“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 (NIV)
No doubt certain biblical characters had their share of in-law issues…in fact several come to mind immediately (‘I know I said you could marry this daughter, but, well….fooled you!’) But I don’t think God intended for relationships with in-laws to be complicated. This verse seems to speak clearly on the subject of marriage: ‘Find someone you like, marry that person, and have sex.’ I wonder if this verse doesn’t also speak against the tangled family relationships that are so common in today’s world.
When I think of problems with in-laws for anyone (myself included) it appears that the only way a problem exists is if it is allowed to exist by either member of a married couple. If a husband won’t stand up to his mother’s comments about his wife, a problem exists. If a wife humors her sister’s nagging of her husband’s habits, a problem exists. In both examples it is as if both husband and wife have decided not to leave ‘father and mother’, that the role of spouse is considered secondary to the role of son or daughter, brother or sister. We hold on to old relationships while also trying to nurture the new relationship of the marriage.
In my mind a perfect marriage involves the complete combining and commingling of two individuals to become one complete Person. In a perfect world this Person acts and behaves always as one, in unison, with regard to all other relationships. Furthermore, the relationship of the two individuals comprising the Person is more important than all other previously existing relationships.
I am not saying we should not have other relationships, or that friendships outside the relationship aren’t healthy (see Part 2 of this series). What I am saying is that our marriage relationships comes first, and if someone outside the marriage threatens one individual in the relationship that person is really threatening both members of the marriage.
Let me change gears for a minute…Have you ever worked for more than one boss? Most people don’t have more than one person they directly report to at work because any other situation creates a lot of confusion. Things are no different in marriage; the only person you should be ‘reporting to’ in your marriage is your spouse. Not your parents, not your siblings, no-one other than your spouse.
What is much more common in the workplace are ‘dotted-line’ reporting relationships. I might directly report to a Director of Finance who has the power to hire and fire me. But I might also work closely with the Chief Sales Officer of the company who has indirect authority to ask me to complete assignments for him on a regular basis. I work with/for both people, but the person I’m most concerned about is the direct line of authority, the Director of Finance in this example. The Chief Sales Officer needs to understand that relationship and work within its boundaries.
My wife and I are working hard even now to establish healthy boundaries with our in-laws. One boundary we have established is that I am no longer allowed to use my wife an intermediary between myself and her family. If I have a problem with someone, I have to tell them myself. By the same token, my wife is learning to refuse to engage with her family on their problems with me. Instead she encourages them to talk to me directly.
What kinds of boundary issues do you have with your in-laws?