I’m Engaged to You, Not Your Family

· January 9, 2016

One can choose the person they want to spend the rest of his or her life with, but not the people that come with them. Your partner’s family and friends can become a problem in married life and, in the worst cases, can even end up leading to a breakup.

A phrase that can be used to deal with these difficult relationships or the distance that is created with in-laws is “I’m not engaged to your family, I’m engaged to you.” However, we know that when we get engaged to someone, we also get engaged to the world around them. We are not obligated to get along with everyone in the world, but we have to at least to try to maintain a cordial relationship.

On the other hand, whether or not we get along depends on several factors because each family is different. It’s one thing when you live hundreds of miles from the in-laws, but it’s a different story when you’re sharing the same house or live two blocks away.

“All happy families resemble one another; the unhappy people are unhappy in their own way.”

-Leo Tolstoy-

Women tend to establish closer ties with the husband’s family (in general), and this link can be a great source of happiness when it is mutual and cared for. However, the proximity also increases the likelihood of friction.

The worst situation that we may face is when one of the parties, either the partner or the family, pressures the person to choose between one of the two “sides” that have formed. We don’t dare give one single solution to this conflict because it requires a thorough analysis of each situation, but we can suggest a few things.

Even after this critical moment things can change. It’s no wonder that people who try to make us choose go all out to demand attention or get ahead of the other party. If they succeed, they will withdraw their demand without any more complications.

On the other hand, when there is a decision like this on the table, there is a long line of disputes that follow that do not change over time. As we said before, you can take a thousand situations and the one I’m describing may not be the same as yours, but it is the most common. For many couples, despite the fact that both partners are adults, one or more of the parents will still think of their son or daughter as a sweet, helpless child in a world full of danger.


Thus, they do not hesitate to attempt to continue taking care of them in an over-protective, controlling, and in some cases even dictatorial way. It is difficult for the partner of the person with this type of parent and they end up feeling uncomfortable. Imagine planning your vacation. You inform their parents and someone objects to the plans you’ve already made, or even tries to sabotage them by means of psychological strategies like emotional blackmail.

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However, a father or a mother who pries doesn’t usually have much effect unless the son or daughter consents to it. Normally, serious problems occur when parents and children have not matured. One wants to protect while the other wants to be protected. On the other hand, there will be children who put a distance between themselves and their parents when they realize that, although they have good intentions, they are meddling in their happiness.

On the other hand, it’s not always the in-laws who are to blame for family strife. There are many other cases when it’s the couple who create the difficultues. A typical situation, in this respect, usually occurs when small children are involved and the couple does not want to spend time with their in-laws without having a good reason to. Or when there are designated holidays and the person uses psychological strategies to always celebrate with his/her family.

Is it possible to get along with our in-laws?

Except in special cases, the answer is yes. There is no reason that should prevent you from getting along with your in-laws or with members of your partner’s family. Now, it is true, as we have said before, that there are people who make it more difficult than others.

To make it a bit simpler, let’s step into the shoes of a young girl who has been with her boyfriend for some time and they have decided that it is time to start meeting each other’s families. The truth is that this situation often causes tension because each partner assumes they’re being evaluated by the other’s family.

This anxiety usually goes away with time, but sometimes it doesn’t. There are men who, despite have had many dinners with their in-laws, still fear that at any moment their partner’s father will take out his shotgun.

If this feeling never goes away, it is very difficult for there to be a good relationship between the partner and their in-laws because nobody likes to be in a situation where they continuously feel like they’re being evaluated. In this situation most of our behaviors are artificial and we do not feel like ourselves. Moreover, in a context like this it is very difficult to have sincere and open communication which is crucial to resolving conflicts.

In situations like this, it’s possible to maintain a relationship, however strained, but it’s difficult to avoid confrontation because the appropriate channels of communication to resolve the issues have not been created. What tends to happen, if the situation doesn’t become dramatic, is that both sides end up making a note of the confrontation on their list of things they may have to face in the future. Whether the situation gets better or worse will depend much on the various individuals’ social skills and their willingness to open the lines of communication.

You must remember that it is very important to maintain a good relationship with your husband/wife’s family before tying the knot at the altar or signing the book at the civil registry.

It is not an obligation to put on a happy face every time they come over for lunch, but to learn to accept that those people were in your partner’s life for a long time, and most likely before you even meet him/her.

To answer the question of whether or not you can get along with your in-laws, it might be good to look from the other side’s perspective. Would you like your partner to make you choose between your family and him/her? How do you want them to be on Sundays, during birthday celebrations or the December holidays? What if your husband/wife tells you they can’t stand your parents?

It’s good to be objective and assume that we all have strengths and weaknesses. We cannot expect others to change if we do not do so first. So if your partner’s family is not “ideal,” learn to identify those things that are positive (we all have something that stands out).

Also, if you really love your husband/wife, try to remember that you chose to be with him/her for the rest of your life, despite any form of adversity. Of course, since nosy or always-present in-laws may be included in the list of “problems for a couple to overcome,” it will help strengthen the ties between you.

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What can I do to get along better with my in-laws?

The extremes are never good. It’s not ideal if your in-laws are so present to the point of showing up in your bedroom nor is it good that you never see them. The couple should be “waterproof” enough to not to let third parties interfere in the decisions and the life of the couple.

However, there are some tips to help you get along with them so that not everything is a battle, argument, or a tense silence leading to a bad afternoon or evening:

First, you should set some limits. Know what you can and cannot accept when you visit your partner’s family or when they come to your house. Make it clear from the beginning that those barriers are nonnegotiable. Who will you speak to about this matter? With your husband/wife, of course. You may be confident enough to talk directly with your in-laws, but that’s not always a good idea. Some people can be quite sensitive and this can generate additional problems. Be careful.

Do not put your partner “between a rock and a hard place” by forcing him/her to choose between you and their family. We all have the right to maintain close ties to our family. In the end, our parents are our parents and that won’t change for anything. If the situation becomes very uncomfortable, don’t spend time together, but do not force your partner to give them up unless they are hurting him/her.

Another way to get along with the in-laws is by thinking about who we are with and not about ourselves all the time. This means that if you go to dinner with your in-laws, do it for the happiness of your partner. It will be something they will value greatly.

Try to be yourself. Don’t be fake. Your in-laws are still people with interests and needs and seek their son/daughter’s best interests. If your are yourself, your partner will recognize it more in the moments you spend with their family and will show a greater sense of happiness. If you’re usually a happy person and then become the most bitter person on the planet at that moment, it is difficult for your partner to recognize you as the person they are in love with and this by extension, is transmitted to their parents.