Diary of a Marriage: The Parent Trap

Getting married means gaining a whole new family. Like it or not.

When I first asked J. if he was all right with me blabbing about our marriage each week on Philly Mag’s website, he gave me two conditions:  1. That I don’t get all Cosmo-like about our between-the-sheets details, and 2. That I don’t use this blog as a public forum to bash his parents. Fair enough.

It’s not that I don’t have enough ammo — I have a long and storied relationship with my husband’s parents, one punctuated by screaming matches, door slamming, hand-wringing, and periods of no contact. (I nearly canceled our wedding when his mother informed me that she’d changed the locks on the house J. and I bought together — and then offered me a key.) Suffice it to say that my relationship with my in-laws is now confined to big holidays and birthdays, J. giving me encouraging hand squeezes or quickly ushering me out the door when the conversation veers into Crazyville (no, we’re not discussing our finances; yes, your son is eating enough, I promise I’m not trying to starve him).

The beginning of our marriage ushered in a tiring process: We set boundaries; my in-laws barreled through them; we set them again; they accused us of shutting them out; they got angry and we got angry and they yelled things and we yelled back and they slammed doors and we all cried. And it was a very, very tough time.

It was after our last and biggest fight with his parents, after which we had no contact with them for six months, that I actually had enough time to soften, to look at J. with something other than resentment at his having brought these insufferable issues into our otherwise tidy life. And I saw that he was sad — deep-down, achingly sad.

We weren’t talking about a lousy friend or a jerky ex — we were talking about the people who created my husband, who rocked him to sleep and held him while he cried and taught him how to ride a bike and made him who he is. How could we just cut them off? And how could I expect him to be okay with it? They are his parents. They will always be his parents. Like it or not, I had to force myself to work a little harder at the relationship, to give it one more shot before throwing in the towel. And so I did, in the form of an invitation to J.’s surprise thirtieth-birthday party. And they came, and we started to gently crawl back to a relationship.

J. and I are still working on creating boundaries, and his parents are still working to understand them and respect them. His mother still makes me bristle — I imagine we’ll be battling over her son for the rest of our lives — and J. and I still hold sweaty hands underneath the dinner table, both of us praying for the other’s sake that we can all make it through the main course without any incidents.

I will almost positively never have the perfect relationship with my in-laws. And that’s okay. They gave me J., and I will always love them for that. Anyway, I recently met my own mom for lunch. “You look really pretty, sweetie,” she said. “Although I’d cut your hair by at least six inches. And it’s way too light. And your eye makeup…” I rolled my eyes and laughed. Yes, I thought. One set of parents is enough for a lifetime.

Have you and your fiance or husband had to deal with a rocky relationship with either set of parents? How have you resolved any issues? Do you have any tricks or advice to share with the rest of us?

And for even more helpful advice — from local experts! — on how to deal with a difficult mother-in-law, check out this PW article here.

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