Your in-laws are a crucial part of your spouse's life. This makes them a crucial part of your life as well. No one ever said it was easy to balance your needs with the needs of others -- especially the needs of an entire new family. But creating family harmony is possible -- and it's very much worth the effort.
You realize it won't be easy to build bridges -- and rebuild some that have been burnt -- but you also realize that it's a valuable way to spend your time. The return you get on your investment will last the rest of your married life. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Work with your spouse.
This is the key rule, numero uno, the whole enchilada. As my wonderful husband reminded me last night, dealing effectively with in-laws all starts with first working conflicts through with your spouse. Remember, you're in this together.
Never put your spouse in a situation where he or she has to choose between you and a relative. If you do so, you're putting your spouse in a nearly impossible bind. Instead, try to understand the bond your spouse has with his or her grandparents, parents, and siblings. If possible, try to support that relationship. Even if your spouse has parents from hell, they are his or her parents.
Set boundaries and limits.
No candy before mealtime for the kids? No loans for in-laws? With your spouse, decide what's important and what's not. For example, we let our kids eat anything they want anytime. Want ice cream ten minutes before dinner? Fine by me as long as you eat a reasonable dinner. But we're really, really picky about school work. I don't think it has dawned on my kids yet that there is a grade below "A." Working as a team, set your family values. Then communicate your values to your in-laws. All of your values and all of your in-laws.
Speaking of boundaries, don't make promises that you can't keep. Remember Neville Chamberlain, Hitler, and Poland? In an attempt to achieve "peace in our time," British politico Neville Chamberlain gave Poland to Hitler as part of the British appeasement policy. Remember how well that worked? Hitler just kept right on seizing chunks of Europe. Placating people to keep the peace rarely solves the problem -- especially if your in-laws are tyrants.
A happy marriage is not like football; there are no successful end-runs in this game. Never go behind your spouse's back when you deal with in-laws. And don't tolerate it if your spouse does.
Don't Go There
Don't confuse listening and responding. You're not obligated to do something just because your in-laws want you to, but you should acknowledge their input. People get pushy when they feel you're turning them down without really listening, so they tend to scream louder. Maybe then you'll hear them!