6 keys to having a healthy relationships with in-laws

6 keys to having a healthy relationships with in-laws June 10, 2013

Not long ago, I was talking with a young couple and the wife broke down crying over the tensions they were facing in their marriage because of their strained relationship with in-laws. There was tension on both sides of their families, and the strain was smothering them. They had no idea how to fix it, but they knew it had to be resolved for the sake of their marriage (and the sake of their sanity).

One of the most common questions that I get asked on the marriage page relates to have healthier relationships with in-laws. Stress related to family dynamics is one of the biggest struggles married couples face, so it’s important to make those relationships as healthy as possible.


Here are some simple ways to improve those relationships and strengthen your own marriage in the process.

1. Show Respect even when it’s not reciprocated*. 

I strongly believe that we should show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of ours. When you show honor to “difficult” in-laws, you’re building bridges of peace that will positively impact future generations. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort! Here’s a short video I made that discusses how to do this in more detail: “How to deal with difficult in-laws”

*If things are already healthy, keep working to keep them healthy. If the relationship is unhealthy, ask yourself if you’re contributing to the problem or the solution. Be a peacemaker.

2. Don’t show favoritism. 

In most marriages, one sets of parents (in-laws) gets more time and attention than the other. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this, but you need to do everything in your power to give equal time and attention to both sets of relatives. Favoritism usually leads to resentment while consistency leads to trust.

3. Stay connected to your in-laws (not just your own parents)

Don’t fall into the routine of being the one who talks to your parents but then handing the phone off to your spouse every time your in-laws call. When your in-laws call, make a point to answer the phone and have a conversation before handing the phone to your spouse. Show them you value them by giving your time and attention. Find simple ways to invest in your own relationships with them.

4. Have clear boundaries.

A healthy marriage requires that your first and strongest loyalty must always be to your spouse, so don’t allow any other family relationship to come between you. Practically, this means never call your parents when you’re having an argument with your spouse. That will create an unhealthy dynamic between your spouse and your parents. Also, don’t allow anyone (relative or not) to talk negatively about your spouse or do anything that undermines the sacredness of your marriage.

5. Celebrate differences.

Your family’s traditions and ways are probably a lot different than your spouses’s family, but both families are equally important, so value those differences. Celebrate the uniqueness of each family and find a way to bring both perspectives into your own family’s traditions.

6. Love them!

The Bible says that “Love covers over a multitude of sins.” In every relationship, when we allow love to set the tone, it has a way of covering over the differences and past hurts and binding us together in a beautiful way. Let love lead the way in your family and everything else will probably work itself out!

For more marriage-building tools, check out newest book Marriage Minute: Quick & Simple Ways to Build a Divorce-Proof Relationship which is now also available on iTunes as an ebook download for iPhones and iPads by clicking here.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jennifer

    I love my in-laws with all my heart. They are the greatest man an woman I have ever met. I am truly blessed to have them in my life.

  • Samantha

    Its not that easy with my husbands family. I try talkin to his mom when I need advice n she sides with him. She says hes her baby or I askef for it. She even had the nerve to ask me to leave my son with her when I went to visit my mom.

  • Kate

    Ok so my mother in-law dose and always has hated me! She has never showed me respect and insults me every chance she gets. To top it off years ago she got drunk and threatened to kidnap my baby because Im a “bad mom who dosent know how to take care of her kids!” Now this was years ago now and I have forgiven her but i don’t trust her at all!!! This makes for every event birthday and visit to be incredibly stressful and awkward! Let alone what it doed to my marriage. I can’t tell you how many arguments we have had over this!

  • Trey Roberts

    Very good advice. You can also apply that to people (like myself) who has divorced and remarried parents. We try to spend time with both of my families, as well as her parents, equally. It is VERY tough, especially with our hectic lives. It seems like we spend more time traveling on major holidays than spending time with family (luckily everyone lives within an hour range).

  • KimmyG

    This is one area that I struggle with for sure. My mother in law started having babies as an early teen and never matured beyond that point. She has gone through our personal papers, cabinets, drawers, lied, gossiped… As a result, we have no relationship at all. I simply do not trust her. I am not sure that I can get beyond her “qualities” to meet any of the 6 above. BTW, my spouse does not blame me at all for my lack of interest in a relationship with his mom.

