This can be a tough question to answer. Some of us have been blessed with incredibly loving and giving in-laws, but we’ve all heard in-law horror stories. In-laws can be immense blessings to us or they can provide us with several growth opportunities (i.e., trials); but, whether your future in-laws are a blessing to you or a gargantuan challenge, you are still marrying your future spouse’s entire family.
Family Will Always Be There
“Wait a minute! I thought the Bible clearly stated that men were supposed to leave their parents and cleave to their wife?!” (Gen. 2:24) Scripture does indeed say men are to leave their parents’ household and cleave to their wife, but it didn’t say parents should be abandoned. I Timothy 5:4 (ESV) says that children and grandchildren should take care of their widowed mother or grandmother instead of leaving such care to the church. “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.”
If God intended children to completely break ties with family, He would not find it pleasing for children to care for their aging mothers and grandmothers. I Timothy 5 goes on to say in verse 8 (ESV), “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” That’s some strong language.
So while the Bible is clear that the marriage relationship becomes more important than the parent-child relationship, the Bible does not tell us to have nothing more to do with our parents, or siblings, or grandparents, or aunts, or uncles, or cousins. Family is here to stay!
“But what if my boyfriend or girlfriend is estranged from his or her family?” If this is the case, my heart goes out to your sweetheart because that is a tremendously hurtful burden for him or her to bear. And though it will be incredibly difficult, as a Christian believer, it behooves him or her to attempt to make amends with the family. Romans 12:18 tells us to be at peace with all men as much as it is up to us. If the family still refuses to reconcile after he or she tries to regain contact, then there can be peace in knowing that he or she made the effort and the rest is up to God.
But even then his or her family isn’t out of the picture. Whether they are physically present in your lives or not, their influence has saturated your honey pie. From their mannerisms to how they yell at the TV during a football game, the knight or beauty you are marrying has been influenced deeply by family.
This is one area I cannot hammer enough. If at all possible, observe your significant other’s family. Notice how they interact with strangers and with each other. Do they communicate by yelling or calmly discussing? Do they insult each other and disguise it as humor or do they lift each other up with their speech? Who runs the family? Do both parents carry equal weight in the family work and decisions? Do his or her parents shower each other with affection or talk negatively behind each other’s backs?
Behaviors modeled by parents and learned in childhood are hard to break. They become so ingrained in us that we don’t realize they aren’t normal! My dad, uncle, and aunt argue over who gets to pay for something. “You bought dinner last time, so I’ll get it this time!” “No, because yesterday you bought trash bags for us so I’m going to cover dinner tonight.” This is a fictitious argument, but it is not far-fetched.
I can remember my aunt sneaking up to the checkout at a barbeque restaurant only to be discovered by my dad and uncle who then joined her at the counter. I’m not sure who actually won the battle and paid that day, but in my mind, that’s how families operate. I have since learned that such behavior is not typical. ~smile~
My family of origin, and often my dad, also went out of their way to make sure everyone was happy with the restaurant selection. “Are you sure you want to eat at Golden Corral? Is there somewhere you’d rather go? Are you sure you’re not tired of this restaurant?” So, after Eric and I were married and he immediately picked a restaurant for us to go to, I was a bit taken aback! Didn’t he know we were supposed to go back and forth at least three times before settling on a restaurant? Did he think he was so special that he should be able to choose on the first rotation? ~smile~
These are small examples that are relatively easy to overcome, but both people coming into marriage will come with their own ideas of “normal.” Don’t be surprised if you get at least a dozen “have you lost your mind?” looks during your first year of marriage when your bride or groom discovers your habits – like leaving the bathroom door open when you’re taking a potty break or cleaning your room by kicking dirty clothes and shoes under your bed.
Even the most playful, fun-loving families have their quirks. Even Jesus’ family wasn’t perfect because He was the only perfect member of the family! Those small, insignificant, slightly annoying idiosyncrasies that all families have are not too concerning. Marriage requires that we learn to love our spouse regardless of whether or not he leaves his underwear hanging on the doorknob or whether she prefers overcooking pasta. But, those family traits which aren’t so innocent need to be fully considered before saying “I do.”
Consider the following questions:
- Does my sweetheart’s family take their health seriously?
- Do my sweetheart’s parents strive to be more like Christ?
- Do my sweetheart’s parents speak kindly to each other and work through conflicts?
- Does my sweetheart’s family disrespect each other in front of company?
- Do my sweetheart’s parents show deep disdain for each other?
- Do my sweetheart’s parents handle money well?
- Do my sweetheart’s parents (one or both) struggle with addiction?
- Are my sweetheart’s parents easily offended?
- How do his or her parents relate to each of their children?
- Do my sweetheart’s parents use disrespectful language?
These are just a handful of questions to consider. Pay attention to family interactions and look for red flags.
Though I’m not on a quest to talk you out of marrying your significant other, I do want you to take a serious look at how his or her family interacts. The man or woman you see standing before you now is on his or her best behavior. The real us comes jumping out of the closet once we are married. Even if you are both determined to live in a different manner than your parents, those ingrained traits will be a struggle to overcome. Plus, his or her parents will be your children’s grandparents. Will you be comfortable with this group of people deeply influencing your kids?
Take Time to Explore
Clayton and Charie wrote an excellent chapter titled Are You Ready to Marry an Entire Family? in their book 12 Questions to Ask Before You Marry. When we are so in love, our sweetie’s family is not usually on the forefront of our minds. However, after marriage, they will likely be a big part of your life in one way or another. The more you can learn about them now, the easier it will be later. And in some cases, family problems may be a good reason to end a relationship (e.g., constant negative interference, boyfriend or girlfriend not willing to stand up to family about borrowing money, etc.). Grab a copy of the book and answer each question honestly and thoroughly before becoming engaged. The knowledge you’ll gain in the process will be worth the extra work! ~smile~
Do you have concerns about your sweetie’s family or origin? How has your significant other’s family been a blessing or a hardship for your relationship?