We think when we marry that we are just marrying our “intended.” That’s what we think. But in reality, there are a whole lot of other people who jump in to influence the marital relationship in some way or another. Eventually, the family and friends of the wife and the family and friends of the husband reveal whether they are supportive or adversarial in how they interact with the married couple.
I agree with Dr David and Jan Stoop (as they wrote in their book, “The Complete Marriage Book”):
“Did you realize that when you married your Prince or Princess Charming, you inherited the king, the queen, and the whole court? In a real sense, you did marry the whole family. Despite all the ‘in-law/out-law’ jokes, in-laws play a significant role in how your marriage goes. Healthy in-law relationships are a wonderful blessing in any marriage. Unhealthy in-law relationships can be a continual drain and irritation.”
Hopefully, your over-all experience has been or will be positive. But we get mail and comments left on our web site regularly where this isn’t the case. It’s so, so sad that this happens.
I want to share a few things with you from a devotional book I’ve been reading, hoping at least one of them will help someone who is reading this.
The first quote addresses the parents of the bride or groom. It’s something I read in my devotional book, “Women of Character.” Carol Kuykendall was considering what it would be like when her son or daughter marries. She writes that she is “jittery” because as she writes, “I know the intimacy of their relationship will close me out of part of my closeness to my child, as it should. It will mean yet another transition.”
And she is right. A change in your “closeness” is a necessary transition, for healthy relationships. In order to have an intimate marriage relationship form between a husband and wife, a type of emotional independence from the parents must take place. You aren’t completely cut off, but some type of distancing occurs. Carol goes on to write,
“God tells our young people to leave their fathers and mothers and cleave to their spouses in marriage. As parents, we must honor their attempts to do so by allowing them to put their mates first. Along with the marriage license usually come keys to a house or an apartment; that means our home is no longer their primary home. Along with the wedding bells comes the end of the expectation that they will be home for Christmas.”
Again, she is right. Expectations need to be adjusted if the “leaving and cleaving” principle set forth in scriptures is to be honored. Both parents and “children” need to adjust their expectations. The marital “partners” need to make sure they are partnering with each other above any type of partnering they’ve had with their parents. The married couple is to put the spouse first and parents are to take a back seat.
It’s like what Sandra Lundberg, from the book, The First Five Years of Marriage wrote:
“If your spouse gets his or her emotional needs met in his or her relationship with parents instead of with you, there’s a problem. You may even feel as if your spouse is having an affair. Sometimes this problem begins when a wife feels frustrated over her husband’s seeming lack of interest in conversing about her day; she starts talking with her parents instead. Sometimes the husband is the frustrated one; it’s common for mother and son to have long or frequent conversations that leave the wife feeling ignored. Neither scenario is appropriate. Respect for each other is the key. In this situation, respect might require that the spouse maintaining an overly close relationship with his or her parents will decrease that contact in order to show love for the spouse.
“…This is not to suggest that children and parents should cut off their relationship under the guise of leaving and cleaving. But your primary human relationship now is with your spouse, not your parents. Your commitment to God comes first; then your bond to your spouse, then to any children you might have, then to your family of origin, and then to extended family and friends.”
Now, I realize that in some countries, it is not unusual for parents and their married children to live together, because of cultural customs and/or financial necessities. But even within the same household, parents and siblings should not overshadow or interfere with the allegiance that the husband and wife should show each other.
A quote I picked up in the “Women of Character” devotional message on “Rachel and Leah, Leaving and Cleaving from Genesis 31” says, “The break from home is harder on some than on others. But the long-term effects of allowing heavy doses of parental involvement in your marriage is a much harder pill to swallow.” Even if the married couple lives in the same home as one or both sets of parents, “allowing heavy doses of parental involvement in marriage” can bring many, many complications, and it flies in the face of the principle of cleaving together in marriage.
In the “Look At It This Way” part of the devotional I’ve been referring to, the following is written to those who are struggling with this issue:
“How do you manage to preserve your allegiance to your spouse and obey the commandment of honoring your parents at the same time –when doing one feels like you’re forsaking the other? The short answer has to be this: When forced to choose, you must give preference to your husband, your children, and your family over your Mom and Dad. But you can still honor your parents in the way you say no, by making sure to be clear and up-front about how your grown-up relationship with them is needing to travel.”
On this same issue, in a Family Life Today radio interview titled, “Control Freak,” Dr Les Parrott gave the following insight:
“One of the things that I always encourage couples to look for in [an invasive in-law] situation is what kind of permission are you giving mom and dad to do this to you? There must be some entry, some kind of message that you’re sending to them that gives them the right to meddle in your life. Maybe it’s that you’re getting free babysitting from them, maybe they’re paying the school bills, or maybe they’re paying your rent. Whatever it is, they are somehow feeling like they have a right to do this.
“…And now that [this couple] is breaking away and starting their own life, that can be hard for mom or dad to let them do that, and so they continue to kind of do the things that they were used to doing as a parent when they were a young child. As a result, they need to look at the admission ticket they’ve given to mom and dad to come into their lives and do that to find out whatever it is and to take that away. You know, make a decision, at least. Is it worth the price we’re paying to have free babysitting or to get our rent paid or whatever that thing might be?”
Good point! I hope this gives you something to prayerfully consider —especially if you are having problems.
You can listen to your parent’s advice and weigh it, but don’t allow it to cover over or over-shadow your relationship with your spouse. If your spouse is sinning in some way —doing that which is not right, you must STILL be careful not to allow your parents to overshadow your spouse. Make wise decisions (perhaps your parents give you wise advice), but don’t allow your parents to dominate or belittle your husband or wife. You deal directly with your husband or wife and your parents are to stand behind you, not in front of you, causing additional division between you in your marriage.
It’s a fine line you sometimes have to walk after marrying, but it’s a necessary one to walk cautiously. Your allegiance to your parents is forever changed after marrying. You were under their authority and protective umbrella before marrying, but you stand as a married adult after you say your wedding vows to another before God. If you need help and you can do it without knocking your spouse aside to do so, then that’s one thing. But if the “help” comes with strings attached, then it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
“When you married, you departed from your old ways. You didn’t leave your first home in terms of love or communication, but you did leave in terms of authority and priority. The most important human relationship now is the one you have with your husband or wife. More than that, your marriage is a living, breathing institution with a life of its own —a covenant that is a symbol of God’s love for the church, His body of believers in Jesus Christ.” (Dr Randy Carlson)
This blog is written by Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International.
Filed under: Dealing with In Laws & Parents