Human beings are funny creatures. Some are like sheep, some are like goats. The sheep meekly follow one another and fall into line. The goats butt one another, hurting and being hurt.
Among in-laws there are sheep and goats. Some manage quite happily, maintaining a level of peaceful relations. Others are into head-butting. In fact, I hear frequently of running battles that last a lifetime. No wonder there are so many mother-in-law jokes! We can't help but laugh. In the real world, many folk are crying.
Why the problems?
Let me have a few guesses.
• A son-in-law doesn't like certain traits in his mother-in-law because they are clearer displays of the same objectionable traits he sees in his wife.
• A mother-in-law doesn't like her son-in-law because she thinks he doesn't understand his wife and gives her a hard life--at least, something less than she deserves.
• A mother-in-law doesn't like her daughter-in-law because she doesn't meet her husband's needs as well as she herself did when she brought up the man.
• A daughter-in-law doesn't like her mother-in-law because she comes across as an accusing meddler in what is not her business.
I also guess that one partner in a marriage who is having in-law trouble will work hard to win his or her spouse to the same negative point of view. So a stand-off can take place with years of sniping, uncomfortable birthday contacts and abominable Christmases.
Trying to do the right thing
Listening to people tell their story, I get the feeling that some take a dislike to an in-law and fix it in cement. They decide that their personalities are incompatible. Some resign themselves to the situation despite their negative feelings. Others live with the negatives in continual focus.
As in all conflict, it would be much better to try to understand both the other person and yourself. Then let some positives emerge like kindness and goodness. Let them loose on each other and recognise them in each other.
Then, bury the hatchet. (No, I'm not talking about getting rid of Mother-in-law altogether!) I mean that grudges should be dealt with openly, then forgiven and forgotten.
Yes, it's complex
Nothing like this is easy, but the alternative could be harder. The best way of expressing what I mean is the Golden Rule. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If both sides only thought about this long and hard it would be an excellent guide.
Closeness or separateness
You can be too close. The essence of marriage is leaving your parents to be joined to someone else. So, living in close proximity to parents, sharing space and time and conversation can lead to problems. Married children; get out of their way! Parents; let them go and live their own lives.
Then, we can be too separate. We don't solve problems by cutting ourselves off. Usually we create a few more. Hardening hearts and shutting doors to those who are near relatives can cause untold grief.
Remember to be merciful
Be compassionate. Learn to love. You and I are loved despite what we are. If God so loved us and gave his Son for us, how can we harden our hearts against him and against the relatives he gave us? Our lives should exhibit a great deal of gratitude rather than miserable complaint.
How much happier life can be when we approach it with a wholesome attitude.