Now’s the Time to Make Nice With the Folks

I’ve been mostly blessed in the in-law department, though it may be due in part to the fact that The Beard’s family is teeny-tiny. Not everyone I know is so lucky. I have enough friends with scary sisters-in-law and maniacal step-mothers-in-law and boorish brothers-in-law to know that having a few states and a few thousands miles between myself and my extended family is a good thing.


You see, mother-in-law jokes aside, the stories submitted to sites like I Hate My Inlaws are not just pieces of fiction created by some deranged mind. Sure, one’s biological parents can be a nightmare, too, but one usually has a few decades in which to learn to deal with the idiosyncrasies of one’s own family. Prior to and upon getting married, one is immediately expected to become fast friends with nonblood kin of every description. As if.

So what’s the problem? A reasonably sane adult should be able to cope with a few strained familial gatherings per year, right? Would that it were that easy. You see, it turns out that new research has found that avoiding your in-laws (even the icky ones) can actually harm your marriage.

A husband or wife’s satisfaction with their in-laws is a dominant factor in how happy they are in their marriage, University of Denver associate professor Mary Claire Morr Serewicz found after spending six years researching family issues.

In fact, Morr Serewicz found in-law relations can represent 43 percent of a couple’s satisfaction in their marriage.

Forty-three percent? Yowza! Maybe it’s time to send your future sister-in-law a holiday card or give in and let your future father-in-law fix your brakes. If good relations must be established, why not start establishing them ASAP with a little holiday cheer? Then again, I’m a big fan of setting strict boundaries. If you’re slated to be married or recently tied the knot, this might just be the time to say “I love visiting with you, but it throws off my schedule when you drop by unannounced” and “No, I’m sorry we cannot drive four hours each way to visit you for two hours on Christmas Eve.”

A six-year study might tell us that positive in-law relationships are integral to a good marriage, but I’d venture to guess that sometimes the best thing you can do to maintain good relations between people who mix about as well as oil and water is to avoid one another as much as possible.

11 Responses to “Now’s the Time to Make Nice With the Folks”

  1. Twistie says:

    Small families are far from a guarantee of non-wackiness in your in-laws, I have to say. For instance, my brother the alpaca rancher’s bride had quite a small family: one mother, one father, one brother, and one set of grandparents. The father ditched the wedding on the day of when – after making a dozen concessions to please him – they drew a line in the sand about one darn thing. We sort of wish her mother had failed to show up, too, since she appeared wearing a lacy, white, full-length dress and deliberately scowled in every single photograph. Her brother was a groomsman (one of the myriad concessions to Dad since brother and sister had cordially detested one another from early childhood), and spent a lot of time trying to draw all attention to himself…not pretty. We all kind of wish her grandparents had shown since they showed by example that graciousness and rationality apparently skips generations in that family.

    Still, my brother and SIL did work hard to find ways to get along with her family afterward. It seems to have worked. I have to admit that the level of arguments did falll dramatically when they managed to make peace with her father. I don’t entirely get it, and certainly anecdote is not the same as evidence. All the same, I can point to members of my own family and say it actually helped them.

    By the time Mr. Twistie and I got married, his only living relative was his mother. She was a quirky character, but she and I did like one another a great deal. I think we miss each others’ moms as much as our own. Stable marriage? Yeah, I’d say so. We get along pretty decently. ; )

  2. KTB says:

    My fiance and I were just discussing how we had lucked out in the future-in-law department. My parents adore him, let him drive their cars, and basically treat him like their son. His parents are very nice to me, and his extended family (which is quite large) has so far been very nice. We both have younger sisters and they are also both pretty cool, albeit extremely different. His only complaint is that he wishes my parents lived more than 20 minutes away. And I can’t argue with that, frankly!

    Time will tell if the marriage will last indefinitely, but so far so good!

