What causes family problems?
When we visit our parents as adults we may revert to our childhood role in the family. Whether we act like children or are treated as though we are still a child, old issues often rear their heads. This can be confusing to our partner. All of a sudden a strong, capable husband or wife is acting like a mama’s boy or girl. Our partner also may not understand why our feelings are hurt because they did not have the history of slights or hurts leading up to the current problem.
The spouse may also feel excluded. We may be back in the family nest, all cozy and comfortable, having intense, meaningful or even hilarious times with our parents and siblings and they feel left out. They don’t know the inside jokes. They don’t share the history of our past.
Our parents may be threatened because it’s obvious they are no longer as important to us as they once were. Depending on the style and maturity of the parents they may demand more time or attention, find fault with you or your spouse, or accept things as they are. We, ourselves, may be dismayed at our own reactions to our families. We may become upset by even minor changes our parents have made. Your former room may now be in use as a study, for example.
Solutions for parent or in-law problems
There are a number of things you can do to prepare for visiting parents or in-laws.
1. Talk over in detail with your spouse any problems you expect. Listen carefully and get a clear understanding of the issues for each of you. Then brainstorm about how to handle these problems.
2. Set up signals to use while visiting to let each other know when something is upsetting either one of you. Plan to talk alone each day about how things are going. Couples need some privacy even during visits.
3. Remind yourself that your first loyalty now is to your spouse, not to your parents or siblings. This is what marriage is all about. When family conflicts occur you must side with your spouse no matter what.
4. Talk with your own parents ahead of time if there are specific problems that need to be addressed. Make clear to them the time you will arrive and when you will leave. Let them know also about any other plans. You may want to take a day to visit friends nearby. This will give them time to adjust to your expectations.
5. Show love and appreciation to your parents and your in-laws. In spite of their flaws they do love you and they will put time, effort and money into entertaining you when you visit. Be respectful and understanding toward them.
If parent or in-law problems are extreme or chronic, counseling can help.
“Honor your father and mother.” Exodus 20:12