorporate," Torres said. Realize you and your spouse came from different family cultures — you'll need to find a balance between both sides of your family.

It's common for newlyweds to comment on family differences when they're getting settled with the in-laws, she said.

"They're the family you grew up with, and your spouse is coming in with new eyes," Torres said. "Realize maybe it's not an attack on you and your family."

Lean in to your spouse

If your spouse struggles to get along with your parents, remember they need your support — don't leave them to fend for themselves, Torres and Schainker say. And if you're the one with a rocky in-law relationship, talk through it with your spouse.

It's important to discuss and agree on how you will handle tricky situations with extended family ahead of time. When conflicts do arise, make sure you've got each other's back.

And remember, your spouse doesn't want to be the middleman or the peacekeeper. With your spouse's support, you can address conflicts head-on by talking to your in-laws directly.

Stay calm and be respectful

Having conversations with your spouse ahead of conflicts is essential if you want to stay calm and respectful in the moment.

"If you have choices already set on how you're going to deal with it, then your response is going to come from a place of love and respect," Torres said.

Be respectful when you're with your in-laws and behind closed doors. If you need to vent or ask advice, be careful who you talk to. It's probably not a good idea to badmouth your in-laws to your own parents or to friends.

"If you're going to get outside advice, maybe go to a marriage counselor or talk to someone who is going to come with unbiased information," Torres said.

Communicate effectively

Preventive communication is the way to go, Torres and Schainker say. Be honest with your in-laws about your expectations and boundaries to minimize future conflicts.

"You can communicate your feelings with your in-laws, but you need to also understand that they're going to communicate their feelings, too," Torres said.

Practice active listening when your in-laws share their side of the story. They have expectations and feelings just like you — understanding where they're coming from will help you come up with solutions together.

Remember that it's worth it

In-law relationships are a big part of the marriage journey. In fact, psychologist and professor John Gottman identifies in-law conflict as one of the top five predictors of divorce.

When things go wrong, it can be tempting to cut off the extended family and blaze your own trail. In most cases, this isn't fair to you or to them.

"They just want to be pillars of support for us and our children," Torres said.

And you have more in common than you might think. "They love your spouse, and you love your spouse. They love your children, and you love your children," she said.

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Utah higher educationUtahFamilyNorthern UtahEducation
Emma Everett Johnson covers Utah as a general news reporter. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University.


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