  3. La BellaDonna says:

    NtB, I don’t have Scary Inlaw Stories … other than the fact that my brother’s wife’s father, that is, his FIL, makes me uncomfortable … but I found a gem of a gem of a gem about WEDDING GIFT EXPECTATIONS in an old, old book (on line, courtesy, and I am compelled to share with the folks here:

    We know not why, when a young lady of fortune is going to be married, her friends should all be expected to present her with bridal gifts. It is a custom that sometimes bears heavily on those whose condition allows them but little to spare. And from that little it may be very hard for them to squeeze out enough to purchase some superfluous ornament, or some bauble for a centre-table, when it is already glittering with the gifts of the opulent;—gifts lavished on one who is really in no need of such things; and whose marriage confers no benefit on any one but herself. Why should she be rewarded for gratifying her own inclination in marrying the man of her choice? Now that it is fashionable to display all the wedding-gifts arranged in due form on tables, and labelled with the names of the donors, the seeming necessity of giving something expensive, or at least elegant, has become more onerous than ever. For instance, poor Miss Cassin can barely afford a simple brooch that costs about five dollars; but she strains the utmost capacity of her slender purse to buy one at ten dollars, that it may not disgrace the brilliant assemblage of jewellery that glitters on the bridal table of her wealthy friend Miss Denham. And after all, she finds that her modest little trinket looks really contemptible beside the diamond pin given by Mrs. Farley the millionaire. After all, she sees no one notice it, and hears no one say that it is even neat and pretty. To be sure, the bride, when it was sent with a note on the preceding day, did vouchsafe a polite answer. But then, if poor Miss C. does not make a wedding present to rich Miss D., it might be supposed that Miss C. cannot afford it. Neither she can. And her making the effort elicits- perhaps some satirical remarks, that would be very mortifying to Miss Cassin if she heard them.

    We repeat, that we cannot exactly perceive why, when the union of a couple of lovers, in many cases, adds to the happiness, honour, and glory of the married pair alone, their friends should think it a duty to levy on themselves these contributions; so often inconvenient to the givers, and not much cared for by the receivers.
    When the young couple are not abounding in what are called “the goods of this world,” the case is altered; and it may then be an act of real kindness for the opulent friends of the bride to present her with any handsome article of dress, or of furniture, that they think will be acceptable. What we contend is, that on a marriage in a wealthy family, the making of presents should be confined to the immediate relatives of the lady, and only to such of them as can well afford it.

    Much of the money wasted in making ostentatious gifts to brides whose fathers have already given them a splendid outfit, might be far better employed, in assisting to purchase the trousseaus and the furniture of deserving young women in humble life, on their marriage with respectable tradesmen or mechanics. How many ladies of fortune have it in their power to do this—yet how seldom it is done!

  4. La Petite Acadienne says:

    I think a major reason why the in-law dynamic is such a major issue in a marriage is that all too often, the married couple forgets that they are a team. How many times do we hear people complaining that their spouse does not stick up for them when the in-laws start being critical (or weird, or what have you.)? If the FIL is picking on the husband for not doing his own oil changes in his car, and the daughter/wife is just sitting there, being neutral (or joining in and teasing the husband as well), then that can really lead to a sense of betrayal — a feeling that this person you married is not on your side. It’s “Charlotte vs. Bunny” all over again.

    Whereas, I think that if the child of the problem in-laws sticks up for their spouse and presents a united front with them, then that goes a long way towards preventing issues.

  5. Becca says:

    Well my parents and my fiance’s are about to find out they are future in-laws so I am hoping they will be nice and it won’t be awkward!

    We are having a Christmas/Engagement announce party soon since my fiance proposed to me with a gorgeous diamond engagement ring from over Thanksgiving.

    My parents and his parents are coming plus close friends and I hope everybody will get along especially his folks! We need their blessings!

  6. Jenna Burne says:

    My mother in law is coming round for Xmas- terrifying. Does anyone have a bread sauce recipe?!!!

  7. Toni says:

    My husband and my (shy) father get along so famously that I (an only child) often feel put out that my dad gravitates towards him now at family get-togethers.

