The In-Law Factor – Cutting the Ties that Bind

Ties with family Dollar Photo - Happy African FamilyThe underlying factor in establishing a proper postmarital relationship with parents and in-laws is in learning to prayerfully submit to the Scripture. It says: for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). It will help you to cut “the ties that bind.”

A New Separate Decision-making Unit

As grateful as a man may be for the guidance and help he has received from his parents, it is imperative for the well-being of all concerned that he understands the importance of heading up a whole new separate decision-making unit. In the same way, the wife must play her part in disallowing her parents from making undue demands on her time and affection. That is because she is now under the headship of her husband.

It is not that in-laws deliberately set out to cause problems. In most cases, they would be mortified to think that their actions were viewed in that way. But unless care is taken to ensure that there is a clean break —emotionally and financially and in every other way —then untold harm may well be the result. Their “ties” to your life may be unhealthy.

In The Other Woman in Your Marriage, Norman Wright quotes a fine illustration of cutting the apron strings.

He writes:

I’ll never forget the wedding of one of my best college friends, John Engstrom, years ago. Actually it wasn’t the wedding itself that impressed me as much as something that happened at the rehearsal dinner. Mrs. Engstrom, John’s mum, was seated at the front table with John, his bride, and the bride’s parents.

At a particular time at the dinner, Mrs. Engstrom stood up and pulled out a beautifully wrapped box. She unwrapped it. And with great ceremony she displayed one of her favorite old aprons.

Holding the apron high for everyone to see, she reached into her purse and brought out a big pair of scissors. With a flourish, she snipped off the ties and apron strings. She then handed them to John’s bride-to-be.

“Never again,” she said, “will I have the same place in John Engstrom’s life. You are now the woman in his life.”

Releasing in Front of Witnesses

It was a moment of formal releasing, in front of many witnesses. And the most significant witnesses of all were a young bride and groom. It was a profound moment —but a joyful one too. There was a feeling of rightness about it all.

This article comes from the book, Lasting Love: How to Avoid Marital Failure written by Alistair Begg, published by Moody Press. In this book Pastor Begg teaches the art of a lasting relationship. As Alistair says about this book,“This is an attempt at preventive medicine. It is written primarily for those who are contemplating marriage from the vantage point of singleness. It’s also for those who are in the early stages of married life, or who have enjoyed a number of years of marital bliss. However, it may also prove helpful to those who are already dealing with the effects of decay. In a sense, this book is, unashamedly, ‘Marriage for Dummies.’ It is a refresher course on basics, and hopefully you will find it to be much more.”

— ALSO —

To read another article that is related to in law ties, please click onto the following Focus on The Family link:


If you have additional tips you can share to help others, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.

Print Post

Filed under: Dealing with In Laws & Parents

Join the Discussion

Please observe the following guidelines:

  • Try to be as positive as possible when you make a comment.
  • If there is name-calling, or profane language, it will be deleted.
  • The same goes with hurtful comments targeted at belittling others; we won't post them.
  • Recommendations for people to divorce will be edited out–that's a decision between them and God, not us.
  • If you have a criticism, please make it constructive.
  • Be mindful that this is an international ministry where cultural differences need to be considered.
  • Please honor the fact this is a Christ-centered web site.

We review all comments before posting them to reduce spam and offensive content.


8 responses to “The In-Law Factor – Cutting the Ties that Bind

  1. (REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA (RSA))  I have recently been married, 25 April 2009, to a wonderful man who has been caught in between to “mothers” for a greater part of his life. My husband is a 33 year old man and I am 31years. His mother and father got divorced while he was still an infant and he was raised by his mother’s sister (his aunt), in another city, while his mother remarried and stayed with her husband and children in another city.

    His father remarried and had his own family as well. Raised by the aunt, his surname was changed to his mother’s maiden name when he was about three years and that is the surname he has been using for the past 30 years. His relationship with his father is nothing to talk about and I see a great sense of resentment and anger that his other children got to grow up with him and he did not.

    A few months before our marriage, I was contemplating, on how I was going to deal with “two mothers in-law” and my husband’s identity issues.

    Both women feel the need to have claim over him. His mother gave him life and claims she supported him financially while he was living with her sister. The aunt claims she raised, cared and sacrificed for him while she was raising her own children too. My husband is caught in between these two women, who feel now that he is married they should highlight their individual roles they played to make him what he is today. Its like they are fighting for his affection and competing for financial support. They each separately, talk badly about each other to us but when together they are the best of friends.

    The other talks about how irresponsible the other was, while she was raising her son. The other one talks about how her sister is doing all she can to make sure that her son does not support her. Her sister wants all his money to herself, although as a mother she took her responsibility to financially support her son and got him to university despite the fact that he did not stay with her.

