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Handling In-Laws

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

The cardinal rule: Your first loyalty is to your spouse.

If your in-laws didn't read the piece on "Being an In-law" and are interfering inappropriately or, God forbid, destructively, you must make a firm separation between them and you. As difficult as it may be. Your marriage demands it.

In the Torah, Abraham is told to go from his father's home. To be a true servant of the Almighty, Abraham must leave behind the negative influences of his family. It's not a choice. It's a mandate.

A husband's first loyalty is to his wife. A wife's first loyalty is to her husband. Healthy parents will see that and take pleasure. Unhealthy parents will try to tighten their hold.

"I love you but this behavior is hurting my marriage. I can't participate in it" is a mantra that may require constant repetition.

Sara was very close to her mother. Her father was a salesman, frequently traveling, leaving Sara and her mother alone together. When Sara got married, her mother didn't see any reason for that to change. She often brought over dinner (which Sara welcomed) and then kicked her new son-in-law, David, out of the kitchen so that she and Sara could have a cozy chat. David was tolerant and good-natured but the constant banishment from his wife's company began to take a toll. Sara was forced to take a stand.

She suggested to her mother that either the three of them spend the time together or her mother would have to severely curtail her visits. It was the only way to preserve her marriage.

Tova's in-laws had wanted a different kind of daughter-in-law, one who would participate enthusiastically in all family events and outings. But Tova was shy and enjoyed quiet evenings at home with her new husband Yoni. "We never see you any more," complained Yoni's parents. "Your wife is destroying your relationship with us. She's not as nice as we thought."

Yoni was also forced to react strongly. "She's my wife and I won't listen to criticism of her. I love you but I can't continue this conversation unless the tone and content is changed."

This is not easy to do. It flies in the face of our preconceived notions about honoring our parents. But as long as we keep our manner and tone respectful and patient, not only are we not violating this mitzvah, we are fulfilling our own obligation to build a trustworthy home among the Jewish people.

The situations presented here are extremes. Most of us are blessed with kind and cooperative in-laws and we just need to work together to smooth out the rough edges. It's important to be able to let go; many small issues of disagreement arise in all relationships. Few are worth fighting over.

Treat your in-laws with warmth and respect. Like all of us, they just want to be loved,

Sometimes your spouse may speak negatively of his parents. It's crucial to be sympathetic to your spouse yet at the same time, not accept the slander as true. We each need to make our own individual relationship with our in-laws and perhaps even help our mate have a more objective understanding.

Most of all, treat your in-laws with warmth and respect. Like all of us, they just want to be loved, and many of their negative behaviors result from not feeling included or cared about.

It takes a lot of extra effort. But just imagine how you'd like to be treated someday. A good relationship with your in-laws will be a strong building block for your home.

We should all pray for good in-laws; and for the strength and good judgment to act appropriately if our prayers are not answered.


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