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I can’t stand my son-in-law – three tips to make it work

Q: My husband and I really dislike our new son-in-law. I want to maintain a relationship with our daughter, but it’s hard to overlook the way we feel about her husband. What can we do?

A: A major theme of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the distress felt by the bride’s parents when they realized she loved a man who wasn’t Greek. The bride,Toula, didn’t know whether her father was more upset that her fiancé, Ian, was a Xeno (foreigner) or a vegetarian! Ian worked hard to be accepted by Toula’s family, including joining the Greek Orthodox Church. By the day of the wedding, all was well – Toula’s parents even gave the young couple the house next door to their own as a gift. Intergenerational conflicts aren’t typically resolved as smoothly in real life as they are in Hollywood!
    The die is cast. As parents, we picture rosy scenarios for our children’s futures, but, as they grow, their choices often stray from our expectations. Sometimes parents are surprised by career choices, disappointed when a promising talent turns into a weekend hobby. Other times, someone is a great fit in the family system and then the couple breaks up! But now your daughter has made a lifetime commitment. Your son-in-law may rub you the wrong way in terms of his personality or his behaviors may trigger red flags. It is likely that your daughter was aware of your feelings before the marriage. But now she has made her choice and that commitment must be respected.

So, how do you make this work?

• Focus on the goal. When a couple marry, encouragement and support are much more valuable than gifts from their registry lists. In your daughter’s case, this is difficult – but the goal is for their marriage to work. Accept the fact that you may never like your son-in-law, but he is now family. Give him a small photo of your daughter as a baby and ask for one of him to sit beside hers at your house. All babies are likeable!
• Seek out the positive. Instead of compartmentalizing your relationship with your daughter, also schedule brief interactions with the young couple. Treat them to a movie. Show them a favorite hiking trail, restaurant or other site from your newlywed days. Take them to buy a small tree for their home and help them plant it. Search for plants for their apartment. Look for just one positive aspect about your son-in-law each time you see him and write it down in a notebook!
• Pray that your feelings change toward your son-in-law and that this marriage be a healthy one: “Subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,’ (Eph 5:21) and [through Christ] to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love” (CCC #1642).

Dr. Cathleen McGreal

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