when you marry a guy, you marry his family

Ever heard that line? If you’ve read Blushing Bride, you might remember it from p. 139 (but I’m pretty sure the author stole it from someone else). Believe me or no, it’s gospel truth. Well, I suppose there might be an exception. I have a delightful friend who once asked me, “Is it wrong to hope if I ever get married that my husband’s family is dead?”  I guess if your husband doesn’t have a family, then you won’t have to marry them. But as nice as that might sound to some of you, how sad is that??

So, in-laws. Wow. Talk about a loaded word. So much emotion packed into those six little letters and a hyphen. Let me start off by saying that my in-laws are wonderful. All of them. Mom-in-law, dad-in-law, 2 sisters-in-law and 3 brothers-in-law. I love them to bits. Oh, believe you me, there have been some rough patches with pretty nigh all of them, but we’ve worked through it, and these 7 people are some of my favorites on earth. Now, I’m just speculating here, but I’ll bet that a big chunk of you have an in-law relationship that’s a little less rosy. (Please, no hands!)

And old pal called me up a couple weeks ago for some in-law advice. I mean, I wrote some chapters on the topic (2 in Blushing, 1 in Diapers), so I must be an expert, right? But, wow, her situation was a tough one. I gave her what little advice I could and encouraged her to pray her ever-lovin’ brains out.

Now here I sit with a 2-inch stack of loose papers beside me on my desk. It’s a pile of typed-up stuff about in-laws–half-finished chapters, surveys from friends, scribbled ideas and outlines. What gives, you ask?

Here’s the deal (i totally over-use those three words): I already mentioned the 2 in-law chapters in Blushing. Then I wrote Is That All (no in-law chapters in the sex book–ha!) However, as I read through my anonymous surveys, more than a few gals mentioned in-laws as a huge roadblock to intimacy in their marriage beds. Say huh?!? So, I homed in on the topic, wrote up a proposal, and it got shot down at the publishing committee meeting. “Cute, appealing, yada-yada, but there’s just no market for in-law books.” It seems that Christian women want books on improving their marriages, their mothering, their spiritual growth and their homes. Getting along with their husbands’ families? Yeah, not so much.

So. There the book sits. From time to time, I’ll get comments or e-mails–“When ya gonna write that in-law book? I need it yesterday!” Well, now, I don’t know. Part of me thinks I just might try to resurrect it one of these days. Most of us could use such a book, if we’re honest. But how much of us are actually willing to invest blood, sweat and tears (and $12.99) into someone we don’t even like at the moment?

So, I thought about asking how many of you would read a book about in-laws. But even if I got 500 comments in the affirmative, 500 copies sold does not a “successful” book make. But I do have all kinds of too-good-to-waste stuff on the topic. And I’d love to share some snippets of it with you now and again (not too often–don’t despair, my fabulous single friends!). So, I just need to know which parts of my research/surveys/charming anecdotes you’d care to read.

Here are your options: 1.) What do you call your in-laws? (mom/dad, Mr./Mrs., nothing!) 2.) What kind of first impression did you make on your in-laws? 3.) What are the dynamics of your hubby’s relationship with his mama? 4.) Do you compare yourself to any of your sisters-in-law? 5.) Why is your husband’s family so odd? 6.) Do you find yourself dreading holidays?

Feel free to choose a question you’d most like me to address. Or share something in-law-related that’s on your mind. But please do exercise some caution. Let’s not have any rudeness or slander. And unbeknownst to you, your mother-in-law just might read my blog. This is the internet you know, not some private chat room.

If you have something to ask the teacher in private, you can always e-mail me. As long as you remember that I’m no therapist, and you take my advice at your own risk. And if you haven’t read Blushing, there’s a good chance your question might have been already answered there. I’ll even make you a deal--buy Blushing between now and Wednesday at noon, and I’ll throw in a second copy for free!

And I should probably apologize to the guys. I wrote this whole post as if I were talking to a woman. But you’re smart fellas. You can adapt, right?

Have a Delightful Day, friends!