  • Indypendence

    I had a very good relationship with my in-laws for over a decade; until last year when after a very trying year financially and because of infidelity my spouse and I were at odds. He reeling after a very intense argument and because he felt I was going to leave with the kids because of his actions with a co-worker went to his sister and parents and told them all kinds of stuff about me. Their advice to him was if I tried to leave with the kids to call the police on me. These are people I trusted and talked to and interacted with more than he did. Instead of calling to ask me about any of this; because it would seem they would think it out of character, they didn’t even seem to care. Now that we are in counseling both individual and couples, I’m supposed to just move on and not remember that these peoples advice was to call the police on me. I definitely blame him for bringing them into it in the first place, and while I understand his panic, I don’t excuse it; and the little bit of trust I had left for him was destroyed even more. My daughter will be graduating next year and I’m not sure how I am going to handle being around them and even more not sure how I’m going to handle an upcoming family event of his for his mother. I’ve tried to convince him to just go with the kids to no avail. This is a very messed up situation.

  • Jessie

    What do you do when you live with one if your in-laws, and your spouse hates him or her but doesn’t want to move?

  • Lauren

    Hi my name is Lauren and my mother in law drives me crazy sometimes. She thinks she can take my kids and let her bring them home late on a school night. I kept my cool last night when she wanted to take my oldest son to the movies and didn’t come home until after bed time . I called and called her on her cell phone but she didn’t answer she has done this more then once. I’m to the point of telling her she can not take the kids. How do you suggest I handle this?

  • Derrick Ladd

    What are your thoughts on emotional adultery? I think it is to common these days.

  • Nikki

    Totally agree! What do you do about mother in-laws that dispite your efforts only see you as competition, act like jealous ex lovers, and do everything they can to cause problems in your marriage?

  • Trina

    I get along pretty good with my in-laws, except that my mother in law is very controlling. If me or my husband dont do what she thinks we should do, she gets very angry and tries to tell us otherwise. My husband and I get along great! We have a wonderful marriage, but we always fight when it comes to my mother in law. My husband and I can agree on something, then mother in law tells us “no, Blah Blah do it this way!” Then my husband agrees with my mother in law instead of me. She tries to tell us how to parent our children, how to spend our finances,..etc. How do I deal with a difficult mother in law? I think it is my husbands place to politely tell her to “back off” but he doesn’t think she’s overstepping any boundaries. It just hurts my feelings that my husband puts his mother before his wife.

  • justina

    I really love what you are doing,infact l’m encouraged by reading this,and I now know how to handle issues with my in-laws.thank you God bless you.

  • Helpless

    How can this healthy INLAW relationship work if they have had to moved in with you? We as a couple have no time for ourselves anymore. How do you deal with that? when you’re having to make sure they are taken care of and your marriage begins to suffer because the other partner can not make any other decisions/moves about the situation? everytime we try to plan something for the two of us to have a get away something always always comes up OR the inlaw calls us…..hopeless helpless 🙁

  • Crystal Keith

    I have this same issue. I hope there is light for us at the end. I would like to know how this gets resolved if your spouce refuses to be on the relationship side of this over his mother.

  • Crystal Keith

    I have had a issue with my mother in law. She oversteped a boundary by not calling me to ask if it was ok to take our son to her work to see her friends and show him off. My son informed
    Me she had taken him and she wasn’t even gonna tell me she did either along with never calling and asking. I am to the point also of telling her I don’t want her taking my kid. What do we do? I talked to my spouce about it and he is not on the same page as me and what ever his mom says is what he says. If she don’t see a problem with it then he won’t. I feel like even leaving the man I love because of it putting stress on our marriage. But I love him to much to do that and I know it can be worked out but the big issue is getting him to comply and not allow anyone to disaproved of my boundaries. He is suppose to be on my page sins him and I together set boundaries and raise our son. I have respected my in laws from day one from being engaged to marriage. My husband is never on my page, he is always on some page with his mother. His mother helps us with a lot of stuff but I don’t feel just because she does, that my husband has to be on her page when she crossed my boundaries. This has made us argue in our relationship now to getting too angry and throwing things around.

  • diana

    Some in laws are toxic.My MIL now deceased, tried to break up all of her sons marriages, hated the women in the family and idolised the men. Thankfully for us, she lived the other side of the world.

  • Tabatha Marie

    Oh, our MIL’s must be related. Lol! Mine actually told me that I “took her son away” …last I checked, he flew across the country to be with me, but somehow I stole him from her. (BTW, she didn’t even live in the same country when he left) Somewhere, someone hurt her deep, because she is so bitter. I keep her in prayer. Thank God for the 3,000+ miles that separate us. Hallelujah…Thank you Jesus