For most families, when a couple marries, they not only marry each other, but they also marry their spouse’s family. In that, I mean that his or her spouse’s family will be an integral part of life from the point of marriage. So, when a couple is dating, in a sense, they are dating their potential future in-laws as well.
It is very common for a girl to ask for the opinions of her family members about the guy she is dating; whereas, in his family, they may offer their opinions unsolicited. Most families greatly care about the person a family member is dating or marrying because that person will become a new member of the existing family. Additionally, they care about their family member and want to make sure that he or she isn’t making a big mistake in their choice of spouse.
So, how does one successfully date their future in-laws? Here are some factors of which to be aware:
- Family Cohesiveness
- Special Events and Holidays
- Level of Involvement
Geography. Depending on how close the couple is to each set of parents can fundamentally alter how the couple spends time with each set of in-laws. For example, my wife’s family is from North Carolina; whereas, my family (with the exception of me) is scattered amongst California, Idaho, and Arizona. Since I live Virginia, when Heather and I were dating and engaged, it made more sense for us to spend time with her family than mine due to geographical closeness.
Heather did meet my dad before we were married (my mom had already passed away before I met Heather), but it was just once – and she didn’t meet my brother until a few days before our wedding. In contrast, I had been with her family several times before we were married. It was just much more convenient to do so.
However, with the technological advancements that we have today (such as Skype), it is possible to be “with” the other family members, have meaningful conversation, and get to know them. Though, the ability to do that will also depend on the level of technical/computer competence that both sides of the potential video chat have.
Family Cohesiveness. This item references to the level of bonding that a family enjoys and to which it is accustomed. If one family has a family reunion every weekend – and the other family has one per decade… or not at all – then it may be more helpful to focus your energies on the family who enjoys togetherness while still in the dating and courting processes… though, not neglecting the other family either.
Additionally, within the construct of family cohesiveness, it is important to understand how the family is constructed. Do they espouse traditional family values or are they more modern in their approach?
Special Events and Holidays. As much as we may wish it were possible to teleport from one place to another, we do not yet live in a Star Trek age. Between the dating couple, it is key to discuss the importance of holiday traditions each had while growing up – especially those that are carrying on to this day. It is in discussion of these holidays and special events that compromises can be found.
For instance, all of my wife’s extended paternal family gets together each Thanksgiving and has for decades – and they do a similar celebration for Christmas; whereas, my family growing up congregated all together about once a decade – or less. So, it is important to my wife’s family (and my wife) that we come for those Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday celebrations. However, my side of the family does get together every few years – and on those years, it is a blessing for me to be with them as well. So, due to frequency, we’re able to go to my family’s festivities when they occur and my wife’s every other time.
What if both families have specific traditions and each are pulling at the couple to do theirs? There is one of two things that you can do here:
- Alternate between the two so that each family gets an equal amount of quality holiday (and non-holiday) interaction.
- If you are a newly married couple, then it may be time to form your own traditions – which may include going to neither family’s celebration for the holiday, but rather celebrating it with other friends (or alone – if that is what you choose… though, I recommend being with others on holidays).
It is a good thing to carry on positive, godly traditions of your family’s past; however, it is also good to start new traditions.
Level of Involvement. Some future in-laws want to be very involved in their children’s lives before marriage; whereas, other future in-laws take the stance that they have raised the child and he or she is independent and free. There are positives and negatives to both of these sides. For the negative: on the one side, there can be an over-involvement and controlling spirit – on the other side, there can be an uncaring, lethargic, apathetic attitude. Yet on the positive: on the one side, there can be loving involvement with timely advice – and on the other side, there can be the freedom to explore and grow in the relationship with some carefully laid boundaries.
While the couple is yet unmarried, I believe it is important for them to seek the advice and wisdom of both sets of parents. This will also give helpful perspective to the couple as to how the parents may continue interacting with the couple in marriage. However, I have also seen some overly hands-on parents shift to hands-off once the couple is officially married… so, it would be good to discuss that post-marital transition with them before you two are married.
To determine how much in-law interaction is enough interaction, the couple should discuss the above topics – in order to lay groundwork – and then go to each set of parents together and ask them what their interactive preferences would be and then make a faithful effort to fulfill those preferences (assuming they are reasonable). This is how to date your future in-laws. Of course, once the couple is married and are independent from parents, they can set their own boundaries and levels of interactive expectation as it relates to each family – but, a reasonable hope is that both people will enjoy spending time with their spouse’s family and the “dating” will continue.
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