27 thoughts on “when you marry a guy, you marry his family

  1. Becca @ the Stanley Clan

    In many, many ways, I am totally blessed with amazing in-laws, they are kind and sweet and love my daughter (who’s 5 months old). But in other ways, they drive me crazy – they’re “over-involved” and love to give advice . . . and want us to be over there ALL the time . . . and totally overstep bounds often.

    1- I call my in-laws Tom and Sheryl – but she wants me to call her mom – I’m just not there (yet – maybe one day) . . . and Jayci will call them grandma and grandpa
    2 – I dont really know – we started dating in high school so who knows?!
    3-dynamics of hubby’s relationship? His mom has always “taken care of” him by cleaning his room, doing his laundry etc — so i think he kind of expects me to do that too . . . but I’m not as good at it as she is!
    4- I do compare myself to my SIL – she is beautiful and popular and outgoing (all the things I always wanted to be) and I dont think she likes me all that much — at least she’s not really friendly towards me!
    6) Holidays have never been a huge issue, but it was definitely a lot harder now that we have a baby – everyone wanted to see her!!

    I hope you do write this book – it would be a great one! 🙂

  2. Mavis Davis

    I would like you to address ALL THE QUESTIONS! and for the record, I would so buy a book you wrote on IN-Laws! its so great! The best advice we received in counseling was that my husband realized that he can’t choose between his family and me/ours. Its us not them…

    As to your questions/options:
    1.) What do you call your in-laws? MOM AND DAD

    2.) What kind of first impression did you make on your in-laws? Not sure, we were good friends first and then married…

    3.) What are the dynamics of your hubby’s relationship with his mama? Not enough room to comment

    4.) Do you compare yourself to any of your sisters-in-law? Not enough room to answer! I could write a lot on this!

    5.) Why is your husband’s family so odd?

    6.) Do you find yourself dreading holidays?

  3. okie mom

    *waving hands franticly* oh I would so buy a book on this. I get along fine with them, and call all of them by first names….but the reason I get along ok with them is because we can be plenty detached.
    no comparison to SILs, one still a child the other is total meth addict….
    why are they so odd?? dont get it at all husbands grandmothers are insanely normal….
    his mother is cold and stand offish and his step mom is more normal but he was raised by his grandma because both of his parents dropped the ball….
    he is closer to his dad, but views most of their parenting styles as what not to do(thankfully)
    but his extended family gives Jerry Springer ideas for shows….
    I have no reason to dread holidays, his family does not celebrate christmas so they dont care what we do….we share thanksgiving w/ them and they babysit for me for Black friday and we share christmas with my family…
    has worked out wonderfully so far in the nearly 10 years we are together….
    it also helps that we are 5 1/2 hours from nearest family, we can pick and choose what we do and when.

  4. Rebecca Ware

    What do you call your in-laws?
    When my husband and i first started dating, I called her Mrs. Ware, but she requested from the start that I call her Marilyn. It was really hard for me at first b/c I’ve known her most of my life and had always called her “Mrs. Ware”, but now I don’t even think twice.

    What are the dynamics of your hubby’s relationship with his mama?
    MY husband is a bit closer to his dad but still has a really good relationship with his mom. My husband has good “boundaries” though and will leave if he feels like she is trying to control him.

  5. Stephanie

    Dreading holidays: I’m trying not to develop a bitterness toward Thanksgiving, but it’s moving in that direction every year. Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays growing up – so much fun! and so much good food! – but now that we moved away, Thanksgiving is an in-law holiday. And probably always will be. I don’t like the food, not many people are there, we fall asleep on the couch watching the dog show on tv, and it doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving at all. Bleh. It’s harder to want to divide holiday time (especially Christmas) evenly when I see my in-laws way more often than I see my own family (1 hr away as opposed to 9 hrs away).

    Oddness: There are so many stark differences between my in-laws and my own family. They do NOT like opinionated people (I keep my mouth shut), my family all shares their opinions in debates/ discussions. They drink, we don’t. They LOVE dogs, we don’t. They have some frustratingly unsupported theological beliefs that I and my family (and thankfully, my husband) don’t share. They like things formal and proper, we are paper plate using/barefoot in the grass/sit-on-the-floor kind of people. I could go on.