    In reality, though, I thank my lucky stars. His family has his quirks, and his stepfather can drone on forever, but they all live in the same town as us, but rarely get on my nerves. Plus, both our families get along really well.

  8. La BellaDonna says:

    I’m with La Petite: too many couples DO seem to forget that they’re a team, but the complaints I see most often seem to be the husband doesn’t stick up for his wife in the face of her MIL’s complaints and demands.

    Come to think of it, I DO have an In-Law question/complaint: what’s the most graceful way to handle it if you’re uncomfortable with an in-law who behaves inappropriately? And yes, I’m referring to the FIL mentioned. He hasn’t done anything, really, he just … makes me really aware that I’m not actually a relative of his. In a creepy, male/female kind of way. So far I just ignore, ignore, ignore, and pretend, pretend, pretend. But I’d like to know if I’m the only one with the problem.

  9. Anonymous b/c of internet-savvy in-laws says:

    LBD, my FIL is a jerk. He has to be the center of attention, all the time. When he’s not, he will jump in by correcting someone’s grammar or by saying something nasty about the person/subject of the conversation. I dreaded Thanksgiving — we had to spend a week there. I took xanax, but it didn’t work. Finally, I just started to ignore everything he said and carry on with what I was doing. It turned the whole thing into a (sort of) game for me — to see how long I could go without speaking to him or responding in any way. Fortunately, they live 1000 miles from us, so I don’t have to do this often.

    (He’s even worse when he’s been drinking, which is every evening. They visited us for a week and went through a gallon of whiskey in that time.)

    I have a friend whose FIL was creepy in the same way yours is. She finally started spending her visits with the in-laws out on the porch with a bunch of magazines.

    The only good thing about bad in-laws is that they don’t want to see you, anyhow — they just want the precious son. They’re going to bad-mouth you no matter what you do, so you might as well make yourself comfortable on that swing outside.

  10. Twistie: I love hearing about your brother, the alpaca rancher. What a shame that his MIL had to pull a stunt like that on the day of his wedding. It’s nice to hear that they made peace, though. Perhaps it will give some of the other commenters and their friends hope!

    La BellaDonna: I love it! When The Beard and I married, we talked it over and decided that we didn’t want to specifically ask for any gifts. We’d been living together for some time and were all set, thanks in his part to his mother sending us all manner of nice kitchen stuff. Some people “trade up” when they get married, but that’s not our style. When pressed, we’d suggest a donation in our names to the animal shelter where I volunteer. In the end, many people gave us gifts, but many others (particularly loved ones who have their own money woes and worries) did not, and that was fine by us!

    As far as creepy FILs go, ick! If I were in that situation, I’d likely ask The Beard to speak up on my behalf in a “It’s inappropriate for you to speak to my wife like that” sort of way. Failing that, I’d probably confront the FIL directly, telling him that it makes me uncomfortable, but I can also be dismayingly direct when dealing with creeps, and I’d probably end up making things even more uncomfortable for years to come. Then again, some people are clueless, and FIL may not even realize he’s being icky until told.

    La Petite Acadienne: I heartily agree! Blood family is important, but couples should not forget that they are now a family of two (or three or whatever). If you wouldn’t let someone on the street treat your spouse badly, why would you let a relative treat your spouse badly?

    Anon: YIKES. Thank goodness for that 1,000 miles!

  11. La BellaDonna says:

    The problem is, my brother LOVES his FIL. Our Dad died a long time ago, and I think one of my SIL’s many charms for my brother was her large family. I am NOT shy, and I’d be the first to speak up on someone else’s behalf. This is … subtle. The wrong look, a “hello” or “goodbye” hug that’s just a few seconds longer than it should be … It’s the kind of situation that can make it possible for you to doubt your own judgment; it’s not a grab-or-gab situation where the behaviour is there for anyone to see. It’s just … creepy.

    I’ll just smile and nod and stay on the other side of the room, I guess.