Beware of Engaging the In-Laws!

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Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

-Ephesians 6:4, NIV

I made an honest mistake when my marriage started to unravel: 

My mistake was to open and share my heart to the father of my (now) ex-wife. 

It was an honest mistake in that I was simply trusting his word on our wedding day that he would support our marriage as opposed to what his words and actions actually did–i.e. blatantly undermine the union. I should have known better than to trust my (now) ex-in-laws to do the godly thing in instructing their daughter to follow Christ and honor her marriage vows.

But I was desperate to stay married having grown up within a highly divorce-phobic Christian subculture.

My advice to the newly minted faithful partners discovering infidelity is to avoid discussing marital issues with your in-laws in general. They are not positioned to be objective. Being parents of the cheater, they have a biological bias to him or her. “Blood is thicker than water” as the saying goes.

In-Laws are not the individuals to go to for crisis marriage advice and support!

I would have saved myself much suffering and anguish if I had realized that earlier rather than later in my marriage’s demise. By engaging them in this role, you are making yourself vulnerable to individuals who are biologically programmed to choose their child over you.

So, not only do the in-laws have the interest of discharging their own discomfort brought on by the ugly news, they are also interested in reducing the suffering of their own blood. This is true even if making their cheating child feel better means making the faithful spouse eat the cost.

Another related piece of truth here is that you do not owe your (former) in-laws an inside look into your dying or dead marriage.

It is not the in-laws’ place to tell you how to run your life or marriage. If you are married, you are an adult and need to be respected as such even and especially in this instance of a troubled or dead marriage. A healthy boundary here may need setting over and over again if these individuals remain in your life.

Now, I can understand if the in-laws want to know why you are choosing divorce. They can get the factual cliff-notes version of that, though. 

“Your daughter is or was cheating on me, and God is clear that His followers are not to tolerate such sin.” 

If they have a problem with that, you can point them back to their child’s behavior and Scripture.

The Bible does not require more of a reason than sexual infidelity to divorce. If you have a problem with the divorce, you really need to talk to your own daughter as to why she thought it was okay to defy God and destroy her marriage by cheating and lying.”

As a side note, some in-laws will be supportive and respectful of the faithful spouse. They may even agree with the divorce decision and may be appropriately horrified by their child’s choices to lie and cheat. I would still caution openness with these in-laws until you are certain they are trustworthy as the dynamics of blood over non-blood are very, very deep.

To deal with the interfering (former) in-laws who feel entitled to dig into your spousal performance, I would suggest either silence or changing the subject.

“Hey, let’s talk about the grand kids. Did you know that Susie climbed to the top of the tall slide and went down it all on her own the other day!”

“I am not going to talk with you about my performance as a spouse.”

“If you really ‘need’ to talk about performance, we can discuss how well you performed in raising and training your child in godliness as Paul instructed you to do in Ephesians 6:4. Personally, I think it would be better for our relationship to discuss other matters, though.”

“I do not blame you for your child’s horrific sins against me any more than you should blame me for enforcing consequences for such sins. Let’s leave it at that.”

Keep your boundaries firm with the in-laws. And do not beat yourself up too much if you fail to do so. I certainly did more than once and I am more than okay today by the grace of God!

9 thoughts on “Beware of Engaging the In-Laws!”

  1. This is quite possibly one of the most important posts you’ve ever written. This is the #1 most common mistake we make. Especially if our inlaws claim to be Christian. We just assume they’ll want what God wants. But they only want their own. Which, I’m beginning to think, is how the cheater/abuser (mine is both, and an addict to boot) gets encouraged in the first place. I’m going to share this with an abused women’s support group I’m in. I think it will be helpful for the women who have just left and are going through this very thing to be validated by another source. Thanks.

    1. Thanks! Yes, I call it an honest mistake because faithful spouses have reason to trust–i.e. it was promised to them that the in-laws would support the marriage on the wedding day. Further, they have reason to believe a commitment to godliness and righteousness if the in-laws are professing Christians. Unfortunately, both often get trumped by a twisted allegiance to their brood. Please DO share with others!

  2. I made the same mistake. Believed the lies told to me on my wedding day that I was now a part of the family. That never happened. I was discarded like the trash as soon as the first (of many) sins were revealed. They covered. And besides them stalking my blog every so often, I do not exist… even as the mother of their grandchildren.

    BUT they have taught me a valuable lesson, how NOT to be. I don’t want to ever enable my children like that. I would never do that to another person (the victim). It really is very unhealthy to fully support (I didn’t say “love”) a child no matter what they do, or who they hurt. It leads to very entitled and unrepentant people. And we don’t need any more of those around.

  3. Just found your blog and I want to thank you for your writing,it is very encouraging.

  4. I went to my in-laws about the drugs but did not reveal the unfaithfulness. I thought they would be concerned and hoped their concern would lead him to seek help. But, no. My father-in-law refused to even take a glass of water from my hand again.

  5. I too made the mistake of sharing my faults with my Christian in-laws in hope they can understand and stop fueling breakup of my family. Little did I know what my honest sharing would cause. My in-laws listen and prayed for me, then went no-contact with me, and then went on full attack and assault of my character to anyone who would listen, church members, elders, pastor, and my family. Lies were made up, and I was slandered even farther. It got so ridiculous, that elders and pastor called them on their behavior and officially disciplined in the church. My father in-law was ‘forced’ to apologize to me for his behavior. Then same day, I had another heart to heart conversation with my FIL, trusting that he truly repented of his hate towards me, and later found out that he was recording our conversation. When I called him on such treachery he denied even knowing what I was talking about.
    Well, I learned my lesson of trust, good will, and “how NOT to be” from my In-laws.

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