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• by Rebecca Long Pyper •

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In-law relationships

Why it’s important to keep them healthy and how to improve yours


•   By Rebecca Long Pyper   •

Parents are called upon to chase monsters from under the bed, to evaluate the seriousness of injuries and to teach tolerance for those different from us. We are a reasonable bunch, aren’t we? And mature too.


But sometimes that maturity comes to a screeching, eye-rolling halt when we deal with in-laws. 


For the sake of marriages, however, partners ought to strive to form relationships — healthy and hopefully even happy ones — with the parents of spouses. “Life can be very difficult, throwing us challenges we don't expect. A healthy, supportive relationship with in-laws can be crucial during trying times,” said Dr. Renee Bozorg-omid, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in couple and family counseling. “It also sets an example for our children, who listen to every word we speak and (see) every roll of the eyes.”


There is a reason for all this difficulty between in-laws: Each marriage partner was raised by different parents in a unique family culture — that means distinct traditions, communication of emotions and values systems.


“In-law relations are very complex to start just because you are blending two different cultures together. The cultures are not clearly defined, so that creates anxiety and fear of being judged,” Bozorg-omid said.


And it’s complex from the start for everybody. Bozorg-omid points out that Partner One and Partner Two and all the in-laws head into the first meeting with a cocktail of emotions — anxiety, the fear of being judged and the desire for approval. Then there’s the uncertainty factor about how this family does things and a dash of competition — because who doesn’t want to be the favorite? — for all parties involved. “No wonder it's so hard!” she said. “The meeting requires our best ability to interpret what is going on, communicate well and just be ourselves at a time we are likely to be least able to pull it off.”


That doesn’t mean, however, the connection between in-laws is doomed forever. For those with relationships that are lacking, it’s a good idea to take an introspective look first. “Most often, when we have relationship problems we identify where the problem lies in the other person, right? So-and-so is such-and-such,” Bozorg-omid said. “Identify what your role is in the problem. Are you envious of someone? Have you not listened well or acknowledged what is important in this little family culture? Take out a mirror, gaze into it with mercy for yourself, look deeply into yourself and how you are contributing to the conflict.”


And Bozorg-omid’s No. 1 tip for parents- and kids-in-law alike? “Really listen. Use all of your senses to understand them. We all want to be acknowledged for who we are, and when someone pays attention without judging or competing, it's really pretty easy to get along,” she said.

Story and background photo by Rebecca Long Pyper.