How To Have A Healthy Biblical Relationship With Your In-laws

When we say “I do” we are saying yes to the person we have fallen in love with. However, that person comes from a family and part of marriage is navigating how to respect both sets of family. Marriage is about two people who have different backgrounds and upbringings becoming one, making their own unique family.

In-laws and extended families is one of those areas of marriage that can be a source of contention for couples. We get asked quite a bit of questions for advice on how to respect these relationships while still trying to work together in marriage to build the family God desires.

In this episode we chat about marriage and in-laws. We take a look at some scripture that help us understand the significance of being one in marriage. We also talk about boundaries.

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Aaron Smith:: Hey, we’re Aaron and Jennifer Smith with Marriage After God.

Jennifer Smith:: Helping you cultivate an extraordinary marriage.

Aaron Smith:: And today, we’re going to talk about how to have a healthy, Biblical relationship with your in-laws.

Jennifer Smith:: Well, thank you for joining us this week. And we just want to encourage you to subscribe to our channel if you haven’t done so already. Also, hit the little bell so that you can receive notifications when we launch new episodes.

Aaron Smith:: So since this week, we’re going to be talking about in-laws, I’m sure you’re going to be having tons of comments and questions. So we just want to invite you to engage in the comments below. We love reading those. We actually get a lot of ideas for these videos from those comments. To start off today, I just want to explain that we understand that there’s infinite number of relational variables that go into in-laws and your marriage. And so we just want to explain that we’re not going to be discussing every single variation and every single variable-

Jennifer Smith:: There wouldn’t be enough time.

Aaron Smith:: … and all of the situations that are going on. It’s just not possible. We actually don’t have experience with every single one. So we’re just going to talk on a normal, average level of what most marriages are dealing with most in-laws. But the idea is that you should be able to take biblical principles and still apply them at every level. But what we’re going to be discussing is just the common relational situations that happen. And we’re just going to talk about what the Bible talks about and how we should engage with our in-laws and the perspective we should have. So we just hope that this will give you a good perspective and good ideas on how to navigate. We’ve had a lot of people actually ask us specifically about this topic in the emails that we get, in the comments that we get, just asking us how to navigate, “My husband and his relationship with his parents,” or, “My wife and her relationship with her parents and how that dynamic works in our marriage.”
And so we just hope to bring some light to it, and in our own walk with our in-laws, and hopefully for you.

Jennifer Smith:: Yeah. So as we get started, I just wanted to point out that there are … just like you were mentioning, there’s infinite number of scenarios or dynamics in those relationships. When we look at marriage, it’s a husband and wife coming together who have very different backgrounds. And so those families that they’re coming from are also going to have different types of backgrounds and cultures, family cultures, things that they believe and ways that they live.

Aaron Smith:: Ways that they raised you and your spouse, and the ways that they see the world.

Jennifer Smith:: And all of that plays a role in the way that you engage with one another. So marriage, in itself, can be a challenge in not only getting to know each other, but responding and receiving that communication from one another. But then you have the extended family. And we just want to put out there, we know that it’s messy. We know that relationships can have challenges and can be difficult.

Aaron Smith:: Will have challenges.

Jennifer Smith:: Will. Yeah. You always correct me on that, that it’s always like, “It’s going to happen.”

Aaron Smith:: It’s rare that we’ve met people that like, “Oh, yeah. No. Everything’s perfect. We’ve never had issues on either side.”

Jennifer Smith:: If you’re dealing with human beings, there’s going to be messiness, and that’s okay. And so we first off just want to encourage you guys that this is a learning process, not only for you and your spouse, but also for each family. And so be willing to embrace it as a journey and to know that you’re going to be growing alongside all of these people, and that’s okay.

Aaron Smith:: Yeah. As we move forward on this, there’s going to be three areas that we think you should consider Biblically and with a healthy mentality on how to engage and have a relationship with your in-laws so that you don’t feel crazy. But we want to start with the first verse today is going to be from Genesis, chapter 2, verse 24. This goes all the way back to the beginning, right when God invented marriage and created it with Adam and Eve. And He says this in verse 24. He says, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife. And they shall become one flesh.” Okay?
And so we always talk about this on almost every episode. We talk about this idea of oneness. And it starts … right when you’re married, you leave the two family units, and you become a new family unit. One unit. And so we want to talk about this for the first area … is boundaries. You no longer are attached to your parents. You are now your own unit, single unit. It doesn’t matter if you have kids or not. You’re immediately one flesh and separate from the authority, and the headship, or whatever … that power that they would have in your life before you’re married, as a single person in your parents’ home or as an individual in their home. And now you’re one.

Jennifer Smith:: And now you’re going to be building up your own family culture and your own ways of doing life together with your spouse.

