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Marriage – Parents and In-laws

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years! Mark Twain

Families are complex and some have caused untold heartache and pain that have rolled down to future generations, whilst others have seen that ripple effect bring joy and happiness to their future generations. We should never misunderstand the profound impact that wider family relationships can have on a marriage relationship.

Once again, there is much to say on the topic of parents and in-laws but I will focus on the changing nature of the relationship we have with our parents in order to help us understand how a marriage relationship fits in with our family of origin. We’ll also consider briefly how to leave behind parental control.

It can be helpful to understand a couple’s own relationship by looking at how their relationship with their parents changes as they get older.

When a child is born into a family they look to their parents for all their security, affection, encouragement and comfort. Their parents on the other hand make all the decisions and give the support needed. But it does not stay this way for all time.

As we grow in our families, we do not rely on our parents to make all the decisions concerning our life, nor do we get our only support from them. As young adults, whilst we might still involve them in our decisions and rely on them for support, the nature of the relationship has changed enormously since we were a young child. For many people, this even involves leaving our parents and becoming independent, thus taking responsibility from our parents almost completely. Sure we might have regular contact with them but by now, we can also recognise their need for appreciation, support, affection and encouragement from us.

And then we get married. When we decide to form a long term committed relationship with someone from the opposite sex, this changes our relationship with our parents (and in-laws) considerably. Importantly, our main loyalty changes. Now we give our spouse priority rather than remaining dependent on our parents. Now we need to look to each other for our affection, encouragement, comfort and security.

The Bible talks about two becoming one, of leaving our parents and cleaving to our spouse. Of course, this change of loyalty does not mean we cut ourselves off from our parents and in-laws, by the way, but that our priorities and primary loyalties change.

So how do we leave behind parental control? Here are four tips:

  • Recognise your first loyalty
  • Make your own decisions as a couple
  • Set boundaries if necessary
  • Put each other first

I know they sound simple and I know they are hard to do. But they are worthwhile. The Bible calls on us to honour our parents and in-laws but not to be controlled by them.

For a number of weeks I have been addressing issues to do with our marriages and considering how to build our marriage on strong foundations. If you want to know more, please feel free to speak to me.