Week 13: Loyalty and In-laws

There is an oft quoted scripture that goes: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) This scripture means that when we marry, our devotion and identity are no longer connected to our parents but to our spouse.  At the same time, we are commanded to honor our father and our mother; this commandment does not become invalid when we say our vows.  The trick is to somehow balance between the two.

Ultimately, this means that when there is an issue in the relationship, that issue stays IN the relationship.  Many people are used to going to their parents for venting and guidance, but once married this job belongs solely to your spouse.  Adult children would do well to keep marital issues private within the marriage.  Parents of married children should get into the habit of sending their children back to the spouse when approached with marital issues. (Harper & Olsen, 2005)  There are times when the couple may desire help and guidance from parents, but this should always be done as a couple, not one spouse approaching their parents alone.  One good rule of thumb:  if you need marriage counseling, go see a marriage counselor . . . not your parents.

The first obstacle to cleaving to your spouse is the deep history that each person brings to a relationship.  The rules and traditions that you grew up with governs your day to day behavior.  What happens when that clashes with your spouse’s learned behavior?  Maybe one spouse grew up eating dinner around a family table; the other ate dinner out or in front of a TV.  Maybe one spouse grew up knowing that children are required to obey without backtalk; the other spouse was always given the opportunity to ask questions and argue his/her own point with parents.  All couples have issues like this and one that is most common is knowing how to spend the holidays.  Growing up, my family would travel a few hours each holiday to spend time with our whole extended family, first one side of the family, then the other.  My husband’s extended family didn’t get together for holidays, so they always had special holiday meals at home.  Our own expectations about what our new family would do each year to celebrate holidays would be very different. We could not do both, but how to pick?  It took time and compromising to figure out what works best for us.  Once we figured out what we wanted to do, there was another obstacle to face.

The second obstacle is pressure from parents and in-laws on how to spend your time.  They are your parents and they love you.  They also have their own traditions that they feel are important and they want to share those with the new couple.  Our parents each had ideas about how to best spend the holidays.  Many of our already married siblings chimed in on this too.  Some were ideas, some were suggestions, and some were instructions on what we should or should not do. Harper, a professor in the department of family life at BYU talks about the importance of creating a “Marital Identity” separate from their previous families (Harper & Olsen, 2005).  It was important for us to stick to the plans we had made and not give in just to please others or to avoid feeling a little guilty for saying no to something that our parents cherish so much.  Just remember, it must be done delicately in order to keep positive feelings within the family.  (Harper & Olsen, 2005)

There are many issues like this that each couple must decide on.  Just make sure that you are cleaving to your spouse, not rules or a way of life just because it was what you grew up with. Here is a video that demonstrates just a few common issues:





Harper, J. M. & Olsen, S. F. (2005). “Creating Healthy Ties With In-Laws and Extended Families.” In C. H. Hart, L.D. Newell, E. Walton, & D.C. Dollahite (Eds.), Helping and healing our families: Principles and practices inspired by “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (pp. 327-334). Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.


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