Make this relationship a peaceful, loving one.

By Blythe Copeland
February 14, 2020
Archive Photos/Stringer

Even the best in-law relationship has its ups and downs, but that's nothing new: Conflicts between children and their parents are timeless, and having another person step into a parental role in your life will always come with its share of tricky moments. But whether you disagree about money, holiday plans, or parenting, you're not the first—or last—person to work through these topics with your in-laws. "Extending the family, while it's meant to be joyful, can sometimes come with many challenges because, simply put: Families operate differently," says marriage and family therapist Jennifer Uhrlass. "This is a time that requires a significant amount of communication and checking in on an ongoing basis until you get the hang of things with each other."

The most common hot-button issues probably won't come as much of a surprise to anyone with in-laws (or any other type of relative): How a couple spends their money, differing political views, how the grandchildren are being raised, and how a couple splits the time they spend with each side of the family, "are some of the most common areas of struggle," says Uhrlass, "and perhaps that's because it requires such strong communication skills to be able to navigate these areas well." (If you think about it, these are probably some of the same issues that you're most likely to argue about with your own parents, your partner, or your Facebook friends.)

You can certainly choose to just take these topics off the table entirely and keep your conversations focused on areas that don't cause as much division in your family—try sports, travel, work, or movies—but that won't solve the underlying issues. If you prefer to have successful, constructive conversations about the bigger issues, says Uhrlass, you need start with yourself. "In terms of these issues, partners need to take the time to explore their individual values and then learn how to best communicate them with each other and with others."

Another way to handle conflict, says Uhrlass, is to "take a curious stance instead of a combative one." Start by looking at your partner's relationship with their parent. "Building up a deeper understanding of their relationship dynamics might help you to view the situation with more empathy and create a more constructive environment moving forward," she says. "If there are specific issues that you seem to clash on with a parent…it might mean that you want to create some gentle yet firm boundaries to help you stick to your own values." This could mean trading an early bedtime for your child on this visit with a longer visit later, or accommodating your in-laws at the big family holiday breakfast in exchange for a quiet dinner with just the two of you on New Year's Eve.

Remember to keep your in-law ups and downs in perspective: "You don't have to feel about them the way you feel about your partner—in fact, why would you? It wasn't them that you chose, it was your partner," says Uhrlass. "Try to focus on the parts that are going well and bring you joy with your extended family."


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