Unpacking the In-Law Baggage

Marriage comes with baggage.  In particular, in-law baggage.

When you marry a person, you inherit a family.  Whether or not you realized it, your marriage came as a packaged deal.  You just added a slew of people who are now considered as family.

The marriage union is distinct from any other relationship.  Once the vows have been spoken, your previous immediate family changes in an instant, but they do not go away.  Not only do you continue connections with them, but you just inherited an entirely separate group of people as a family who probably do things completely opposite of how your family does things.

When you marry someone, you inherit all the issues of that persons’ family.

The only couple who didn’t have to worry about bringing baggage into the marriage was Adam and Eve.  With no parents preceding them, their marriage union should have been simple.  Have you ever found it interesting that the description of their union includes this statement:

“This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one” (Gen. 2:24).  

Obviously, the first marriage didn’t need that piece of advice, so why was it included?  Because every marriage after that would rise and fall depending upon how well they could apply that truth.  God knew the danger associated when someone takes priority over a spouse.  People can become resentful towards their in-laws when a spouse essentially chooses familial closeness over spousal oneness.

  • A wife feels threatened when her husband listens to his mother more than he does to her.
  • A husband feels betrayed when his wife tells his wrongdoings to her family.
  • Conflict arises when family traditions and holiday plans take precedence over marital consideration.
  • Petty annoyance with one’s in-laws can turn into full-blown marital conflict if not dealt with in a healthy manner.

You must learn to prioritize your marriage without idolizing your side of the family or demonizing your spouse’s side of the family.

In fact, the health of your marriage can often be gauged by the way you speak of “your” family.  If “my” family wants to do this, but “your” family wants to do that, it appears that drama in inevitable because you don’t know who your family truly is right now.  If you don’t live as though your spouse is your closest family member, your marriage cannot thrive.  If you don’t see the members of your immediate family as “your” family, then is it really unsurprising you are experiencing such turmoil?  You have an us vs. them mentality and somehow you have placed your spouse on the opposing team.

While oneness in marriage is an undeniable theological concept and reality, the practical side of dealing with in-laws can be challenging.  How should this truth flesh out in your family?  You must seek to have the healthiest relationship possible with your in-laws while acknowledging the unique relationship your spouse still has with them.  There is simply more history there.

Most people have realized that you can say something about your side of the family, but if your spouse said the same thing about them, you become offended.  For whatever reason, it’s acceptable to talk about your mother but unacceptable for someone else to do it.  While you continue to nurture your marital oneness, you must learn how to embrace these other family members and not anger your spouse in the process.

The simplest way to do this is to apply Scripture into how you speak about your in-laws with your spouse.  “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

When it comes to your in-laws:

  1. be quick to hear from your spouse about his or her feelings,
  2. be slow to speak your first feelings on the situation, and
  3. be slow to anger as you work through the issue.