    With all this happening I do not want to take sides on something I know nothing about but that doesn’t stop them bombard me with this every time they talk to me. I guess each one of them is trying to “win me over”.You should have seen what happened in the months before our wedding. Let me not get into that, but through Christ we overcame

    He on the other hand, has got his own struggle although he is trying his utter most best to hide it. He is dealing with his own identity issues, and his “two mothers” are not helping him with this at all. .

    I do not know how to get both these women to “cut the apron strings” and let us build a life of our own but I am trusting God to intervene. I always joke a say two aprons dear Lord, two aprons. I recently observed that my husband is strategically “cutting them off” on a number of things. He has even gone to the extent of telling them that he has a family to take care of as his duty and responsibility as a husband and a father to our three year old daughter. I believe he still will say that for a couple of months or years before they get it.

    In all that I humbly appreciate the ledership my husband has taken in the matter as it has relieved a lot of pressure on me and we can now concentrate on building our family and I can fully support him with God’s help to understand that his past is the past there is nothing he can change about it but he can change the way he feels and deals with it. It does not matter what surname he carries, to me, he is my husband and a father to our daughter. May God strengthen him and keep him in His favour.Amen

  2. (PUERTO RICO)  To make a veeeeery long story short. My husband hasn’t reached the point where he has been able to let go. Even though he says he has, in reality he is still under his mom’s “control”. It is indirect and we live miles apart, yet the results of a controlling mother, one who didn’t allow her son to express himself and manipulate him as a kid, and I have to deal with that now.

    My husband’s mom has never accepted me (and my husband agrees). I wasn’t the one she wanted for him (but the one he wanted for him and the one God wanted for him). From the moment we got married (11yrs now) she has made sure that pretty much every person I met (whom she knew first) would know how bad I was/am. The only reason she has never liked me, besides being hispanic, is the fact that my husband and I had agreed, even before we got married, that if it was needed financially (which the need was there at the beginning) I would work, but once we had kids I would stay home.

    But my m-i-l had different plans. In her eyes I was supposed to work at the church full time (my husband is a pastor) and because it was known from the beginning that it wouldn’t be that way, from the beginning I was treated differently and pushed aside. So many people at the church heard how “bad I was” and some people started to gossip about me and to ignore me. The problem that I face is that through all these years this has continued, my husband is aware of it, yet never, NEVER, has he confronted his mother on it. After talking (and arguing) about htis many times, my husband has admitted on ocassions that he should’ve said something and if it happens again, he’ll sure say something right away.

    But it kept happening and he wouldn’t talk with her. To this day my m-i-law hasn’t apologized for what she has done (she probably thinks she’s done nothing wrong) and my husband hasn’t said anything to her. I know he’s afraid of her, he’s intimidated by her (he has admitted) yet, when will he, if ever, be able to realize that I’m the woman in his life and even though he still needs to honor his mother and father, there’s a point where he needs to stand up for his wife, even if it means confronting his mother. I cannot mention her because my husband gets very angry and uses his authority as a way to force me not to talk about her, doesn’t matter if she has made sarcastic comments about me critizicing how I am as a wife and even as a mother to our 2 little ones.

    Does a man ever let go of the attachment he has had with his mother. Isn’t the love toward his wife enough to say to his mom “enough”!!! I won’t even go into details about how much it hurts and how disappointed I am in my husband. What will my 2 girls learn when they get older and start noticing? How will it affect them? Wow, to think about the answers to these questions scares me. But I feel my arms are crossed and there’s nothing I can do but pray for my husband and hope he may change and put his family (wife and kids) first for once.

    1. After 18 years, my husband still will not defend me or our children from his dad. His dad is a controlling, manipulating alcoholic who has done MANY things over the years to cause conflict between my husband and I. There are two things I’ve always struggled with about this. The first one being, why would my husband defend his dad when his dad treats him so badly? Does that say something about what my husband thinks of me when I’m runner up to his dad? The second thing is, how can I think of my husband as head of our home and my defender, when he really isn’t?

  3. (USA)  In my husband’s case it is his relationship with his father that has not been cut. He has time to do lots of stuff for his father, but when it comes to changing the oil in the car (he does the truck) I am told that I need to get it done by a service station. If his father calls with an issue plans are immediately made for him to rush up to his parents home to help.

    Over the Christmas weekend he spent approximately 3 hours with his Mom and me, and the rest of it with his Dad getting snowmobiles ready for their trip. It seems that in my eyes my husband has put me last on his list of what to pay attention to.

