Dear CMR: My in-laws are having a hard time cutting the cord when it comes to my wife. They try to get involved in everything we do and it's causing us conflict. We're considering seeing a marriage counselor, but do you think her parents should be included in the marriage counseling?
Thank you so much for a great question! In-laws are an important part of the family dynamic, and yet there are times when that relationship can be a tricky one.
To start off, it would be helpful for you and your wife to have an honest, kind conversation about the situation. You will want to share with your spouse what the situation is like for you, how you feel about it, and what is at stake for you. You will want to be self-descriptive, focusing on how you feel in the situation, rather than describing how your spouse is doing it wrong. For example, you would want to describe how you feel left out or not important, rather than describing how your spouse is so inconsiderate. When your spouse is describing how she feels and experiences the situation, really listen in order to understand, not to prepare to make your rebuttal. Doing so really paves the way for you both to be able to collaborate together on coming up with a plan to address the situation.
When listening to understand, remember that there may be some cultural considerations to keep in mind. Different cultures view the role of the in-laws differently. If this is a point of contention in your marriage, it helps to keep in mind that your spouse is not necessarily trying to be difficult, it's just that her perspective is what is the norm to her. Listening non-defensively and with the goal to understand your spouse will make it easier for her to collaborate with you on determining the role of in-laws that specifically works best for your marriage.
Seeing a marriage counselor certainly is a helpful option. It is very beneficial to involve an objective third party who has training and expertise. Although sometimes it might be advantageous to include the in-laws at some point in the counseling process, it would be better for just you and your spouse to work on your marriage together since your marriage relationship is between only the two of you. You want your marriage to be strong, stable, and secure so that you are able to collaborate and support each other whatever comes your way, including your relationship with your in-laws. Hopefully, after working on your marriage through counseling, you and your spouse will be able to collaborate together on the relationship you both want to have with your in-laws, so that involving them in counseling would not be necessary.
Again, thank you for a great question!
Willa Williams is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She works at the Biola Counseling Center as a therapist and at the Biola Center for Marriage and Relationships as a consulting therapist. She has a Master of Arts in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) and a Master of Arts in Counseling in Psychology from Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). She is Level 3 Trained in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy. Before coming to Biola, she served overseas at the Spanish Bible Institute in Barcelona, Spain, where she taught a class on counseling skills for pastors and served as the staff therapist for the students. She has been married for more than 30 years and has two teenage children. She has a passion for healthy relationships and enjoys working with couples as well as individuals. She appreciates the immense impact that healthy marriages and relationships have on couples as well as future generations.