In-Laws or Outlaws?

Over the years, one of the unique relationships that has grown in my own life is the relationship that has formed with my wife’s parents, Stu and Gail Patterson. Although distance and circumstance hindered the nurturing and development of that relationship in the early years of our marriage, a move closer to Stu and Gail and a commitment by both couples to grow our relationship has led to the development of a remarkable and supportive friendship. The strength of that relationship, I believe, has helped Stu and Gail, and Kathy and I, overcome life’s obstacles and celebrate far more than we may have otherwise.

As a man, and a man in business, I tend to spend a lot of time kibitzing with other men. I don’t think I could count how many times conversations with acquaintances have included little quips about those nasty in-laws over the years. Sometimes the comments are made jokingly, but many times you can tell real friction exists between the husband and his in-laws. Whenever those conversations occur, I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am to be a part of a positive relationship with my in-laws; a relationship that is focused on support and positive outcomes rather than negative, intrusive actions. I am not sure that many of us as husbands, wives, or in-laws put a lot of thought into the value of making the in-law relationship work. What has become apparent to me over the years, as I have listened and watched friends struggle in this area of their lives, is that there is much more to be gained by putting an intentional emphasis on the in-law relationship than there is to be gained by fighting with one another.

A few years ago I read a newspaper article that highlighted a research paper authored by Terri Orbuch, in which he delved into the importance of the in-law relationship for men and women.

Orbuch says that when a man bonds with his in-laws, his wife gets the message that “your family is important to me because you’re important to me. I want to feel closer to them because I want to be closer to you.” Wives love that and marriages get a longevity bump.

Because both of my parents died early on in our marriage, I have had the time to invest deeply into the relationship with Kathy’s parents and because of that I can speak to how my relationship with Kathy’s parents has positively impacted myself, our marriage and their lives.

Kathy’s parents have been married for more than 50 years. They have been strong role models to Kathy and I in many ways. Together we have experienced many good times, especially during our annual family retreats to the Penticton area of Canada, where Kathy’s parents live. Penticton, which is a unique community of desert, lakes, trails, nature and wine country, outdoor activities are plentiful and social moments abound. Kathy and I try to get to Penticton several times throughout the year and we spend our days there exploring the community and surrounding area with Stu and Gail, then retiring to their home for afternoons and evenings spent reminiscing, enjoying great food and wine and further cementing relationships that matter. Outside of our annual Penticton retreats we’ve enjoyed uncountable family moments together at Kathy’s and my home, including annual holiday celebrations, birthdays, graduations and weddings. We’ve travelled together on several trips abroad with Stu and Gail; and through it all a spirit of deference and mutual respect has formed. We’ve been able to accept one another as individuals and often laugh at our quirkiness in a loving manner. We’ve helped each other grow into the challenges of life, and together we’ve handled the difficult things life throws at us better than we would have alone or if we were a dysfunctional family. On the other side of the coin I believe we’ve celebrated the great moments at a higher altitude than most families do because we are bonded and united in our friendship. When good things happen we are free to fly high and celebrate with great joy.

Growing together isn’t simple, it takes intentional growth by all parties. As individuals it means taking on an attitude of respect and inclusiveness. It means looking inside yourself and checking your ego at the door so that you put aside the idea of being right all the time or stuck in the attitude of my way or the highway. With that said, if a husband or a wife and the in-laws enter into a respectful journey together the benefits most certainly outweigh the negatives – and the journey for both parties is much sweeter and much more productive.

If you have never really put a lot of thought towards growing your in-law relationships, I hope you might take a moment to consider the importance of doing so. Your relationship with your spouse will elevate and your family will reap great rewards from the positive support that will carry you, and them, through life’s ever-changing journey.

I’d be interested (and I am sure the rest of the Your Better Life community would be interested), husbands and wives, in hearing about your relationship – past or present – with your in-laws. And in-laws we’d be interested in hearing how your relationship with your son- or daughter-in-law has impacted your lives. How have you navigated the challenges?

What are some of your memories of attempting to bridge and blend the generations?

And the bottom line: Have your in-laws had a positive or negative impact on your marriage?

Remember, our altitude is dictated by our attitude. Think about your in-law relationships today and let’s see how high you can fly!

All the best.

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