Having In-Laws Without Becoming Out-Laws

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One of my favorite TV shows is Everybody Loves Raymond. When I’m flipping through the TV channels, I will always stop and watch it if it’s on, even though I have all of the seasons on DVD. I love the variety of familial relationships portrayed in the show. You have the husband and wife relationship between Ray and his wife, Debra. There’s the brother relationship between Ray and his brother, Robert. The parent/child relationship is hilariously portrayed between Ray/Robert and their parents, Frank and Marie.

However, I believe the relationship that drives the show is between Ray’s wife, Debra, and his mother, Marie. Much of the show’s current appeal, now 13 years after ending production of ‘first run’ episodes, comes out of that relationship.  

As funny as their relational conflicts can be, many people can relate because they deal with issues in their own lives when it comes to in-laws. Only in real life, it’s not quite so funny. As a matter of fact, it can be very stressful and cause great tension and havoc in families.

So how do we deal with the ever present and sometimes contentious issue of in-laws?

First, as Christ followers, we owe our in-laws behavior that is consistently Christ-like in nature, as we would any other human being. This is not to ignore any difficult issues that may be present in the relationship such as, control and manipulation, emotional or mental dysfunction, lack of shared faith, how to handle the kids, or just “difficult people.” The list can go on and on.

 But here’s the reality: our in-laws are connected to our spouses through biology, history, and a variety of psychological dynamics.

If our relationship with our in-laws is strained, our spouse may feel caught in the middle.

In Exodus 20:12 the Bible tells us to “Honor your Father and Mother.” “Honoring” our parents requires that we show them patience, kindness, gentleness, and respect. I believe this applies to in-laws as well. However, I believe “honoring” our in-laws does NOT mean:

- Burying our feelings, desires, preferences, and needs in exchange for always doing things their way.

- Allowing them to disrespect, control, or manipulate us for their own preferences.

- Obeying all of their requests or requirements, which, in some cases, are just plain “nuts.”

Sometimes the most honoring reaction is a RESPECTFUL (note the emphasis), yet firm “No.”

A final point in dealing with in-laws is to have open communication with our spouse concerning feelings and issues we are having with their family. We need to be honest about how we feel, but not attack our spouse’s loved ones. Remember, our spouses are connected to their families through biology, history, and a variety of psychological dynamics.

And unless there’s a situation of unlawfulness or abuse, we should ALWAYS stand by our spouses when it comes to tense situations concerning the in-law relationship.

Above all else, let us not forget and always remind ourselves that when conflict arises, don’t run from it or push it aside, but face it with Christ-like behavior. That is ultimately the most “honorable” thing we can do.