Treating In-Laws like Family, not Out-Laws

Every Parent's dream is to see their child grow up, find a wonderful person to marry, and have a successful union.  What they might not dream of, is the possible conflict that comes with adding a new family member (from a different family background) to a family with already established rules and expectations.  It is the parent's job to help this new family unit feel supported and loved as they learn to negotiate their relationships between both the families they were raised in.

"Wise parents, whose children have left to start their own families, realize their family role still continues, not in a realm of domination, control, regulation, supervision, or imposition, but in love, concern, and encouragement." (Harper 327)

Past Prophet Spencer W. Kimball
Past Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Spencer W. Kimball, says there can be trouble in a new marriage if the couple doesn't learn how to "cleave unto" each other instead of their parents.  He gives 3 pieces of Advice for newly married:

"First, Married children should confide in and counsel with their spouses.
Second, if Possible, they should establish their own household, separate from their parents.
Third, any counsel from outside sources should be considered prayerfully by both spouses together." (Harper 328)

 It is important that "daughters share more with their husbands than with their mothers...too much contact with the daughter could result in the son-in-law's feeling that his spousal relationship is being smothered." (Harper 328) This advice can be reversed to say too much mother and son contact can become offensive to the daughter-in-law.

"One of the great gifts parents-in-law can give to their married children is to recognize early that they must help define and protect the boundary of this new couple." (Harper 328)


When parents and children feel they always have to be together, physically and emotionally, they could be enmeshed.  Too much contact is not a healthy thing once a child gets married: 
  • Be careful about holding on too tight.  
  • Be careful about expecting the newly married couple to come to your house every Sunday for dinner or to all your holiday celebrations.  It is time for them to start creating their own family traditions.  
  • Be careful about giving your opinion and advice too readily.   They are entitled to receive their own revelation and guidance for their family.  
  • Learn to listen instead of impose. 
 (Harper 329)


"Parents who are secure in their relationships with their children understand that married children can be emotionally close without always having to be present." (Harper 329)


This is when "communication either builds a stronger relationship with the parent than with the spouse, or excludes the spouse... In families where triangulation is common, information about children and their spouses shared with other family members could lead to gossip and subsequent estrangement." (Harper 329) 

"Parents who can work toward inclusion of a new son- or daughter-in-law and who show increased love and support have the best relationships with their married children and more influence in the lives of their grandchildren." (Harper 329)

If you are having trouble liking your new son or daughter-in-law, "Prayer, fasting, and loving long-suffering are the best remedies when differences of children-in-law bother us." (Harper 329)



Remember that you married into a family which has different family rules than your family did. "Most families have hundreds of spoken and unspoken rules, and in many ways these rules help describe who we are." (Harper 328)  It would be a good idea for you and your spouse to sit down and discuss these rules and how you want to utilize them in your marriage (a list of questions to ask yourselves are found in Till Debt Do Us Part by Bernard Poduska). There are 3 basic kinds of rules: Explicit, implicit, and intuitive.

Explicit Family Rules:  These are the rules which are expressed verbally: "Don't talk with your mouth full.  Sit up straight. Save what you earn. Spend now, tomorrow never comes."  (Poduska 26) These are family philosophies which will spill over into our newly formed family.  Learning them will help a spouse understand where their spouse is coming from, as well as their in-laws. 

Implicit Family Rules: These have the greatest impact on our lives, they are the non-verbal rules of a family: "When Dad leaves the room during an argument, that's the end of the discussion. When Mom starts to cry, do not pursue the issue any further.  We know which is Dad's chair.  We know not to compare Mom with her sister, or bring up the name of a certain relative." (Poduska 27) 
These are rules we have lived by our whole lives, but our spouse will not know about them or understand without our telling them.  These deep-seated rules broken can have a large impact on being accepted into the in-law's family.  Even if you do not agree with them, knowing them will help you not inadvertently break them around the family.  By learning these rules, you and your spouse can discuss if this is a belief you want to carry on in your own family or if it is a limiting belief that can be changed. 

Intuitive Family Rules: Intuitive rules are also unspoken rules.  They are the far reaching, emotional legacies inherited by each person from their family line. "Our legacy may include expectations associated with our ethnic, religious, or vocational background." (Poduska 28) 
 "An obligation to repay their parents for all the suffering and sacrifice on the children's behalf or they feel a need to succeed in order to ensure that all the parents went through has not been in vain." (Poduska 28) These unspoken family rules can be firm motivators in a person's belief system.  Learn what these rules are.  Learn what is negotiable and what is not.  You will go far in getting along with your spouse and the in-laws by learning these rules. 

"In one study, 80% of couples in failed marriages had not gained the approval or support of parents to marry." (Harper 330)


Remember, it is scriptural to leave your family and become united with your spouse.

Genesis 2:24 

"The first task of a newly married couple is to separate from the families in which they grew up...It helps a newly married couple to think of themselves as existing together inside an invisible fence.  
They share information and behavior with each other inside that fence, and that information and behavior is not meant to be shared with others outside the fence - not with future children, [siblings or friends] and certainly not with parents or parents-in-law." (Harper 328)

Good Luck and God Bless.  Remember, FAMILIES ARE WORTH IT! 
~ Holly Jo

Work Cited

Harper, James, Olsen, Susanne Frost, Various authors. Helping and Healing our Families: Principles and Practices Inspired by The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Deseret Book Company. BYU. 2005. Print.

Poduska, Bernard. Till Debt Do Us Part.  Shadow Mountain. Salt Lake City. 2000. Print.


  1. Great job, Holly! I hope you don't stop writing just because this class is over! :)

    1. Thank you Jen, will you keep writing on yours?

  2. Great information, Holly! I remember the circumstances of my shotgun marriage to your brother. We produced five, beautiful children together but those were some rough years with your family.

    1. Yes, I imagine they were. You had the unfortunate lot to be the first in-law in a super naive, tight-knit family. Thank goodness we can learn from our past.


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