It’s important to be sensitive to your spouse’s feelings concerning your parents. If he or she feels crowded or disrespected, it’s important you take these feelings seriously and act to improve the situation. These principles should also be taken into consideration by parents and should influence the way they treat their child’s spouse.

Independent Identity

You’ll know you’re in a situation where change should occur when you and your spouse don’t feel you have your own identity. One of the purposes of marriage is for a couple to establish an identity that is independent of their parents. If this doesn’t happen, a healthy marriage becomes much more of a challenge.

Many marriage experts say couples should not live in the same town as either of their parents. The reasoning is that with constant availability of their parents, the couple doesn’t learn to rely on each other. It’s difficult to form an identity together unless each of you learns to rely on the other instead of your parents. It is not my opinion that every couple should live in a separate town from their in-laws, but for some, that situation might be best. It might be best for you if your in-laws are too involved in certain aspects of your relationship – especially if they are too involved in conflicts between you and your spouse.

Part of what it means to have your own identity as a couple is that conflicts are resolved without the involvement of in-laws. The scenario below shows ways a couple could fall into the trap of “in-law dependence” and the consequences they might face if independence is not a priority.

After six months of marriage, Tonya and Matt had their first big fight. What was the subject? It doesn’t matter.

While in tears, Tonya called her mother and told her about the entire ordeal. Her mother listened and became angrier by the minute.

“I’m coming over there,” her mother said.

When she arrived at the couple’s home, she immediately began telling Matt why Tonya was correct and scolded him for disagreeing. According to her, Matt owed Tonya an apology. 

From that point on, Matt had difficulty trusting his mother-in-law. He felt she plotted against him and wanted to control him. He also felt betrayed by his wife. He felt that she, rather than being on a team with him, called for backup to defeat him.

If you and your spouse are arguing about any subject, neither has the right to involve a parent in the disagreement. If your spouse brings a parent in on an argument, you’re probably going to feel just as Matt did. You’d feel it’s “them against you.” This violates the oneness attitude that should exist in your marriage relationship.

Mutual Respect

In all things, respect your mother and father-in-law. Remember, they are the parents of someone very special – your spouse. If you are a parent of a married child, your son-in-law or daughter-in-law is very special because he or she is your child’s life partner.

It is best for each family to realize the independence of the other. Your spouse must know your parents will not interfere with the family you are building. Your parents must realize you and your spouse need to build a life and relationship separate from them. This requires patience and, at times, may be painful. 

It’s important to honor and respect your in-laws, but above that, protect your marriage. This principle will pay great dividends in the future.

 © 2003 Family Dynamics Institute

Lee Wilson is a ministry consultant at Family Dynamics Institute, a marriage and family ministry that works with churches and concerned Christians to build strong, healthy marriages. You can visit their Web site at or call them at 1-800-650-9995. If you are interested in working with married couples at your church, ask for Lee.

To learn how God can help you make your marriage all it should be and all you want it to be, click here to purchase "Becoming One: Emotionally, Spiritually, Sexually," written by Joe Beam, the president of Family Dynamics Institute.