    Sister-in-law comparisons: I compared myself to my hubby’s sister a lot when we were dating, but after I finally came out and told him the reasons I was worried he wished I was more like her and not like me, he told me I was crazy and that he didn’t want to marry his sister. And it’s been fine ever since then.

    I absolutely LOVE talking about this stuff. There’s so much more I could say. 🙂

  6. Carrie

    I have a GREAT relationship with my MIL- in fact, I should go call her, it’s been a couple days. 🙂 Anyway…questions 3 and 4 sound interesting to me, but I’d love to read whatever you have. 🙂

  7. Rachel

    My main issues with MIL were during the wedding planning season (basically having to referee between my mom and MIL) and then again at the birth of my first child. I will say that reading your books helped tremendously in the second area (even if it was just 3 chapters).

    Your Questions:
    1.) What do you call your in-laws? by their 1st names

    2.) What kind of first impression did you make on your in-laws? MIL and FIL liked me, however SIL was another story. However, we were both young – so I think a lot of that was lack of maturity.

    3.) What are the dynamics of your hubby’s relationship with his mama?
    He loves her, and tries to accomodate her desires. While she is more of a “this is how you should do it” type communicator, he generally takes it as a suggestion – and not the way it has to be done.

    4.) Do you compare yourself to any of your sisters-in-law? We are so different, so no.

    5.) Why is your husband’s family so odd?
    I wouldn’t say odd, just different. They aren’t big talkers, my family is. They are big planners, my family is not. They have big family get togethers (with extended family) regularly, my family does not. Foods, entertainment preferences, etc…..its just different. Not bad, just different.

    6.) Do you find yourself dreading holidays?
    We set up a schedule for Thanksgiving and Christmas in October (usually its the opposite of what we did the year before). We usually switch Easter and Mother’s day as well, and then the other holidays are kindof up to us where we want to spend them.

    I have grown to love the fact that we live about 2 miles from each of our parents. Now with 2 kids we love it! Free babysitting, and the kids get to know their grandparents very well.

  8. Stephanie

    I wouldn’t pick up a copy of the book because I am blessed with incredible in-laws. In fact, I count them as some of my favorite people! My MIL is a patient, flexible, positive, always-helpful person that I look up to immensely. My FIL is fantastic too. And my SIL is one of my best friends! I know that may be the “exception,” but I thought I’d point out that sometimes in-law relationships are wonderful.

  9. Cydney

    I love my MIL and we have a great relationship. My FIL and BIL are both deceased. We (me and my husband) both have issues with the cousins from the extended family which makes holidays trying. I will stop here just in case some of them are reading.

  10. Sandi

    I’m really proud of a son (Wes) who has wisely set parameters for his extended family to protect his nuclear family! I would add that, as mothers of sons, we must be very intentional about raising sons to become MEN – independent, self-sufficient, able to make decisions – long before they leave the nest. The objectives for raising godly men are very different than our orientation as having been raised as daughters.

    All that being said, I wish a million times that I could go back and correct problems that I had with my own mother-in-law, who has been gone for about seven years. We worked hard to come to a loving relationship (which we enjoyed), but I could have done more. I really believe that mothers-in-law of daughters-in-law universally want to get our relationships right. I believe that Stormie Omartian is the author of a wonderful book, “The Mother-in-Law Dance”, written for this very relationship. It’s so helpful – my copy is in circulation to other m-i-l friends, all of whom feel that they want to be better as m-i-l’s. I wish I could say that I’m good at it, but I can’t, not yet. But I want to be. 🙂

  11. Jennifer

    Oops. Should have proofread that! “And the women who marry these men?” should have been followed with something to the effect of how they probably could have picked up on this long before marriage, since a man’s dependence on his mother could probably been seen in lots of areas.

    That is all. 😀

  12. Jennifer

    I totally agree with the magazine article suggestion. “Today’s Christian Woman” is another magazine that you might look at.

