Sunday, June 19, 2011

In-laws, Stepchildren and Other New Marital Delights

It has been said that marriage is the process of finding out what kind of person your mother-in-law would have preferred so this writing is devoted to assist you in handling difficult situations that could arise with relatives around the wedding. 

First and foremost, when dealing with your future in-laws, remember to be polite.  Engage respectfully using please and thank you, even if you are not accustomed to doing so.  Remembering these niceties will help you to score big points with your future in-laws and may also help to smooth away the inevitable bumps in the road as the family constellation changes through the marriage.

In most cases, in-law relationships are more or less harmonious.  However, if you are feeling a little uncomfortable with your prospective in-laws, you might benefit by making a concerted effort to get to know them.  You might find it helpful to invite them to join you one on one in a pleasant activity that will allow for conversation such as going out for coffee together, or shopping.  Cooperating with each other during a constructive activity such as preparing a meal together or doing some house chores together can build a history of positive interpersonal experiences between the two of you that will form the basis of pleasant memories together.  It takes more than time for love and respect to build between a spouse and an in-law.  It takes a collection of positive togetherness experiences. 

If you cannot think of an activity, offer to assist them with a task or project they are working on.  Choose one that will allow you to spend time together and engage in conversation.  If you run out of ideas on what to talk about, you can always ask them questions about themselves.  I can assure you, that most people find talking about themselves an endlessly fascinating topic. 

It can be difficult for parents to let go of their children and see them leave home.  Sometimes, this means that one or both parents have difficulty respecting the boundary of the newly formed bond between a husband and wife to be.  They may interfere in the relationship in a bid to not lose their beloved child to the new spouse.  Their interference may be a bid at attempting to control their own feelings of what they perceive as their child’s abandonment of them.  It is important for the survival of your relationship to draw a boundary around your relationship as a couple and to insist that it be respected. 

If this becomes the case, you will need to speak to your parents.  It is the responsibility of the spouse whose parents are intruding to speak to them.  If it is your parents, put the onus on yourself and not your partner and politely set some limits with them.  Be polite, but firm.  You may also find it helpful to ask them what the situation was like for them when they were married.  In the course of the discussion they may find that their behavior with you relates back to their own marriage experience.  It could be a healing experience for you both. 

Sometimes, difficulties arise from family members due to a mixed faith marriage.  If this happens to you, approach the topic directly with your family.  Again, be polite but firm.  Difficulties arise when families fear the loss of their beloved family member.  Reassure your family that you are still the same person you have always been and that you will continue to value your own beliefs and that you respect their beliefs and will continue to respect their beliefs even after marriage.   If they continue to frown on your decision, you can just agree to disagree on that issue.  Remember, this marriage is not about them.  It’s about you.  You may have to remind them and yourself of that fact. 

Nothing can be worse at a wedding than when relatives are fighting with each other.  Once again, you may want to remind them that this wedding is not about them, it’s about you.  Ask them to put aside their differences for one day and to cooperate with you on your wedding.  You don’t need to fix it for them.  Just ask them to cooperate with you and put their focus away from each other and onto your event for just one day. 

It can be very trying having to deal with all the wedding plans while handling arguing relatives at the same time.  This kind of stress can cause tensions to rise between the engaged couple.  If this happens to you, then you need to take a break from dealing with the wedding plans.  Give yourselves some time together where you are not dealing with the wedding in any manner.  Go out and do something fun together.  There will be plenty of time to work on the wedding later.

In fact, it’s a good idea to have a date night with each other once a week through the process leading up to the wedding.  This would be one night a week where you do something enjoyable together that has nothing to do with planning the wedding.

And since communication is so important, after you are married, I suggest you continue the practice of date night even after you are married. 

If this is a second marriage, and children are involved, understand that the welfare of the children comes first over the new spouse.  Children may fear the loss of their parent to the new spouse and act out in ways for attention.  This is to be expected.  Reassure them that they will be as important to you after you are remarried as they are to you right now. 

To improve the likelihood of family cohesiveness and harmony after the wedding, it is important for your fiancé to begin to develop a one on one relationship with each of the children before the wedding.  Invite him or her to spend some alone time with each child doing some activity that the child find enjoyable.  Doing this, your fiancé will begin to build a history of positive interaction with each child.  If they are old enough, include the children in the ceremony in some way. 
After all, the new spouse is marring more than you.  He or she is marring into a family.  The children’s inclusion in the ceremony will reassure them of their place and importance in the family which may be threatened by the entrance of a new spouse.

Some men have difficulty understanding that the children come first and he comes second, and that it will continue that way even after marriage.  This is just the way is it and should be.  He needs to clearly understand this before the wedding.  If he is not willing to go along with that, then you might need to re-consider your wedding plans.  Whether it is an intact or blended family, the best interest of the children always comes first.

Along with the great joy that a wedding and all its preparation can bring, it can also be a time of sorrow when a beloved parent is absent for the celebration due to their untimely passing.   For individuals going through such an experience it is perfectly normal to feel some sorrow while in the midst of their great joy.  Under these circumstances, it is healthy to hold onto both the feelings of joy and sorrow at the same time.  For these individuals, their wedding can be bitter sweet.  If this is your situation, you may find it helpful to speak with your beloved fiancé about your feelings.  Talking out your feelings of sadness over the parent’s absence may actually help to bring you both closer.  Give your sadness a place, but don’t let it take over the wedding.  As you give yourself permission to feel the sadness, give yourself permission to also feel the joy of this wonderful experience that you so richly deserve.  Remember, this day is about you and your partner.

As a way of easing some of the feelings of sorrow and helplessness under these circumstances, it may be helpful to write a loving letter to the absent parent introducing your partner.  In your letter, express your love for both the absent parent and your fiancé.  Include what you would like the parent to know about the person you are marring.  Let the parent know what you have learned from him or her and how you carry that with you in your new life.  Let them know that you will always love them and that they will always be with you in your heart. Also, let them know, in your letter, what you will tell your children about them.
Then, if it is conducive with your religious beliefs, you may choose to symbolically invite them to the wedding by reserving a place for them at the ceremony.  They will be right there with you.  You may share your letter with your partner if you choose.  That is up to you.  After the wedding, you may choose to burn the letter or store it away along with the other mementos that you save from the wedding.  Again, it is up to you how it is handled. 

This exercise is an honoring of the deceased relative and in the honoring of that individual; you have honored your relationship with them and by doing so, you have included them in your wedding experience.  This exercise is not limited to a deceased parent.  It may be used for working through feelings with any individual whose absence has left a void in your special day. 

For more information on Dr. Jim and free couple's communication information, affirmations and downloads, log onto his website at  You may also log onto his award-winning self-help audio site at   For Information on Dr. Walton's Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Practice, log onto


1 comment:

Hardluxelass said...

Thank you for this post. I think that your emphasis on patience in building a relationship is a wise one. Offering to help out with a project is a good way of working together as a team. We spend a lot of time at work working on how to build an effective team and these insights can inform our personal lives at home. and