Navigating the waters of dealing with your future (or existing) in-laws is not always easy, especially if there’s some hostility brewing.
What’s a gal to do if she finds herself in this situation?
Jolene: Okay, well, yeah, this is certainly an interesting situation. The first question is “How can I stand up for him and support him without offending her?” My quick response “You can’t,” it’s not your mom and he’s not your husband and it’s not your place. Now I so understand the “I want to validate my man and let people know they can’t do this and do that”. I’ve been in situations like that, but I have learned, especially when it comes to family relationships that my husband should deal with his family and I should deal with my family.
If there are times when my family isn’t treating me right and I can’t make headway with them, then you can bet your bottom dollar that my husband is showing up to help on my behalf.
Now if it’s on his side, because he is my protector and head of the family, he goes to his family and says you know “I’m not having any of this, you can’t treat her this way, you can’t treat me this way and you can’t treat my sons this way.” So you would do wise to not say a word to her, because it’s not your place. So that’s my thought on the first question.
Eric: You know it’s funny that you say that, because I kinda have mixed feelings about this. Number one, Okay yeah they’re not engaged, they’re not married, right? So there is no connection, I mean, connection there but if she’s a daughter of the King and he’s a brother in the Lord, I believe that she certainly has a right to stand up for a brother in the Lord.
Eric: She’s got to be prepared if she wants to take that stance, number one she gotta be prepared for the repercussions of it. I don’t say that she has to, but if she’s just like “Hey, I’m gonna stand for what’s right” she can do that. Now in the place of marriage, is she there to protect him? No, he’s the protector, he’s the one that should be standing up, but what I’m concerned about is that he’s kind of a whipping boy for his mother.
Eric: And that’s really what concerns me more is because, if he takes this criticism from his mother now, he’s gonna take it later.
Eric: And it’s gonna cause issue for them later on in marriage.
Jolene: And well here is my thought when I said “you can’t say anything to her” because my thought is if you’re at a family gathering and she’s just, you know, tearing down your guy left and right.. this would be my take if you were being torn down by your mom and she was saying rude things to you, here would be my response, “Love, I think you’re so awesome at this.Hun, I think you can conquer all this.” Do you see how I came at it at a different angle? I didn’t come right out and attack her and say that she’s wrong. What I’ve done is I’ve built my husband up in her presence while she’s tearing him down.
Eric: Yeah, which really sticks it right in her face.
Jolene: It does, and who…
Eric:…and you do that well. You do that all the time for me.
Jolene: Well because my heart is, well you talked about brother and sister in the Lord, is that I’m still there saying “I believe in you. I think highly of you.I’m by your side.”
Jolene: So I’m doing something that is sharpening you, but I’m also making it very clear to others that they need to back up without me saying a word to them.
Eric: Well, I mentioned a strong stance before but she can not take that strong stance if he’s not as strong.
Eric: Because, I mean, that would just fall apart for her.
Jolene: Right, right. He might be just fine at how mom treats him because that’s what he’s known his whole life and he might come at it as “Don’t say anything Hun because you are just gonna rock the boat.” So yeah these are some clear things for you, some warning signs that you need to talk about with him when “Hey… when we have a baby and you know your mom wants junior to stay the night but your mom tears me down left and right are you gonna defend me?” When you’re dating right now, you’re not bound to him so if you’ve got his mom just tearing you a new one left and right saying all these horrible things about you or him… at what point is he gonna man up and say “this is unacceptable”. So you have to have those conversations with him.
Eric: Right. Well I want to bring in an example. There were times when we were engaged and married that I was treated poorly by people or treated poorly in the past by people and you wanted to stand up for me, now I didn’t need you to stand up for me…
Jolene: Right, right…
Eric: Okay? But it was in your nature to mark your territory…
Eric: …and show me that “I think you’re a great guy”
Eric: and “I’m gonna show these people that I think you’re a great guy”
Eric: So obviously that made me feel good
Eric: I didn’t need that but you did that for yourself and such…
Jolene: Right but I but what I did do was ask permission. “Hey! How do you feel if I go over here and I say these things” you know…
Jolene: Because so you know, they have a relationship with their family or their friends before you showed up.
So you are also giving him honor of “this is how I feel, I wanna say something, how do you feel about it?” And if he’s just like “Don’t say anything, don’t rock the boat. That’s just how mom is!” Then because you’re not engaged, I would then ask, “So what does this look like when we’re married?” What then happens when she, she’s no longer criticizing you, you know…
Jolene:…as the guy in the situation but now she is criticizing you as the wife?
Eric: Because it’s not stopping with him.
Jolene: No, I don’t believe it will either.
Eric: Because if she thinks she has the authority to do that with her son, she’s crossed the lines and coming right at the daughter-in-law as well
Jolene: Right, I believe that. So just in that first question, one way to handle it is to speak highly of him in her presence and maybe that will, prayerfully, cause her to examine her own heart and think “Oh, I never really thought about building up my family.”
Eric: What if it doesn’t? What if they’re married and it doesn’t change anything with the mother? And most likely…
Eric:…it possibly will not.
Jolene: Right, well, I guess my first question would be is to have those questions before we get engaged. To have a lot of those questions, because you know, once kids come on the scene, you know, then she’s telling you that you’re this horrible mom and that you don’t know how to raise them. And what’s your guy gonna do about it? Is he gonna choose you? Because the Bible says to “leave and cleave” or is he gonna choose momma and the apron strings? Is he gonna cut those strings because you need to know that ahead of time. He may be a great guy but he’s never really maybe thought about, you know he’s lived with this his whole life, this is all he knows as far as a mom. And of course he loves his mom, and of course you want to honor her, but at the same time- Will his allegiance and loyalty turn towards you? Will he defend you, when the criticism does move to you, because most likely it will move to you.
