Episode 081

Lisa Anderson: For this week’s inbox I’m in the studio—actually in the studio—with Candice. Candice, welcome!

Candice Watters: Thanks, Lisa. It’s nice to be here.

Lisa:  She decided to travel the… what? Less than two miles here to…

Candice: It’s a short distance, but it does require baby-sitting gymnastics.

Lisa:  That is true. She was able to make it work to answer today’s question which is from a female—good to know. Let me go ahead and read it and then we’ll jump in.

Candice: Sounds good!

Lisa:  Here we go; she says:

As my fiancé and I plan for our wedding, we’re running into some major issues with his family, particularly his mother. He’s the youngest child and only son. He moved out of the house a few years back, but moved back home when his father had a series of strokes that left him unable to walk. He’s been helping his mom for quite some time now, but is getting ready to move out a little bit before our wedding to help his mom deal with the transition of him not being there for his parents all the time.

His mother is emotionally dependent on him and guilts him for leaving her. I want to help her with her needs, but I’m having difficulty drawing clear boundaries with her. He’s always been there for his family in ways that are admittedly unhealthy and has not had good, or maybe any, kind of boundaries with them.

Now that we’re getting married, he’s trying really to have boundaries to protect me, our relationship and our future family. He and I have most of our conflicts about his family. It has strained our relationship and taken a lot of the joy out of our wedding planning. I often feel defeated and hopeless about this. Do you have any practical, biblical insights on how we should handle this situation?

Candice: This is a tough situation and I think, to start, I just want to say that you’re not alone in feeling like your tension is about your future in-laws. I think even though most couples wouldn’t have the specific medical situation your in-laws are facing, most couples would say it’s tense dealing with in-laws. That’s one of the only areas that Steve and I have had sustained disagreement about: how we deal with each other’s families. And so to start out by saying you’re not alone.

That said, I think a couple of things come to mind. The first is to say you cannot control or change the circumstances that your fiancé’s parents are facing. But what you can work on—both you and your fiancé and you as a team—is how you respond to the circumstances. And so I think that should be your focus for prayer, for conversation and for working on. That’s where you really need to grow in maturity and grow as one: how are you going to respond to these emotional needs to these actual practical, physical needs? And how will you let this affect your relationship and shape how you relate to one another?

That said, you mention that the strain of this relationship is taking the joy out of your wedding planning. And I would say, you know, I’m so sorry about that because you want your wedding planning to be joyful, but let’s remember that your wedding is a party and as long as it’s not taking the joy out of your future marriage, then it’s not a deal-breaker. If it’s taking the joy out of your future marriage, that’s what is a concern to me, where I would suggest you need to talk together with maybe your pastor, or another married couple that you trust, to say, “Hey, this is really affecting the health of our relationship. What do we do?”

This, again, is not a deal-breaker because the whole point of marriage is to leave and cleave and become one and learn how to respond as a couple, as a married couple, to whatever life throws you. And I guess in some ways you have a leg up on some couples because you know already what life is throwing you. And so you can already start to deal with this difficult situation as a couple. But don’t ignore it, don’t avoid it. And certainly encourage your fiancé in the efforts he’s making to start to sever some of those emotional ties and some of those dependencies that are unhealthy.

Lisa:  It sounds to me, Candice, like the future mother-in-law is struggling with some feelings of fear or insecurity just having this relationship with her son change, or knowing it’s going to change… Which to me is a little surprising, because he’s the youngest of a bunch of kids. He is the only son though, so… But what do you think that this listener can do to strengthen the relationship with this woman so that there’s not that territorialism? Often it just seems like so many brides, especially with mothers-in-law, have to draw lines and it’s like they’re already staking out territory and getting kind of crazy… What can she do proactively to start building the relationship in a healthy way?

Candice: It’s not just the brides who get crazy, it’s the mothers-in-law. I was at a shower for Ashley [a member of the Boundless team] who—yay, Ashley, because she’s getting married!

Lisa:  Yay!

Candice: Actually when this airs, she will have been married a week. Her mother-in-law actually brought out her apron and at the shower, cut the apron strings off and gave them to Ashley and I thought wow what an awesome picture of a mother-in-law who recognises how difficult this relationship is

Lisa:  That was like a tear-fest.

Candice: It was!

Lisa:  I started crying when she did that. Then she read this awesome poem, something about all the things she was going to relinquish.

Candice: Her commitment to Ashley, how she was going to relate to her. And I was taking notes mentally to think I want to do this for my sons, because I don’t want to be the kind of mother-in-law that’s holding on so tightly that I don’t want my son to go form a new family.

Because really, that is what God is calling this young man to. And so whatever this young woman can do to let her mother-in-law know that she is praying for her, to try to encourage her with scripture, to try to build her up. I don’t think you want to force saying things like “I love you.” If you don’t feel that yet, it’s okay. But you can say things that are demonstrating kindness and really being godly in your character toward her.

And pray that God will give you a love for her and will give you his perspective on, not only her situation but also her father-in-law’s situation, and pray that God will strengthen their marriage. Because it sounds like maybe the mother-in-law is looking to the son for things that she really should be looking to her husband for. So as a couple, if they can agree in the privacy of their conversations for what they would like to see happen with the parents, to be praying for that: that God would strengthen the parents’ relationship and that maybe the brother could talk to his sisters about, “Hey guys, I’m feeling like I’m carrying this by myself. How can you help me? Because I need you to help me create the margin to form a healthy marriage myself.” To not act as if you’re alone in this, to really rely on the community of family.

Lisa:  Those are good thoughts. I think in the future we will bring in some in-law situations here and just hammer them out. Maybe we’ll bring in Candice’s parents and just see… have Steve be like, “This is how it worked for me.”

Candice: Oh no, my parents are perfect.

Lisa:  Oh, well, okay.

Candice: It was Steve’s parents that had all the problems.

Lisa:  That wouldn’t be the best example then, I guess. [Laughter]

Well those are good thoughts, Candice. Thanks so much for being here. As always we want to hear your questions and your comments, your thoughts, your concerns. Write to us at editor [at] boundless [dot] org.

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