The fourth major adjustment problem in marriage is to the in-laws. With marriage, every adult acquires a whole new set of relatives – the in-laws. These are people of different ages, ranging from babies to the elderly, who often have different interests and values and sometimes markedly different educational, cultural and social backgrounds. Both husbands and wives must learn to adjust to their in-laws if they are to avoid frictional relationships with their spouses.
It is not at all uncommon, particularly when the married couple is young and inexperienced, for the in-laws to try to exert some control over their lives, especially if they are partially or totally responsible for their support. When, by contrast, the couple is older, more experienced, and better established financially, in-law interference with their lives is less likely to occur.
In-law adjustments have been made more difficult by a number of factors which are of recent origin and which members of past generations, for the most part, were not forced to cope with. These are listed in below:
Factors Influencing In-Law Adjustments
The widely accepted stereotype of the “typical mother-in-law” can lead to unfavourable mental sets even before marriage. Unfavorable stereotypes about the elderly – that they are bossy and interesting – can add to in-law problems.
Desire for Independence
Young married adults tend to resent advice and guidance from their parents, even if they must accept financial aid, and they especially resent such interference from in-laws.
Marital adjustments are complicated when one spouse devotes more time to relatives than the other spouse wants to; when a spouse is influenced by family advice; or when a relative comes for an extended visit or lives with the family permanently.
Young adults who have risen above the status of their families or that of their in-laws may want to keep them in the background. Many parents and relatives resent this and hostile relationships with the young couple as well as marital friction are likely to develop.
Care of Elderly Relatives
Caring for elderly relatives is an especially complicating factor in marital adjustments today because of present unfavourable attitudes toward older people and the belief that young people should be independent of relatives, especially when there are children in the family.
Financial Support of In-Laws
When a young couple must contribute to or assume responsibility for the financial support of in-laws, it can and often does lead to a frictional marital relationship. This is because the spouse whose in-laws must be aided financially resents having to make sacrifices of wants of even needs to make this aid possible.
In-law trouble is especially serious during the early years of marriage and is one of the most important causes of marital breakup during the first year. It is more serious in families where there are no children or only a few children than in large families, where in-law help is often welcome. It is also more common in middle- and upper-class groups than in lower-class groups, where the traditional concept of an elongated family, with relatives as the chief source of companionship, is more widely held.
Certain factors have been found to contribute to good in-law adjustments. These include approval of the marriage by the parents of both spouses, opportunities for the parents to meet and become acquainted before the marriage, and friendliness on the part of both families when they meet. In-law problems are also eased if the marriage is between persons of the same religion; if the couple has taken a course in marriage, especially the wife; if relationships between the grandparents and grandchildren are good; if the in-laws have similar patterns of social activities; if the in-laws as well as the young couple are happily married; and if husband and wife accept each other’s family as their own.