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12 Things You Want Your In-Laws To Know

Getting married is a pivotal moment of life, like the first time you had sex or assumed a mortgage. So-called ‘reality’ TV shows would have us believe it’s all about throwing a really fabulous party and wearing a really fabulous dress. Back on Planet Earth we know getting married means stepping into a profound adventure, part joyful, part terrifying, all hopeful. Add to that voluntarily taking on a new identity; spouse, partner, wife, husband – how we describe ourselves to the world and to ourselves changes.

How easily we grow into our new role can be helped along or hindered by our in-laws.

When you get married, like it or not, you marry into each others’ families. Most of us have no idea what that means until we’ve been married a while. We assume that because our intended is the epitome of wonderfulness, their parents are great as well.

If you are lucky, and I hope you are, your new or future in-laws already know that Good In-Laws….

  1. Maintain respectful boundaries. They treat their new son/daughter-in-law as the full-fledged grown up they are; as they treat their own adult child.
  2. Do not assume instant love. Good in-laws know relationships need time and nurturing to grow.
  3. Never give unsolicited advice. Never. They wait to be asked and even then answer only the question posed and wait for the next question.
  4. Visit only when invited and limit calls to a reasonable once in a while. If the newlyweds are living with them, good in-laws are respectful of the young couple’s privacy.
  5. Never complain about the non-blood family member to their adult child. If they have a problem with their child-in-law they think long and hard before deciding it is necessary to tell that person directly. Most good in-laws just hold their tongue.
  6. When good in-laws visit they resist the urge to point out and fix whatever is broken. No matter how handy they are, a good in-law waits to be asked and then helps (if they want to) without conditions.
  7. Understand that the adult child’s primary allegiance must be with their spouse. Good in-laws defer to the newlyweds as a couple and make it clear that they are there for both of them. They never assume they can come between them by working one against the other. Or by saying something absurd like, “But I’m your mother, so of course you want to please me first.”
  8. Good in-laws understand the new couple needs to blend the traditions of two families and honor their need to find their own way of doing things. Good in-laws do not presume that “Our way is the right way.”
  9. Don’t insist the new relative call them ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ or ‘Mother Brown’ or ‘Miss Sally’. The good in-law is flexible and sensitive to what their new child-in-law is comfortable with and will figure it out together using a good dose of humor.
  10. Resist the urge to enable troubles the new couple may have. They don’t “rescue” them by throwing money at the problem or in any way encouraging dependence rather than independence.
  11. Are not competitive with the new couple or with the other set of parents.
  12. Good in-laws have satisfying lives of their own and mind their own business.

And to complete a baker’s dozen…

Good in-laws understand that becoming a grandma or grandpa is not license to ignore 1-12.

This post originally appeared on the Explore What’s Next Blog.

12 Things You Want Your In-Laws To Know

Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D.

Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, founder of Explore What’s Next, wife, and mom of two teenagers. Dr. Aletta is a writer whose articles have been featured on the New York Times Well blog, the Wall Street Journal Online, Parents magazine, NPR and the BBC London Radio. To learn more about Dr. Aletta and Explore What's Next, visit her website and blog, or follow her on Twitter!

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APA Reference
Aletta, E. (2018). 12 Things You Want Your In-Laws To Know. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 14 Apr 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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