Do You Have to Like Your In-Laws?

Do You Have to Like Your In-Laws?

Why can’t we cut our in-laws some slack?



As the saying goes, “When you marry me, you marry my family.” However, fostering a deep-set romance with a stable, supportive and sound-minded partner doesn’t guarantee you’ll experience the same affinity with their family.


In fact, it seems the film industry desperately wants you to believe otherwise. Rom-coms, in particular, portray in-laws as overbearing and parasitic, are often typecast as comic reliefs, and far from from the endearing protagonist. Yet, in reality, 20% of people who foster positive relationships with their in-laws are less likely to get divorced—so why can’t we cut them some slack?



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How in-laws impact your marriage

Common issues are abundant between partners and their in-laws—closeness between families, on whose family marital couples depend, quality time spent with each family, as well as shared or opposite values. In many cases, the consensus on relationship troubles seems to state that grievances with in-laws weigh more than marital problems.


According to marriage expert Katherine Fiori, Ph.D., rocky connections with in-laws don’t actually predict the likelihood of divorce—in the case of the Philippines, separation—over time. Instead, whether spouses disagree about their relationships with each family plays a heavier role in a marriage's potential success or failure.


An EYM study, You Aren’t as Close to My Family as You Think: Discordant Perceptions About In-Laws and Risk of Divorce, further states that despite highly conflicting relationships with in-laws, the Great Divorce Factor is, instead, the conflict itself.


In-law relationships in a Filipino context

Filipino culture is exceedingly family-oriented. Spending quality time with your in-laws weekly isn't uncommon, nor is it unusual to live with them. However, as younger generations become increasingly independent, the shift towards cohabitating before marriage spells trouble for many traditional in-laws.


RELATED: Modern Love: Here’s Why Young Filipinos Are Choosing to Cohabit Before Marriage


Twenty six-year-old Z, who has been with her partner for over three years, says her relationship with her in-laws is relatively minimal. “I couldn’t say I totally get along with them, or if I don’t. Just your usual hi, hello.” When asked why she and her partner keep his parents at arm’s length, Z says, “They’re very conservative, but my partner and I are the total opposite. We’re left, they’re right. Usually, we just keep to ourselves; we don’t oppose them during dinner conversations, so we don’t create drama. Drama escalates quickly in that household.”


As it seems, Filipino Millennials agree that Boomer-aged in-laws with traditionally conservative values often make their relationships tense, if not nearly unbearable.


On a unique end of the spectrum is Gabrielle (29), who cohabitates with her partner of four years and has a primarily stable relationship with her in-laws. “While they have Catholic values, a lack of extreme conservativeness explains why our relationship is healthy. They didn’t have qualms about us moving in premaritally. They don’t seem to understand Millennial relationships deeply but know enough to respect them,” she reveals.


When asked about any potential negatives about her relationship with her in-laws, Gabrielle shares, “The mother can be overbearing and reinforces the notion of a golden panganay (firstborn) as someone she can depend on financially. It used to bother me, but that’s Filipino culture. It’s the norm at this point.”



So, what level of involvement with in-laws should be acceptable?

While an INSIDER study states that only 3% of couples have “very negative” relationships with in-laws, the Filipino family-first culture tends to add another complex ingredient to the pot.


The good news is that family therapy is becoming increasingly common in today’s digital-leaning culture. “My partner and I have attended one family session, which was not as tense as I expected. People spoke freely. Most received our opinions with grace. But I still believe in dismantling many family-first approaches to Filipino relationships. There shouldn’t be as much involvement in modern relationships by in-laws as there is.”


Z seconds the move towards less involved relationships, saying, “I’m in a relationship with my partner, not his parents. We consider their feelings, yes, but that doesn’t mean we’ll do what they want. They did try to sway us onto their conservative beliefs to no avail.”


Poor relationships with in-laws isn’t the end-all, be-all

While modern relationship structures in a Filipino context want to see in-laws less involved, not all instances necessitate cutting off your partner’s family. Instead, the options are plentiful.


Some marriage counselors recommend therapy. Others recommend habit-forming. Whatever the case, you’ll want to begin by getting your partner on board—nobody wants an ambush (especially your in-laws).


Limiting quality time is also an option. Z says, “I guess if you don’t have to live with them, just do your best not to create drama.” Gabrielle agrees, saying, “I don’t visit my in-laws every time my partner does. I find that certain levels of exposure help us keep our relationship positive.”


Perhaps the most critical part of the equation is not expecting your in-laws to change—if you don’t want them over-involved in your relationship, neither should you be in theirs.



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A post shared by whitney goodman lmft (@sitwithwhit)


The bottom line

In-laws don’t have to be the comical nightmares film and television portray them to be. However, boundary-setting is a vital step in any developing relationship with your partner and their family.


You don’t have to marry your partner’s family when you marry them—but you might have them around as your bridesmaids and groomsmen.



Words Zoë Isabela Alcazaren

Art Macky Arquilla

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