Parenting - - In This Issue -

In-laws and ex­tended fam­ily can pro­vide won­der­ful

plusses and in­ter­est­ing chal­lenges to our mar­riages. If you

both feel im­posed upon by a wider fam­ily, at least you

can sup­port each other and face it to­gether; it is much more of a

prob­lem when you dis­agree with your spouse about where to draw

your bound­aries with the wider fam­ily.

Our part­ner’s at­ti­tude to their fam­ily of ori­gin is part of who

they are, part of the pack­age that we have cho­sen to com­mit

our­selves to. Their at­ti­tude to their fam­ily is like their reli­gion, their

po­lit­i­cal views, their cul­ture and their aes­thetic tastes: we may

not agree with them but mar­riage does not en­ti­tle us to pres­sure

them to change any of those things. Com­pat­i­bil­ity does not mean

con­form­ity: it takes en­ergy and grace to cope with dif­fer­ences

be­tween cou­ples but they can usu­ally be coped with and even

en­joyed. It is best to hon­our their at­ti­tude to their fam­ily, it would

be un­fair and churl­ish of us to be jeal­ous of their af­fec­tion and

re­spect for their par­ents and other fam­ily mem­bers.

How­ever, I think a mar­riage cre­ates a new fam­ily; pri­mary loy­al­ties

are to each other. Links back to our fam­i­lies of ori­gin are not bro­ken

but they are re­de­fined. Re­spect­ing our part­ner's at­ti­tude to­ward

his or her fam­ily does not re­quire us to au­to­mat­i­cally give in when

we be­lieve it will neg­a­tively im­pact us or our fam­ily. The way we

re­act is very im­por­tant as they will of­ten be act­ing out of their best

in­stincts, out of love and loy­alty. One must ac­count for sig­nif­i­cant

cul­tural vari­a­tions, too: some cul­tures have dom­i­nat­ing fam­ily

hi­er­ar­chies and big ex­pec­ta­tions around re­source shar­ing.

I think this where defin­ing your own fam­ily cul­ture can be great. A

lot of fric­tion can be avoided by bind­ing your­self with a sim­ple rule:

“Be­cause our first loy­alty is to each other, be­fore we agree to any

wider fam­ily re­quest or com­mit­ment, we will al­ways con­sult with

each other first.” If we get into the habit of re­spond­ing to our fam­i­lies

with the line, “That should be fine but I just want to check with

[part­ner’s name] first”, then it starts to give them the mes­sage that

there is a bound­ary there that they should not seek to cross.

One fi­nal thing to bear in mind is that many of our cul­ture’s

at­ti­tudes to fam­ily are de­rived from the Bi­ble, which has two

im­por­tant but slightly dif­fer­ent rules: “Chil­dren, obey your

par­ents”, and also “Hon­our your par­ents”. All of us should ‘hon­our’

our par­ents but only chil­dren are told to ‘obey’ them. As adults,

we love and re­spect our par­ents, but we should make our own

de­ci­sions with our own ma­tu­rity and wis­dom.

We all know the ba­sic fac­tors crit­i­cal to a suc­cess­ful mar­riage,

such as trust, hon­esty and ro­mance. A Bri­tish poll of 2,000 cou­ples

re­veals some other key el­e­ments that could make a big dif­fer­ence

to mar­i­tal suc­cess which you may not have thought of. It seems

it’s the sim­ple things that mat­ter, such as hav­ing two tele­vi­sions

(to avoid con­flict over what to watch), two cars and… two toi­lets!

Part­ners should also have no qualms about shar­ing pass­words

for so­cial me­dia and email sites. Just be­ing aware of how much

time we spend en­gag­ing with tech­nol­ogy (tablets, phones and

com­put­ers) could make a gen­uine dif­fer­ence in our mar­riages

too. The poll was taken to mark the launch of a new book by

Andy Gib­ney. The au­thor says: “It should be ob­vi­ous that it is

com­mu­ni­ca­tion that keeps peo­ple to­gether, whether that’s ver­bal

or non-ver­bal, but life has a way of get­ting in the way. The re­search,

and the mes­sage in the book is keep talk­ing, keep laugh­ing,

keep do­ing the things that made you happy at the start of your

re­la­tion­ship and never lose it. Keep the re­spect, keep the in­ti­macy

and, above all, re­mem­ber why you fell in love in the first place.”

My in-laws are lovely peo­ple, truly they are, I just wish we

didn’t have to see quite so much of them. If feels as though

my mother-in-law only has to click her fin­gers and my

hus­band snaps to at­ten­tion. I find my­self con­stantly say­ing.

‘What about me?’ How do we put some bound­aries in place?

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