    #3 is the big one, I think. Wes is an only child, so I thought that there would be big issues with his mother letting go and letting him be his own man. But he was his own man long before he met me, and they dealt with all of that leaving business before I even came into the picture. I think the crucial thing in the mommy/son dynamic is that the son needs to set the standard for how he and his mother will interact and relate to one another as adults. Some men just never deal with this or never grow up enough to be independent adults, so it’s no wonder that their mothers continue to treat them like little boys. And the women who marry these men?

    Anyway, that’s my two cents on that. 😀 Maybe I feel this way because I now understand how irrationally we can love/obsess over our children, but the grown child has to have an active role in “leaving and cleaving.” I think a son’s unwillingness to fully do so in a loving way is the root of a whole lot of MIL problems.

  13. Claire

    Really great timing with this one! My in-laws (FIL and Step-mom-in-law) are coming to visit on Saturday. I am excited to see them, but let me just point out that they are staying for TEN DAYS in our ONE BED/ONE BATH apartment. And I am breastfeeding, which can just add on a whole new stress level when I am whipping out my tatas every three hours… then days?? god grant me patience. Anyways, Sarah M., let me just say that I can TOTALLY relate. I, too, have been married for 15 months and I, too, look forward less and less to each holiday season. I am trying to convince my hubby that we should just stay at home alone on Christmas Day/Eve. To which he replies, “so you want to ignore our families at Christmas time?” NOT WHAT I SAID. By all means, let’s have a get-together, but let’s spread them out and let’s just do them for an afternoon, not for a week. After all, with his parents being divorced, we end up having about a dozen ‘Christmasses’ and Heaven help us if we miss one! Plus, there are many smokers on his side of the family and now that I have a baby I am especially sensitive to keeping my child away from that. I don’t want the smell of cigarettes to remind him of his Grandpa….. anyways, get-togethers can just end up being more of a stress than an enjoyable time and while my in-laws are all truly wonderful people, they need to understand that if we do miss out on something, we do indeed still love them! Whew! Thanks for letting me vent!

  14. Angela

    I grew up in a home with a fairly “hands-off” parenting approach – wherein we, as the children, made most of our own choices and informed our parents what they were – we were given much responsibility and trusted to make wise decisions – and, for the most part, we did just that.

    My husband, however, grew up with very “hands-on” parents – the kind who gently nudged their children in the directions to go. They were not given much responsibility that I am aware of and were basically coddled their whole lives.

    The problem comes in that my husband has had to work very hard at learning to make his own decisions so he can better be a leader in our home, and even when he does, we seem to have some voices in the background constantly telling us to reconsider or advising us how they would do things.

    This bothers me more than my dear husband because he has grown up with this parenting technique. I need to learn how to reconcile the two parenting styles so I take less offense at the invasive tactics of some without screaming for space.

  15. Megan@SortaCrunchy

    Another perspective you might consider is if the wife’s family is the difficult one. My husband’s family is loving and supportive, while my family tends towards dysfunction (to put it mildly). I often feel bad for my husband having to deal with the issues that come from my side . . . I’ve apologized countless times to him for my family’s craziness. He is gracious and loving and has helped me to set some important boundaries in dealing wtih them.

    So that might be a discussion worth taking up . . .

  16. Gail

    You know, if this isn’t “successful book” material, I bet, sure as anything, it is successful magazine article material. Have you considered Christian living publications, like “HomeLife”? Just throwing that out there.

    Also, I’m twisted, and I’d love for you to share what you know about question #5. It would help me not feel alone. 🙂

  17. Kelley

    Hahahaha! What an awesome post and I DO think you should write that book ASAP.
    I call my mother-in-law “MIL” – it kind of started as a joke, but it has stuck. My husband’s relationship with his father is non-existent, so we don’t call him anything. I believe that I made a good first impression on my MIL; however, our relationship has gone through some very strained times…my husband is very much a mama’s boy and my favorite saying about THAT situation is that my MIL believe my husband hung the moon and farted out the stars. Yup, just said it. I have learned that MIL is NOT my bff and I should keep all negative thoughts far far away from her!
    I don’t really compare myself to my sister-in-law because we are polar opposites. We are friends, though, despite the odds!
    My husband’s family is very, um, countrified. At first, I thought it would be okay for me to change MYSELF to fit in, but I am not countrified (and neither is my hubby). At this point, I just roll my eyes and go with it. And yeah, Christmas can be awkward. Isn’t that normal?

