My Parents and Future In-Laws Don't Get Along. What Do I Do?
Experts outline the dos and don'ts of this sticky situation.
If you breezed through meeting and bonding with your future in-laws, you probably thought the hard part was over. While you're not wrong, you're not exactly right either. Once you've won over your soon-to-be in-laws, it's time for your parents to do the same-and if your mom and dad aren't quite clicking with your future spouse's parents, you all may be headed into dicey territory. Whether you're dealing with parents who don't have much in common or a full-on Capulet-Montague situation, remind yourself of these dos and don'ts before getting involved.
Do: Take a step back.
It's natural to be upset if your parents aren't getting along with your future in-laws, but resist the temptation to step in and try to fix it immediately, says Dr. Terri Apter, author of What Do You Want from Me? Learning to Get Along with In-Laws. "The first step for a couple in this situation is to recognize that this is not primarily their problem," she says. "Their parents are grown-ups who presumably want what is best for the couple, and they should work things out." Your parents may have as many anxieties about welcoming new family members as you do-whether that's questioning their place and influence in the new extended family or simply worrying about whether they'll still be the ones to host you for holiday dinners. "When we marry, we think we are forming a new family of our very own," Apter says, "but in fact we are combining families, and that involves essential change in every family member."
Don't: Get your whole clan involved.
Before you try to encourage (or force) your parents to get along, remember this is something only you and your partner should suggest. If you're dreaming of joint vacations with both sets of parents, you'll need a different level of friendship and tolerance between them than you will if you're happy with civil attendance at the Thanksgiving table. If you do decide to help them work things out, keep it to yourselves. "It can be helpful to talk things over with other family members, but enlisting them as relationship fixers is unlikely to have a positive result," says Apter. "The parents are likely to feel manipulated, cornered, even scolded." And keep any discussions with your parents focused on how their behavior makes you and your partner feel without taking sides. "Each should make it clear to his or her parents that the bad feelings are painful to them," says Apter.
Do: Think about your parents' feelings.
Remember that the argument your parents seem to be having may not be the one they are actually having: Disagreements over big issues (politics, money, religion) or small ones (who has more family on the guest list; who's hosting the morning-after brunch) are understandable, but there's often more to them. "The underlying issues will be about influence, love, respect, and inclusion," says Apter. "The issue is whether the differences between the two families threaten to reduce a parent's influence and family status. The key is to show respect and fairness to each set of parents and hope that in allaying anxiety over the changing family, the parents themselves will grow up."
Don't: Rearrange your big day for them.
Parents who can't get along can put a major strain on brides and grooms who are already trying to work with a wide range of logistical, budgetary, and emotional concerns. Make whatever small accommodations you can to keep your parents from getting into an argument that spoils your day-seat them separately, ask a diplomatic cousin to run interference-but don't put their actions on your list of things to stress about. "You do your best, but you can't control other people's behavior and it's just silly to try," says etiquette expert Lizzie Post, co-author of Emily Post's Wedding Etiquette 6th Edition. "You can make requests, and you can talk to them about the impact it has on you, and you can do your best to put them as far apart from each other as you can during the various events at a wedding, but aside from that, if you really want to control it and not deal with it on your big day, don't invite them."