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Marriage and in-laws: The husband's perspective

By Richa Pant
September 21, 2006 15:48 IST
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Let's say you married recently, or plan to tie the knot in the near future.

Either way, welcoming your wife into her new home could prove to be tricky. You need to make her feel comfortable, while making sure you don't neglect your parents. Your new bride may feel intimidated by her in-laws during the transition, and this could lead to conflict. If this sounds worrying, relax. There's a lot you can do to bridge the gap.

First, identify the main problem areas that lead to in-law trouble. One, intrusiveness. "Some parents might meddle unintentionally, making the couple feel smothered or controlled. Even though they think they are demonstrating their love, they are not allowing the couple enough breathing space," says Dr Kanchan Misra, a Lucknow-based psychologist. "Some in-laws have difficulty letting go of their parental roles and offer unwanted advice," she continues. On the other hand, emotional distance could prove to be an issue. "Some parents seem cold, emotionally unavailable, or unfriendly," she adds.

Your role

"Let your parents know that you care, respect and love them. At the same time, be clear that you want to set the rules for your new family as well," says Anjali Singh, a 27-year old who has been married for three years.
"When dealing with in-laws, it is preferable that the husband deal with his family, and the wife with hers. This is so because families can easily forgive their own family members," says Dr Misra, reiterating what other experts have often said.

Immediate family comes first

Sometimes, it is hard to achieve both objectives -- if a husband pleases his wife, he annoys his parents. If he tries to please his parents, his wife is displeased. The solution is to try and be objective.

"If your family is causing your spouse difficulty, you should confront family members involved and request them to stop. If they refuse, or aren't able to do so, protect your spouse and family unit by stepping away from those members and limiting your contact with them. Your spouse and immediate family come first. If the friction becomes unmanageable for some reason, it may be easier if the young couple have their own home," feels Dr Misra.

By giving your spouse and your marriage priority, you are choosing the adult role of being a husband over your role as a child in your parent's family. This gives your wife confidence in the marriage and encourages her to maintain good family ties. "I regard it as my duty to act as a buffer between my parents and wife. She shouldn't have to defend our personal decisions to my parents," agrees Girish Thakur, 29, married for the last three years.

Make the ground rules

Discuss ways to guard the privacy of your marriage with your wife, while maintaining close ties with the extended family. The following concerns should be addressed: 

  • When do you and your wife have exclusive time for each other? 
  • When do you spend time with your extended family?
  • When do you involve your parents/in-laws in decision-making?
  • Where should you discuss your marital conflicts: in private or in front of your in-laws?

"Don't allow room for your relatives and friends to interfere between the two of you. Try solving your problems among yourselves as much as possible. Avoid sharing the secrets of your household with friends or close relatives," says Dr Misra.

Bring your wife and parents closer

  • Strengthen your role as a spouse. "Intrusiveness and other issues can be furthered by a spouse who is unaware or unwilling to deal with the problems," says Dr Misra. Although both you and your spouse love your parents, you must be more aligned with each other.
  • "When arriving at a solution to your problems, be gentle but honest with your parents," says Girish.
  • Decide, with your spouse, on the amount of time and money you give to each other's parents, and review your agreement as your parents/in-laws' requirements change.
  • "Treat each other's parents as fairly as possible," says Dr Misra.
  • Find mutually acceptable methods for each other's parents to get time with your children.
  • Avoid making your spouse choose between her family and yourself.
  • Assist in household responsibilities. "Discuss with your wife the role/responsibilities you would like yourself and your parents to take too, so she is not overburdened," says Rishi Gupta, 29, who has a 5-year old son and shares as many responsibilities with his wife as he can. 
  • Establishing boundaries and making a list of 'non-negotiables' can help a young couple deal with extended family.
  • Make sure your wife gets to spend quality time with your parents. If you live away from your parents, make an effort to visit and call them often so your wife can get to know them.
  • Make it a point to get on with her parents too. "Show respect and warm hospitality to your wife's family and friends," says Girish. Make an effort to get to know more about your in-laws. Visit or call them regularly.

Do you have in-laws? Share your experiences and tips

Also check out: Are YOU an expert?

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Richa Pant