The best way to deal with in laws and marriage is to keep in-laws out by establishing limits for their involvement. A spouses parents play an important role in marriage, but that role should never supersede that of the husband or wife. Many couples make a mistake by inviting mom or dad into areas of the marital relationship that are off limits. When a man or woman marries, they are admonished to leave, then cleave. Leaving parents after marriage does not mean severing emotional or physical ties; but forfeiting the former parent/child relationship to build an intimate, cohesive union between spouses that should not be disrupted by outside influences, even in-laws. "... the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:22-24).
Couples that struggle with allegiances between in laws and marriage may find themselves facing separation or divorce. "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one,... love the other; or else he will hold to the one, ... despise the other" (Matthew 6:24a). Just as no man can serve two masters neither can he serve two mothers or wives. To make marriage work, husbands with domineering mothers need to clearly differentiate and delineate boundaries that mom cannot cross. If Danny's mom is still doing his laundry after he has been married for two or three years, it is time for her to bow out. Similarly, if Karen insists on asking Dad for money for something Danny cant afford, she should seriously consider whether she really wants to be a wife or a Daddy's girl!
If couples are not able to establish boundaries between in laws and marriage, there is bound to be trouble. Being mature enough to keep parents, siblings, friends, ex-lovers, ex-spouses, cousins and coworkers out of the marriage will determine how long the relationship will last. The respective roles of in laws and marriage must be clarified. Marriage, by nature, necessitates parents play a secondary role. Visits to the newlyweds home should be prearranged. Mothers are no longer the chief cook and bottle washer. The responsibility of nurturing or caring for the husband should be relegated solely to his wife. Fathers should relinquish the responsibility to be a provider for their daughters, as the husband takes over the position as head of household, even if the house is a one-room cold-water flat! Married children should be determined to lovingly help parents transition into new roles that separate in laws and marriage. Gradually weaning them away from old habits that fostered dependency makes the transition easier.
Patterns of behavior initially started with newlyweds will set the tone for an equitable division for in laws and marriages for decades to come. If a new wife continues to depend on her father to come around the house to do small repairs, dad will begin to establish a pattern of behavior that might be offensive to the new husband. Men who are not handy about making repairs still like to think that the home is their castle. No husband wants to share that castle with a father-in-law. No wife wants to share the chief position as queen of the castle with a mother-in-law. But how are patterns of behavior broken? They must be broken gently. If mom insists on doing her married sons laundry, it is the sons responsibility to suggest she no longer do the laundry but allow his new wife to take over those chores. If cutting grass at the newlyweds house makes dad feel needed, then his daughter should gently and lovingly suggest that the new husband handle maintaining the lawn. Gradually introducing parents to new lifestyle changes facilitated by marriage will pay off big dividends in the long run.
Breaking long term habits of dependency can be difficult, but wise spouses can make the transition smoother by communicating concerns when in laws and marriage conflict. Let mother know that both spouses appreciate the willingness to help out with chores around the house, but that the situation has changed now that the couple is married. A wife might suggest that her husbands mother share family recipes the son enjoys, or invite the mother-in-law over for to give personal tips on cooking. By including in-laws, parents feel less threatened when lifestyle changes have to be made because of holy wedlock. Husbands can suggest to father-in-laws that the two of them enjoy a weekend fishing or camping out. Inviting Dad over to watch a ball game or asking for help in repairing a broken railing will make a father-in-law feel wanted.
Dealing with in laws and marriage should become easier as the years go by. As grandchildren are born, parents of both the husband and wife will lose focus on the children. By establishing boundaries early in the marriage or keeping the lines of communication open, parents will welcome the patter of tiny feet respecting the parameters that have already been set. But, couples should bear in mind that parents are gifts from God; they will not always be around. By entreating parents with the ultimate kindness, the entire family can coexist in peace, the perfect foundation in which to bring a child.