I am newly married, and I have an awful relationship with my in-laws. Just before the wedding this summer, my husband’s mother cornered us to say that she thought I would make my husband unhappy, and that we should call off the wedding. She said that because I am not interested in being a stay at home mom, I will try to “dominate” my husband and make him miserable.
I really wanted to be close to my in-laws, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen now. It’s only been three months into the marriage and I just can’t imagine feeling this much hatred from them for the rest of my life. I don’t know how our marriage is supposed to work when his family has made it so clear that they don’t support it.
Help is the right word! What a gut wrenching quagmire you and your husband are in. I’m really sorry for both of you. As a guy who has wonderful in-laws, I’ve been so grateful and enriched by their support in every way (yes I hope they’re reading, yes I’m kissing-up). Back to you, Jenna…
To not feel supported and, even worse, feel like your in-laws don’t like you personally must be a huge stress on you and your marriage. Let’s walk through this together:
I’d like to start by thinking about your in-laws. And no, not just what they’re doing wrong, but simply the facts as you’ve explained them (with some of my thoughts in parentheses).
What do we know about the in-laws:
1. They love their son. (Hooray, so do you! Love Wins.)
2. They want you to stay at home. (They value a traditional family model which, I’m assuming, they’ve instituted in their own home.)
3. They would prefer that you not dominate your husband. (Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t, the bottom line is that they want a healthy marriage for their son.)
4. They’re not Jenna fans. (Sorry again about this.)
5. They’re willing to express how they feel. (They’re blunt—rude?—but at least they’re not passive.)
So Jenna, what can we learn from this list? Well as I look at it, you and the in-laws seem to have a lot in common. And, I just lost you. Come back, Jenna, there’s a payoff, I promise!
What do you have in common? Well in the most general terms, you all love your husband, want him to have a good marriage, value family and desire to fix what you perceive to be wrong. So that’s something, right?
Now of course, this common ground has bullets and tears whizzing over it at a catastrophic rate. But, despite the miscommunication that’s leading to the understandable hurt, there’s something there to work with.
The question is, how do you actually work with them? Because, while we can step back with calm hearts and see that they’re decent people who love their son, they really are being unfairly brutal on you. I mean, it’s one thing to disagree with someone, but it’s quite another to feel “hatred” from them. Here’s what I think you need to do now:
First, take as much time as you can to get as calm and level-headed about the situation as possible. Right now, I sense sadness, hopelessness, and even some anger. And while all of these feelings are certainly valid, they’re clogging your thinking. Which is why I need you to do everything you can to find clarity and some measure of peace.
How you’ll do that is unique to you, but I would encourage heavy doses of prayer about the situation—prayer for the in-laws, prayer for your marriage and prayer for reconciliation. Additionally, I would seek counsel from those who know you best, but who are also bold enough not to be “yes men.” By this I mean that there may be something, outside of what you shared with me, that has rightfully wronged your in-laws. If that situation exists, you need to know about it, own it, and make amends. So find people who will be brutally, painfully, honest with you—and listen to them.
Second, you and your husband must doggedly pursue a unified front. And while you haven’t said he’s not on the same page with you, I do know that quite often there can be some disconnect between newlyweds as it pertains to difficult in-laws. Typically, this would look like the child of the difficult family dismissing the actions of a hard parent or sibling with a general “Oh, my family is crazy,” laissez-faire, kind of attitude. While at the same time, their craziness is destroying their spouse.
This may not be your situation. But if it is, or if anything isn’t really meshing up with you and your hubby, you need to start talking/arguing/counseling/praying this out together. It may be hard for you all to get on the same page, but the journey is worth the destination.
Furthermore, it’s not only worth it, but it’s critical. Around your marriage must be in impenetrable wall. And all that gets inside the wall are you, your husband and God. When parents (or anyone/anything else) penetrates that relationship, you’ve got problems. Right now Jenna, you must do all that is necessary to make darn sure that the wall is fortified and the three aforementioned parties are in agreement.
Which leads us to the last thing you need to do, right now…
Jenna, you need to step out of this situation and let your husband deal with his family. Now wait, before the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and you lock your iPhone in protest, hear me out.
You and your husband serve each other in a number of ways, and one of them is providing protection for the other one. This isn’t a male/female thing, this is a love thing. You’d do it for him, and he needs to do it for you. Part of loving someone means standing in the gap and taking the blows, if at all possible. In other words, love is sacrificial—as we’ve been shown—even to death.
To that end, your husband must act as a mediator between a wife that is hurt and a family who is not expressing themselves in constructive ways. At times, he’s going to be a counselor, hearing their points, hearing your points, and trying to find a common ground. At other times, he’s going to have to make hard decisions about how to proceed with a family that is being unkind and doing all they can to unabashedly charge the wall. Yes, it will be very hard on him. And yes, he may even have to sever relationships with them to protect you. But that’s love, and you’re worth it.
Jenna, maybe your husband’s parents didn’t want you to get married, and maybe they had a point—who knows. But it doesn’t matter now. What does matter is that he protects you, and you don’t take the brunt of a family who isn’t letting go of their boy, and certainly not respecting the wall that’s been built. Yes, there’s constructive conversation to be had, and maybe someday their concerns about you will be expressed in a way that refines you and your marriage. But for now, the damage they’re causing is knocking down the bricks, and destroying a newly poured foundation.
I’ll be praying for your husband and for you.
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.