Eric: Right, because both of you are gonna have to look down the road and say, if the battle comes where are we drawing the line?
Eric: …and that is certainly a discussion to have before marriage rather than afterwards.
Jolene: Yes and you definitely have to have that, especially since he’s not really saying anything today. I don’t know if he’s just a gentle, passive guy by nature or if he’s more of that confrontational “I’m not gonna have it” so yeah you need to have those conversations. Eric and I are both by nature very stand up, confrontational, “you’re not gonna cross this line” so even though some of those things came up before marriage, the way that we handled it came up so quickly that it’s not something we really had to talk about because we saw it in our dating life, you know we saw both of us saying “I’m not putting up with this”.
Eric: Well, and on both sides of our family, they would think twice as to cross that line again.
Jolene: Yes, yes because we have gone through those things. And it’s just like “You know what? We’re solid. We’re not budging. We’re not choosing momma’s side over, you know, my spouse’s side” So that’s my thought on the first question.
The second one- “you feel so angry with her all the time.” You’re gonna have people like that, you know, maybe that same person for the rest of your life. And you know, I can remember one day my husband said “you know, you’ve got some bitterness in your heart over there and you need to deal with it” and I’m like “I don’t know how to deal with it because I’m so angry”
Eric: Well, she says angry, is she really angry or is she bitter? Because those are two different things. The Bible allows you to be angry, if you do not sin…
Eric: So, so, how do you be angry without sinning?
Jolene: Well, it’s a righteous indignation. You know, this is not right and then you just gotta let it go. Realize that it’s not right but you don’t let it fester in your heart, you don’t have these thoughts of, you know, “she makes me sick” and “I just can’t stand her.” You know, when it starts to fester like that, it’s turning into bitterness. So if you’ve got bitterness going on in your heart right now, which, you know, you said it comes into your mind all the time and you have a really hard time with her, it kinda sounds like bitterness is going on there.
Eric: Well frankly, if a man says “this is just how she is, so we’re gonna have to put up with it” I would not accept that answer. That’s a weak answer. And frankly, that means that he’s choosing momma.
Eric: That’s his answer
Jolene: Right, Right, “Don’t rock the boat, this is how she is, you just have to accept her” And you have to decide. Ok well, because you’re not married, then what are you gonna do? Not show up at family gatherings?And say “I’m not coming with you” because there will be a rift there and because in essence, he’s choosing her, he’s gonna have resentment towards you.
Jolene: So this is a big issue that you need to talk to him about. You guys have to come to a resolution as to what is it, and how you’re gonna handle it before you even get engaged. I wouldn’t even let him put a ring on my finger until this issue is dealt with because if you’re already having bitterness today, oh girlfriend, it will get way worse when you get married and when you have babies. So…
Eric: And you talk, and you talk about small cracks in the marriage…
Eric: And I wanna give an example, I hope I can make this clear, but I do rock climbing once in awhile and what happens with rock climbing is some climbs they drill into the rock and put these permanent bolts into the rock, now here’s what’s interesting about this, then they smear silicone around that because if they don’t, in the winter water gets in there, it freezes, and it weakens that anchor, it cracks the rock just a little bit because that ice expands and cracks it. What looks like a solid anchor, like a solid marriage, has a crack and you might rely on that and put all your weight on that and inevitably it pulls out and cracks and breaks and you’re falling…
Eric: So you know when you talk about cracks in marriage this could be the small crack…
Eric:… that doesn’t look like a big deal there but deep down there is something happening…
Jolene: Yeah you really need to have a conversation with your guy about you know “dear old mother-in-law” The Bible talks about James 5:9 “ Do not grumble against one another brother unless you be condemned” You have an issue with her right now- it’s just on how this woman treats her family but if you marry, then you then become family. So there’s a concern. And the other thing is in Proverbs 4:23 it talks about “guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” As the bitterness grows in your heart it will grow just so much more once you head down the path of marriage if this isn’t dealt with. You need to have some type of plan that you discuss with your guy for the future and how, how you’re gonna deal with her. Obviously you pray for her but you’re not in a situation where you are bond to your man at this point, you’re not married and he needs to do something about it and really realize that it’s an important issue.
Eric: okay, so I know you talked about this real quick, she just made one statement “how can I suppress this anger?” Is that really what she should do, suppress the anger?
Jolene: No, I don’t think…
Eric: bury it?
Jolene: No I don’t agree with that, I think that’s some world talk. I don’t see anything in the Bible that talks about it- it talks about bitterness. And so that’s why I mentioned that verse, Proverbs 4:23 “guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” When I’m around people who are just so difficult and I’m like “oh my gosh, I mean it’s like, I could just, I’m just automatically in the flesh when I’m around them” then I realize that bitterness is just consuming my heart so I have to pull away from them. And I might pull away for a week, two weeks, a month, a year, who knows how long until I can go back into that relationship and have the right kind of heart but if they’re just poison and toxic, you know, only the Holy Spirit can fix them. Yes, I can pray for them but that doesn’t mean that I have to put up with their sin but because it’s a family member and that you might be entering into through marriage you gotta talk to your guy.
Because you don’t, at this point, need to marry into a family like that.
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