Wednesday, 10 October 2012 21:47

Advice for In-Law Relationships

Written by  Pamela Boswell
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Have you ever had a conflict with your mate because of the way that one of you was relating to your parents or in-laws?

Have either of you ever thought that your mate was more devoted to and concerned about his or her parents than about you?*

You are not alone.


You will be involved in many types of relationships in life. Some of the most common are the parent/child, husband/wife, employee/employer and various interpersonal or friendly relationships. The first relationship you experience in life is with your parents. Biblical instructions are given concerning this relationship in Exodus, Proverbs and the Epistles. 

BUT....marriage changes the relationship between parents and children and the Bible has more to say about this relationship than you might imagine. Probably the best place to start is Genesis 2:24. Parents and married children need to understand the meaning and implications of this crucial passage in order to understand God’s plan for parent-child relationships after marriage. Often referred to as leaving and cleaving, this verse instructs the man to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. Marriage is intended to be a permanent relationship and takes priority over all other earthly relationships. It is necessary to understand this one flesh thoroughly to appreciate the resulting in-law relationship properly.

The Bible describes change in a two step process which involves putting off the old habits and putting on the new. Leaving and cleaving requires this putting off and putting on. Dr. Wayne Mack, author and professor of counseling at Master’s College, said that though most would deny they have a problem in this area, leaving is one of the most significant and problematic issues in marriage relationships. Leaving is a broad term and involves more than most people realize. The word is actually translated elsewhere in Scripture as abandon or forsake. But this strong break in the parent child relationship does not nullify the 5th commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” In Mark 7 Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for finding ways to avoid honoring or caring for their parents. 1 Timothy 5:8 gives one of the strongest warnings to believers: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 

Neither does leaving mean that married children should stop receiving counsel from their parents. (They are just not obligated to follow that counsel unless it is a matter of clear biblical directive.) Proverbs 23:22 warns: “Listen to your father who begot you and do not despise your mother when she is old.” Of course, married individuals should seek counsel from their spouse first before seeking counsel from anyone outside of the marriage. Leaving also does not simply mean moving out of the parents’ house. Children can move thousands of miles away and really not have left them. Leaving does mean an end to parental authority. The husband is the new head of the home. Should a widowed or aging parent move in with one of their children, they are members of their child’s household and are therefore subject to the husband’s authority. Leaving does mean putting off close and exclusive confidence with parents. For example, no longer should a daughter share all her secrets with her mother. When she and her husband quarrel, her mother does not necessarily need to know. Most likely the husband and wife will resolve the issue and grant forgiveness if needed much quicker than will their parents. Leaving does mean putting off an inordinate dependency on ones parents—whether it is dependency for material things, emotional support or spiritual guidance. (It should also be noted that harboring bitterness or resentment toward your parents binds you to them.) We have a legitimate dependency on parents as we are growing up. Babies can do virtually nothing for themselves and depend on their parents for food and care. As for approval, each spouse should be more concerned with fulfilling his mate’s desires than his parents desires (1Corinthians 7:32-34).  At all times pleasing God should be the first concern of every believer. And finally it may be necessary to leave behind certain family traditions and habits. As a couple you must be prepared to examine family traditions that are preferences and not clearly delineated in Scripture, and only bring those to the marriage that are agreed upon by both of you.

The process of cleaving involves many other things. It can begin with putting on a willingness to discuss family backgrounds with your spouse without becoming defensive. Family history does have an impact on your expectations of life together. Wayne Mack’s booklet has a very helpful Family of Origin Study which provides a guide for you to work through and evaluate together. Cleaving does mean being prepared to give your mate’s parents the same respect and honor as due your own parents. Assuming a new set of parents is part of becoming one flesh. Cleaving does mean putting on the determination to make your mate the most significant person in your life (Ephesians 5).

Leaving Father and Mother as God intended and cleaving to your spouse may not be simple (it involves consciously doing many things). However, making the effort to put off old habits and put on the new will enable you to enjoy the intimacy and relationship in marriage that God intends, and develop a good but new relationship with your parents.


Practical Guidelines 

1.  Do not allow parents to demean your mate.

2.  Look for ways to commend and build up your mate to your parents.

3.  Make an effort to include your mate in family discussions and activities.

4.  Choose a course of action together when a problem arises with a parent.


*In-Laws Married with Parents by Wayne A. Mack                

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 October 2012 21:49
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