  18. Rachel

    I’m interested in 3 and 4. I think I do wish my relationship with my husbands family was different (and I know he wishes HIS relationship with them was different as well).

  19. Holly V.

    *What do you call your in-laws?
    I call my MIL by her first name, this is what she requested.

    *What are the dynamics of your hubby’s relationship with his mama?
    Strained. He and his sister were both adopted. My MIL is not a believer and lived her whole life for her children. The expectation when they were grown is that they owed their life to her and needed for her. Obviously, this has created some friction and strain.

    * Do you compare yourself to any of your sisters-in-law? No.

    * Do you find yourself dreading holidays?
    More so every holiday. Unfortunately, my MIL will not bend….at all.

    * Do I wish my relationship with my in-laws was different?
    Yes. One of my greatest disappointments is that the relationship is not a good one.

  20. Joyce

    I have a great relationship with my inlaws, especially my mil. The first time they met me my fil told my now husband that I was the girl my now hubby would marry(he was dating someone else at the time).

    I like the topic as I think its a tricky road to walk, particularly for the mil’s out there. Throughout my married life I’ve tried to file away some of the things I really appreciate about my mil (and yes, true confession, some of the things I don’t appreciate so much too) so that when I’m a mil myself I can aim for some of the good stuff and avoid some of the not so good.

    My mil loves life and is 100% supportive (outwardly anyway) of anything we want to try. I honestly think if we said we were signed up for the next shuttle to the moon she’d say, ‘Fantastic, go for it!’ I adore my own mother and we have a very close relationship but she’s a worrier and a bit more of the glass half empty kind of gal so in that same scenario she’d tend to point out why it’s dangerous, how far from family we’d be, etc. etc. We live overseas and while it’s not the moon there are certain similarities to that picture. I really admire the way my mil embraces life.

    I call my inlaws by their first names-I’m sure they’d be fine with me calling them mom and dad but I didn’t start out that way so it’s always been first names.

    Hubby’s dynamic with his mama- hubby is first born of 4 and he is king : ) His mama would walk across broken glass to keep him from getting even a teensy bit upset about anything. His family is close and while we live a long distance from his parents we see them as often as possible, spend many holidays with them, and my hubby phones about once a week and also whenever something comes to mind he wants to mention to them…like he’ll hear a song on the radio that his dad loves so he’ll call and tell them he just heard the song. I love that about my hubby.

    sister in laws- not envious and I don’t compare, our kids are not the same ages (one has toddlers, one middles, and I have young adults) so I think that helps. Like I said before though, the fact that my mil always looks for the good in everything helps enormously. She never speaks negatively about one of us to the other and I’m sure this contributes to the good feelings we have for one another.

    why are they odd? Hmm…nothing really huge leaps out but they do have some quirky behaviors which annoyed me much more when I was a newly married. As I’ve gotten older I’m less critical and forgive more easily. I think when I first married I tended to analyze, personalize and weigh my inlaws every word and action. Growing in my own relationship with the Lord has been key.

    Do I dread holidays? Not actually being with extended family, just the rigamarole that comes with the travel, the crowded house, living out of a suitcase, etc. etc. My hubby’s family has holiday traditions very similar to my own families so that makes it nice for me. I also remember the first Christmas I spent with hubby’s family, away from my own-very hard for me-and my mil tried so hard to find out how she could make me feel like I was ‘home’ She added a few dishes to her normal meal that my mom would have been cooking and the whole family got up at the crack of dawn and stayed in their jammies to open presents like at my house. I probably didn’t appreciate these gesturess as much at the time but with age appreciation grows.

