This one’s on my mind because I’m working with a great couple who are having difficulty navigating this thorny issue. It gets into all sorts of loyalty conflicts and a reexamination of things that were previously assumed. But I have some tips on how to get through it with all your relationships intact.1) Remember that you’re all adults now
Sometimes it’s easy to forget. We automatically fall into old patterns of thought and behavior when we’re dealing with our parents. It’s years of conditioning. And that’s true of them, too. Your parents are used to seeing you in a specific way–i.e. as little beings who need guidance–and it’s a hard adjustment to recognize that you are, in fact, a capable adult with different opinions and choices.
Your partner might be pointing out some uncomfortable truths, and ways that you and your parents have been stuck. Try to think of this as helpful. All our relationships need to evolve sometime.
2) Remember that your partner can’t just fit into the existing dynamic; the dynamic has to expand
It’s not fair to expect your partner to just accept everything as is. There have to be some accommodations. However, your partner needs to recognize that people are only willing and able to stretch so far.
Directly affirm your commitment to each other and to the partnership–that you intend to have open communication with one another, that you take responsibility for naming your own feelings and working to accept the feelings of your partner, and to generate solutions that will benefit both of you. That’s what teamwork is.
3) Remember that you’re all human
I know, it seems obvious, but sometimes we recognize other people’s limits more easily than our own, or vice versa. As I mentioned, this a difficult situation, and requires compassion for all involved.
Everyone is just muddling through as best they can.
There are often loyalty conflicts involved in this situation–that the son or daughter will feel caught in the middle, that they’ll likely want to please everyone, and that they’re realizing the impossibility of this. Stating this conflict explicitly is important, as is the partner’s empathy and responsiveness.
4) Try to verbally acknowledge all the above–to your partner, and to the in-laws, if that seems possible
Some in-laws are more approachable than others, but if you’re feeling the tension, they probably are, too. And most likely, they’ll want to do something about that.
Being able to state your good intentions outright while also acknowledging the discomfort you’re feeling in the relationship and in launching the conversation can break the ice. It shows that you’re not just on the same team as your partner, but that you believe you can all be on the same team as an extended family.