Tips for Trouble

Navigating Your In-Laws

March 18, 2014
Words by Dr. Deanna Brann
Photos courtesy of Christian Lange Photography

You’ve  committed to your future wife or husband, but what about their parents? We’ve all been there – a difficult mother with no boundaries, or a protective father who has trouble letting go. To help you navigate your future, and wedding planning, with your soon-to-be spouse’s parents, we’ve got some tips from an expert in the field. The tips below are written for bride to mother-in-law relationships, but no doubt these pointers can help with any in-law, spouse scenario! So, read on, take it to heart and remember that when you say “I do,” you’re not only marrying the man or woman of your dreams, but also their family. For better or for worse, right?

Tips while planning the wedding:

  1. Decide what you will call her.  Figuring out what you are comfortable calling your future mother-in-law may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s a really big deal to her. Talk with her about your decision so she can get used to it before the wedding.
  1. Give her a piece of the action. Let her be part of the preparations – as well as the wedding itself. Whether you assign her minor or major duties, suggest something she can feel good about.
  1. Ask her for input. Yes, this is your big day, but remember – her son is getting married! You don’t have to let her make the most critical decisions, but soliciting an opinion or two is a gracious gesture.
  1. Let her join in the fun. If you’re planning fun activities with your mother and the bridesmaids, invite your future mother-in-law to come along. You don’t have to do it every time, but extending a few invitations assures her that you want her to be a part of your new life with her son.
  2. Share with her. Keep her updated on the wedding plans and share some of the stories with her. Many mothers-in-law feel as though the wedding is happening around them, and they are just passive observers instead of key players. Help her to have some special memories she can share with her friends, too.

Tips for creating a good relationship with your mother-in-law:

  1. Decide what you want this new relationship with your mother-in-law to look like. Try to visualize what you want in as much detail as possible. Do you see yourself going to lunch with her sometimes? Chatting on the phone once a week? Asking her opinion about things? Defining exactly what you want will put you in a much better situation to create it. (Don’t worry – you can always adjust the picture, but start with something.)
  1. Slowly build your own relationship with your mother-in-law. Let your husband have his own relationship with his mother – forge a relationship with this woman that is separate from his. Get to know her as an individual, not just as your husband’s mom, so you can start to see her as more than just a mother figure. After all, you’re more than a wife and a daughter-in-law, aren’t you?
  1. Be proactive. Remember that your mother-in-law is probably struggling to define her new role in your husband’s life. She wants to remain a part of things, but chances are she doesn’t yet know the best way to make that happen. Help her out by taking the first steps toward defining this relationship. This will also show her that you do want her to be a part of your new life together, and that will undoubtedly allow her to relax a little, easing much initial tension and awkwardness.
  1. Determine what you can do to make this transition easier for both of you. Take the steps you would want someone to take with you, and do it with compassion and respect. She’s as uncertain as you are, so she’ll probably welcome your lead. If tensions start to pop up, think about how you’d want your own future daughter-in-law to handle the same sort of situation if it were to come up with you (some day way in the future, of course!).
Deanna Brann, Ph.D., is a leading expert in the field of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships. She has over 25 years experience as a clinical psychotherapist and ran her own private practice for more than 18 years. Based in Knoxville, TN, Dr. Brann is a sought after speaker, author and seminar leader. She is the two time author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets To Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law and Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law Say the Darndest Things.

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