Aaron Smith:: Yeah. So we’re just … this idea of boundaries. Most of the issues that we’ve seen in people talking to us … the issues that we’ve had have been around the idea of boundaries. Not having them, not knowing where to put them, just free-for-all. But if you want to have a healthy relationship with your marriage, if you want to have a marriage after God, you have to have boundaries. And what that means is there’s no one … again, on the same page, this isn’t just the wife making the boundaries for the husband’s in-laws or parents, or the husband making boundaries for the wife’s parents. This is … there’s a mutual understanding in our oneness of like, “Well, what kind boundaries are we going to set up? What issues have we seen? Where are we going to let our parents speak into our lives? Where are we going to let our parents have a hand in our lives? How much access do our parents have?” Because that’s another … how much access? Are they just, boom? They can come in? They don’t have to knock? They can come in?
So what do those boundaries look like? And it really starts with communication, as we always say, between the husband and the wife and saying, “Okay. What do we see and how are we going to set boundaries?”

Jennifer Smith:: Yeah. And in most cases, I would say, then the next step is to go together to those in-laws or parents, and have a conversation with them about those boundaries, and clearly communicate, with respect, why those boundaries are important to you and your spouse.

Aaron Smith:: Yeah. And in love, and in truth. And the purpose is not to sever relational ties, but is to say, “Hey. This is … we’re trying to build something. We’re trying to build our own family unit, and we have a way of looking at things. There are things that we’re walking through, and we just want to make sure that you know where we stand on certain things.”

Jennifer Smith:: And I think it’s important for the parents to know that the husband and wife are on the same page because they’ll be able to sniff out if you’re undivided. If you’re not unified in whatever boundary you’re trying to set, they’ll realize that and they’ll take advantage of it in some cases.

Aaron Smith:: Not necessarily with a bad heart. Our parents are parents, and it’s actually hard for them to recognize that they’re no longer in that role. And so if, let’s say, your parents … I’m kind of dropping the ball in some areas and they can see it. They can easily come in and be parents again and try to take up the slack in that. But that is actually really dangerous because it’s undermining me and the home. It could be making me feel really disrespected and dishonored. And so … not that they’re trying to do that, they’re just really like, “Oh, I want to protect my daughter.”

Jennifer Smith:: Yeah, yeah. But it is good for … to help them identify the husband and wife as a single unit, and to encourage leadership, or to encourage the different roles that they’re trying to walk in.

Aaron Smith:: Yeah. And if those boundaries don’t get set, what you end up seeing happening is you see one … a mother, or a mother and a father, or the mother-in-law and the father-in-law could become very overbearing. And all the sudden, it’s another person in the marriage, another two people in the marriage, instead of it just being us and what we do as we make decisions as a couple, as one unit. And what we do is we go get advice from people. Instead of it being that way, now it’s me, and my wife, and her mom. Or you, your husband, and his dad. And it’s not just one flesh.

Jennifer Smith:: More opinions equals more conflict and more hardship.

Aaron Smith:: But not just opinions, actually, authority. Opinions are fine, but it’s what kind of role does those outsiders play. And that brings into this other understanding in boundaries is recognizing that every single person, even your children, are outsiders looking into your marriage. That doesn’t mean that there’s not wisdom, and knowledge, and understanding, and giftings that you can glean from in your marriage. It doesn’t mean you’re autonomous and like, “Nope. No one can say anything. We have no relationship with anyone.” That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m just saying that the core of who we are is we are one flesh. And everyone else is looking in on the outside. They get to ask permission to give us advice. They get to come in and say, “Hey. I see some stuff. What do you think about this?”
Not, “Actually, why don’t you step out of the way. Let me help you figure this out.” Or, “I’m going to take the role of your wife.” If my mom stepped in and said, “Oh, your wife’s not fulfilling her role. Let me do it for you because I want to make sure you’re taken care of.” It’s very unhealthy. If anyone in the world has that kind of getting between our oneness, it usually happens with our in-laws.

Jennifer Smith:: So early on in our marriage … I just really wanted to share this story, especially for those who may be listening that are newlyweds or in those first couple of years. But this could be encouraging for anyone to hear. I really wrestled with seeing myself separated from my family and clinging to my husband, so that one-flesh action happening. And I just remember really desiring to still be a part of my family and almost live as if nothing had changed. Yet, I was married. And so that was a struggle in my own heart. And I remember-

Aaron Smith:: Well, it was also … we were right in the midst of a lot of our hardships early on in our marriage, and you saw it as like, “I was comfortable there. This is hard.”

Jennifer Smith:: … Yeah. So just being comfortable in marriage, that was really hard for me. But I remember, specifically, we were doing missions. And we had traveled from California, where we were born and raised, and we were living in Florida now. And this was within the first two years of our marriage. And I woke up from a dream where I saw the United States, and I was standing in Florida-

Aaron Smith:: Oh, yeah. I forgot this.

Jennifer Smith:: … I was standing in Florida with an umbilical cord still attached to my stomach and the cord running all the way back to California. And I woke up from the dream, and I just felt like God was telling me, “You need to let go. You need to sever, not your relationship with your parents or your family, but you need to let go the emotional tie of they’re no longer responsible for you, but your husband is.” And so I remember telling you this, and what did you think?