    As I look back at my answers I can see that my mil has put a lot of effort into us having a good relationship. I think when I married I had the attitude that hey, I’m a nice person and her son loves me so she should do all the compromising and adjusting of expectations. It really has taken both of us giving a little to meet at a good place in the middle.

    Would I buy a book on this topic? Perhaps…I’m a book junkie : ) The topic is interesting to me though on another level as I have an 18 and a 20 year old daughter and we have lots of conversations about ‘what you are getting when you marry’ I’ll be interested to read what you have to share.

    Cheers, Joyce

  21. Carrie

    Lets just get it right out there … my mother-in-law lives with us and my sister in law lives 30 yards from us! While I am at it you should know that my sister and my 5 year old niece live with us too! We live on the 30 acre farm my husband was raised on. My MIL has an apartment in our home.. (our home is really large because we added onto the old farmhouse) I never ger away from family – mine or his-
    My MIL is a wonderful woman and in the beginning it was hard to always have her “right there”. Over the years I have come to appreciate our deepening relationship. She stays out of my marriage and is extremely helpful with my children. The thing that makes my husbands family so odd would be their very patriarchal old fashion way of living (women and children inside cooking, men outside working) This used to send me into rages! My first impression wasn’t good because I was rebelling against this unacceptable way of living (in my opinion) As some of the older generation is dying and the younger generation (us) are making the extended family decisions – things are changing. It was a point my husband and I struggled with for many years in our marriage. Dont get me wrong – I am not “WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR” but I am not from the June Cleaver generation either! We have 4 boys, we both work and it is non-negoitable that my husband is going to help – even with some of the more domestic responsibilities.
    I could go on and on because as I said earlier – family is always around! God calls us to serve and sometimes it is a real challenge serving your family! But they love deeply and unconditionally!

  22. Conny

    After 16 years of marriage, I still don’t know what to call my inlaws….weird, huh? They’ve never outright said.
    I am jealous of my MIL – she is “perfect” and my total opposite. My hubby told me, “When I married you, I thought I was getting my mother; and I found out I got my father.” (ie I’m not Little-Miss-Sunshine like his mom; I’m more of a skeptical, sarcastic non-trusting individual like his dad)…..wow. I’m ok with that – cause it’s true…
    Don’t compare myself to my SILs at all…they’ve all done enough stupid things that I look good comparatively. 😉
    My husband’s family is “odd” because they have totally different problems than I am used to from my own “odd” family.
    And lastly, do I dread holidays…..SOMETIMES. Just the little things – like my MIL has not made a TURKEY for any Tgiving I’ve ever spent with them. I’ve had pork roast & this year STEAK (??) – but no turkey. What’s up with that!?
    Ok, all that said, I can’t say I’d read/buy an inlaw book – but I’m blessed. For all I’ve said, I have a good “outward” relationsihp w/ my inlaws and don’t see them often enough to have to make an effort to improve it. But may God lead you in the right direction!! 🙂

  23. Sarah McGalliard

    Hey – i’ve been reading for a while, and just ordered your books–thought i’d speak up a little… ive only been married for 15 months, but i’ve definitely already encountered some in-law awkwardness!

    * What do you call your in-laws? I refer to them as “Nana” and “Papa” – it’s what the kids (we have 6 nieces & nephews) call them! Other than that – it’s kind of awkward…so i just avoid using a name.

    *What are the dynamics of your hubby’s relationship with his mama? he is the baby & only boy, needless to say he is her baby boy. ha. he is very inclined to take up for her when his sisters are fighting with her or if she has had a fight with his dad she comes to him for comfort. so sweet.

    * Do you compare yourself to any of your sisters-in-law? Sometimes, in weird ways. I watch how they parent and vow to myself never to do certain things….

    * Do you find yourself dreading holidays? more so every holiday. my sister-in-law’s husband is incredibly immature, there are always VERY inappropriate/offensive comments, the kids are disciplined and run around like animals, 3 of the family members smoke, the language is foul, and it is exhausting.

    whew…. i guess i needed to get that off of my chest? i am very much looking forward to your books and i would most definitely read an in-law book!!

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