In-Laws Under the Influence of Marriage

By Brian M Murray and Christine Hammond

She answers the phone and is informed by her mother that for their vacation her parents are coming to visit for a week.

Her. [Great, the house needs to be cleaned, the laundry needs to be done, we need to repaint the bedroom, the kitchen needs to be organized, the garage is a mess, the yard needs major attention, the vacuum cleaner needs to be repaired and the dog needs a spa treatment.  So much to do and so little time, oh yea I need to tell my husband.  Boy this is going to go over well…] “Oh honey!  Guess who is coming for a little visit.”

Him. [There’s that tone again, I wonder what she wants now.] “Ok, who is it and for how long.”

Her. [How can I say this without him getting angry? The last time my parents came for a visit he lost it around day two and now they are coming for a week.  I just want to die.  Maybe I can get some major illness in time to avoid the disaster that is about to happen or maybe he’ll get strep-throat and not be able to talk for a few days.  That might do the trick.] “They want to spend their vacation time with us because they missed us so much, isn’t that wonderful?”

Him. [****! It better not be her parents.] “Who is it?!”

Her. [There he goes again, he’s angry yet again. Why can’t he ever have any other emotion other than anger? Doesn’t he know how much it hurts me when he talks to me like that? But of course he does, that is why he does it. To get me as angry as he is so that he can feel justified in his anger.  I guess all those sermons on honoring your wife aren’t really working. But of course that would assume that he listens to someone else and isn’t sleeping during the sermon instead.  Well at least I was listening, Pastor said less is more so here goes…] “My parents.”

Him.  [Crap, I knew it.  I wonder if my buddy is still taking that fishing trip this week, I knew I should have said yes.] “So let me guess, you are going to want me to do a bunch of stuff around the house.”

Her. [Well if he got off his butt more often and turned off that stupid computer then all of the stuff would already be done and it won’t be an emergency now.  But here he is already setting me up so that he can weasel his way out of working and I’m going to get dumped on yet again.  If I don’t get it all done then my parents are going to make some sly comment directed at him and that will be the beginning of the end. So once again, I’m doing all the work just to protect him from my parents.] “Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of everything.”

Him. [Yea right, oh boo-hoo.] “It just so happens that I’m waiting on a call from my buddy about a fishing trip during that same time.”

Her. [Fishing trip my ***.  He’s not waiting on anything.  Just like I said, he’s weaseling out yet again and is going to leave me all alone with my parents. What am I going to say to them? I already told them we were available. They are going to think I’m lying or worse they will think that there is something wrong and I’ll have to hear all over again how they never take vacations without each other. Love me like Christ loves the church, I don’t think so.] “Ok, let me know what happens.”

Where is this going? Often in a marriage there are two perspectives in a situation and coming to an understanding of the other person’s point of view can be a challenging process especially when what is thought is often not what is said.  It’s kind of like shooting at a moving target, just when you think have your aim, the target moves.  Let’s explore how each spouse could have better handled the situation before, during and after.

Before.  When you marry a person, you are marrying into a family, all families are blended.  The concept of “leaving and cleaving” is ideal but requires many years of consistent effort and empathic understanding from your spouse’s point of view.  As an individual in a marriage, understanding the personality and behavior characteristic of your spouse’s family can elevate anxiety before it starts.

During.  Instead of thinking about yourself and how you feel, practice acceptance of your spouse’s family.  To some degree, all families are dysfunctional and the issue is not the dysfunctionality in, and of itself, but rather the difference in your family’s dysfunctionality and your spouse’s family’s dysfunctionality.  You are more likely to better handle the dysfunction you know than the dysfunction you don’t know.  In the moment, you can choose to be compassionate with your spouse and their expectations instead of attacking, running, and defending.

After. Take a step back and realize that you can deal with just about anything for one week.  In the grand scheme of things, one week is not much in the span of a lifetime commitment.  But making a bigger deal out of one week than is needed can drive a wedge into your marriage.  It is not worth it.

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