Family Ties like many of the relationships one engages in his or her life comes with many challenges and rewards. For some people, getting married and gaining an extended family can be a blessing, for others a nightmare. Many marriages and re-marriages start off with both sides sizing up the prospective spouse of their family member in the same manner as two prize fighters sizing each other up before a fight.
In families with a foundation of dysfunction, there is often uncertainty, suspicions, apprehension, and occasional resentment surrounding the addition of a new family member. In stable, healthy families the possibility of adding a new family member is received with hope, joy, and excitement surrounding possibilities of expanding the family, fulfilling family legacies, and creating additional hopes of the future. Spouses and extended families that share a mutual respect each other are 20% more likely to experience marital success than those in a contentious relationship with their extended family.
Regardless of the relationship type with in-laws and other extended family members, boundaries should be established and agreed upon between spouses covering family limits. If either or both spouses feel that in-laws are intruding in their marital relationship, it is best to follow the old saying, “Good fences make good neighbors”. In concert with your mate, set reasonable boundaries; ask that he or she firmly and kindly insist that your in-laws respect these limits.
Setting limits includes:
Allowing for compromise, whenever appropriate. It doesn’t require spouses insisting in-laws or other extended family members doing thing “their way”.
Setting limits does not include placating extended family in an effort to avoid upsetting or causing tension between the family. Sometimes disagreements can provide a healthy resolution to marital as well as familial conflict.
Respecting the beliefs, feelings, and rights of everyone, even if spouses do not agree with the beliefs of his or her in-laws.
Suzanne and Brian
This is a second marriage for Suzanne and Brian, both recipients of failed marriages. Brian comes from a family of mostly women as his father and brother are both deceased leaving him with a mother and 2 sisters. Immediately after Brian and Suzanne married, conflict between Brian’s sisters and former wife began to emerge. Brian’s sister began to make claims that Suzanne did not like Brian’s children, had an ulterior motive for marrying Brian (Brian was not rich, very smart, or attractive), however those motives could not be explained by the sisters. One of Brian’s sister’s expressed beliefs the recent negative issues occurring within the family was somehow caused by Suzanne.
Brian never established boundaries between his marriage and his family, as he chose to ignore the negative comments made by his family members rather than confronting them. By failing to address his family’s inappropriate comments and behaviors, he contributed to the dysfunction by refusing to create and maintain boundaries. Brian’s idea of building a relationship between Suzanne and his family included celebrating a major holiday together. Needless to what was meant to resolve problems between Suzanne and his family reinforced the conflict and heightened the animosity between the two sides. In a final bid to create a healthy environment they decided to put their differences aside for the sake of the upcoming holiday. Brian’s family agreed to prepare half of the holiday meal while Suzanne was tasked with preparing the other half.
Needless to say Brian’s family did not honor their end of the agreement, choosing instead to arrive with a pie. Throughout the evening which was filled with tension and resentment, Brian sat quietly avoiding all conversation about the holiday or the animosity building in the home. Several hours later after leaving the home, Brian’s family returned for a “doggy bag”, which was rejected by Suzanne. The family opted to leave with the pie they had brought with them earlier instead.