    I come after work, parents, snowbmobiling, then it’s finnaly me. It doesn’t seem to matter what I try, or how I try, or how much I back off. I am still unable to draw my husband into our life together rather than his life, and then picking me up when he sees fit. Yet I am the first one to come to if he needs money to pay for some ermegency that has cropped up or for a bill that he cannot pay.

    How do I resolve to become the wife God wants me to be in this kind of life. It is said that a husband is lazy if he is not a good provider. The problem is how do you determine what a good provider is. If you look at my parents a good provider was someone who paid all the bills, inlcuding health care for his family (I am originally from Canada). In his parents case, a good provider was his father paying all the bills except health care for his wife. I do no know who covered their children when they were growing up.

    Now my husband (I am out of a job) feels that I should still pay for groceries, insurance, heat and electricity and my own health care. Is that being a good provider? If it is what is the point in being a submissive wife when I might as well move out on my own and take care of myself. I know that this has to be the way I am viewing things but I feel that my husband only needs me for the paycheck I used to bring in and not because he really wanted a wife in his life. This feeling has become even more poignant since the bankruptcy I filed last year.

  4. (CANADA)  My husband has been between mother and grandmother and father for his entire life due to divorce. These units sent him varying messages on religion, life and self esteem. To be honest when I met him there were many things that seemed to escape him due to lack of stability and his many parenting roles. It led to his feelings of self pity and rejection.

    We started off as friends, praying for one another and it blossomed when I saw he had such a beautiful and compassionate heart for all around him. I could see his hurts and his spiritual side and fell in love with the God in Him. I am still very much in love with His spirit, which is the best of Him. I also learned with time how much he learned to hide and internalize bouncing around and being abused by those that claimed to love him.

    God delivered him from so much. His mother, now a Christian woman though older, tries to do for him the things she did not in the past. It seems that she is trying to make up for where she messed us and I commend that. But now that we are married she always tries to wiggle into the picture and it’s time for him to cleave unto his wife as the Bible says. HE identified that to her during Christmas when she demanded more time from him. Yet he is 31 years old and she is constantly trying to be involved in our lives.

    When trouble arises in our marriage he retreats to her easily and quickly and her place is with her younger children now, not her married son. We love her but I think we are older and able resolve our issues with God alone and not another man’s hand.

    I told him my reservations and I am respectful and a loving woman of God and she seems surprised sometimes by it because I do the unexpected and I ask God to make me more Him and to walk in forgiveness for both him and her. There are so many things that has been bothering him and I need God to release it and cover it under the blood of the lamb in Jesus name. My husband is the strong silent type. He is not the type to talk an ear off and eventually I can see when things hurt him because it all comes together. Pray that God allows him to deal and sort the feelings of hurt and pain and love him more and more. In Jesus name, Amen.

  5. (CANADA)  Well, I recently noticed that my husband has began to cut the apron strings from his mum. He is 31 years old. He was so quiet and passive and his mum was so dominating he seems to have let her go ahead and make all the major decisions and allow her to do things, which in truth, he disagreed with.

    However, when she over stepped her boundaries one day at our house he told her she was wrong and he has cut back from her in put in our relationship, which is a big change. I see that he loves me and wants to make God word active in our lives. We have been cleaving to each other and it is wonderful!

  6. (US)  Well, my husband can’t cut the strings with his whole, large family. He left me recently, moved back in with his MOM, and has told her and the rest of his siblings, all about our marriage problems, and money problems. He wants to come back home and has been coming and staying some. But he goes back to his Mom’s as of right now.

    I am having a hard time with the way he runs to his family for financial support. It is also embarrasing for me, when he tells them things or our marriage, that I believe should stay between him and me, and God. If he needs someone else to vent to, I’d prefer a Paster or counselor. It’s been this way for years, and I have even preferred not to go to family gatherings because of it. I feel ashamed to go around them.

    We are supposed to go for counseling before he moves back home permanently and I am hoping this issue will be addressed. His Mom is elderly and I do pray for her. He is the youngest in the family too. He has such a dependency on them all. And one in particular has loaned him a lot of money. I begged him this last time to not do it. Let’s pray first and ask God’s help. Give Him a chance to make another way… but he would not do it. And now it’s like he’s indebted to this person for life. He is always feeling under their thumb so to speak. Not sure what to do.

  7. A great article. Mention could have been made of the relationship that existed between the two widow – her daughters-in-law. Ruth especially, who left all that she had to take care of a woman whose husband and sons were all dead. From their speeches in the Book of Ruth in the Bible we perceive the love and the devotion to each other.

    We also can make reference to how Moses, the Law Maker did make obeisance to the father-in-law in Exodus 18.