My wife’s mother and I don’t get along. Frankly, I don’t like her. She meddles in our affairs, has poor boundaries, and is toxic to our marriage. Yet, my wife won’t take sides. I’m not sure what to do. Any suggestions?

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You’re speaking for a lot of people when you share this concern. The reality is, when we marry, we marry into an existing family. We marry a person who has a long, rich history with their family and who, in most cases, remains connected to them. Yet, in spite of that long history with our family of origin, we marry because we’re ready to leave our parents and siblings and enter a new world — a world comprised of our spouse and the children we may create with them. This becomes our primary family.

For some, this “leaving and cleaving,” as Scripture calls it, is without complications. For others, “leaving and cleaving” is fraught with difficulty. So how does a spouse balance loyalty to their mate with maintaining a close connection to their family of origin? What do we do when our mate wants us to choose sides when there’s family tension?

Here are some ideas to consider:

Create a united front. The Scripture regarding “leaving and cleaving” is there for a reason (Genesis 2:23). It’s critical that you and your mate get on the same page. You need to present a united front to your wife’s family and yours. As difficult as this may be, push yourselves to come together, each giving whatever ground is necessary to do so.

Communicate with each other. Your situation calls for deep, intimate, non-defensive communication. Listen to each other, using healthy communication skills to discuss the situation. The use of nonviolent or unprovocative language, of course, will help your situation. This is no time to make anyone the villian.

Clarify the changes you need. Be solution-focused. Ask your mate for what you want to see happen. Show respect for your in-laws, specifically your mother-in-law, while specifying in positive terms what you’d like to see changed.

Encourage extended family collaboration. Get your wife out of the middle and set up family communication. Speak to each other clearly, calmly, and compassionately. Discuss the real issues from a mindset that seeks win-win solutions. This is no time to camp on one side being “right” and the other side being “wrong.”

Coordinate healthy boundaries. Good fences make good neighbors. Ensure your first priority is to maintain the health of your marriage. Then, attend to being at peace with your in-laws, even if you don’t like them. They are part of your family for the duration, and you must find ways to allow them into your lives, albeit at an appropriate distance. Discuss with your wife specific ways to minimize problems while maximizing the opportunities to enjoy their company.

Concentrate on your marriage. While this obviously means you must keep your marriage healthy, it also means you must acknowledge that your wife has an extended family. Don’t ask her to take sides or to stop seeing her family. Focus on solutions, finding ways to live in harmony.

In summary, we are called to live in peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). We are not given the option to pick and choose with whom we’ll live in peace. Scripture tells us to be at peace with everyone — even a mother-in-law. So, choose peace. Give up ground. Seek solutions. Find family harmony.

If you would like more information on relationships, as well as setting boundaries, I’d like to hear your thoughts and welcome reactions. Contact me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com. I encourage you to read about our programs at www.marriagerecoverycenter.com.


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