Aaron Smith:: It was pretty profound. I mean, if you think about it, everyone’s probably like, “Oh my gosh. I get that.” You still felt like, “Hey. I’m not getting what I think I need to get here in my marriage,” or, “This is too hard.” And you felt yourself … and you had a very literal … you would cry sometimes like, “I just want to go home.”

Jennifer Smith:: Yeah. I asked to go home all the time. And I don’t even think I realized how bad I was struggling with this separation of my family until I saw this picture. And I was like, “Oh my gosh. I’m a grown adult with this cord still attached to me. And I need to just be able to cut that off, to become one flesh with you, but then to understand how my relationship will mature with my family and how we’ll grow from there.”

Aaron Smith:: It becomes a new relationship. You were once now a daughter, and now you’re married and a wife. And you have a mother that you can interact on another level.

Jennifer Smith:: Different level, yeah.

Aaron Smith:: So that … you had to set a boundary for yourself-

Jennifer Smith:: In my own heart.

Aaron Smith:: … in your heart. And also, it was good because you told me. And it helped me know how to encourage you and say, “Hey. I know that you miss your mom, but we are a family now. And I’m going to be here. I’m not going anywhere.” And it’s still a learning process all the time. But it wasn’t until we started setting boundaries with both of our parents, both our in-laws, that we actually started getting … it felt much more healthy. We’re like, “Man, there’s some boundaries that need to be set.”

Jennifer Smith:: Well, our perspective of each other became more healthy, that we, in marriage, are a family.

Aaron Smith:: Yeah, and that other people don’t get to just … my mom doesn’t … and my dad don’t just have some inherent authority in our marriage. They’re just like an individual that’s outside of our marriage like anyone else. And they can speak into it, and they can give light. And they can give wisdom. But they don’t have an inherent authority, just like with your parents. They don’t have an inherent authority. But if you don’t set those boundaries, what usually happens is they think they have that.

Jennifer Smith:: Well, and if somebody does try and exercise that authority outside of the marriage, what happens is either the husband or the wife can become influenced by that. And then all of a sudden, there’s division.

Aaron Smith:: Usually influenced. We’ve experienced this. We’re not going to give any specific details, but in both sides of this where an in-law influenced the … who we were and how we were being towards our spouse … and again, our parents weren’t doing it to be malicious or to hurt us. They were just trying to help. They love us. They love us as their children. And they have motherly and fatherly instincts still. But they … if we don’t set the boundaries, they’ll never see us as individual adults. They’ll never see us as a single unit. They’ll never respect us equally, which leads me to another point … is we’ve heard too many stories of the husband being so still attached to mom. And the mom acting as if … how the wife should be acting. And the wife feels totally dishonored, totally disrespected, totally irrelevant. And it’s super unhealthy. And again, I don’t think the mom is doing it on purpose. In some situations, they are. But it definitely doesn’t build unity in the marriage. And the wife is like, “What do I do? I feel like he’d rather listen to his mom than me.”
And we’ve seen it on the other side. You felt connected to your mom, but we’ve seen wives connected to their fathers, and, “Well, I’m going to listen to my dad over you.” And now the father’s the authority in the home, not the husband.

Jennifer Smith:: Or something as simple as they need something fixed around the house or something, and the first person that they constantly go to is the dad and not relying on the husband to fix things, or to help play that father role in the marriage.

Aaron Smith:: Well, and the husband … the leadership role that actually … we actually get to navigate that. And let’s say the husband doesn’t know how to do those things. How is he ever going to learn if the wife doesn’t say, “Hey. Let’s figure this out. My dad would usually do it, but I want to go to you. How can we do this?” So not running to our parents because that encourages them saying, “Oh. I’m needed. And now I’m going to step in.” Now, it doesn’t mean we can’t go to our parents if we need their help. But again, we have to be on the same page. We are one flesh. And again, that’s inviting them in, not them taking authority where it’s not given.

Jennifer Smith:: So again, this first area that we wanted to cover was just boundaries. And going back to that first verse that you read about in Genesis, I mean, it’s mentioned over and over again in the Bible. It’s mentioned in Ephesians 5:31, Matthew 19:5, Mark 10. And it’s this idea that the husband and wife are supposed to leave their families and cleave to each other. And the most important reason for setting these boundaries is to protect the marriage. And so we just wanted to encourage you guys to be evaluating your marriage, setting those boundaries, communicating about them, and then going to the in-laws, going to the parents, and saying, “Hey. This is what we’ve agreed upon.” And let them know that you are unified in these boundaries.

Aaron Smith:: Yeah. And it doesn’t meant that you don’t love them, setting boundaries. It just means that you do, and that you’re giving them criteria on how they’re going to engage with the new family unit.
So the next section I want to go into because … and this is going to be one that kind of covers a lot of things, just all the different relational statuses that marriages might have with their in-laws. But it’s to be Christlike. We are called to be examples. So if you want to be a marriage after God, we’re going to be like Christ in our in-laws’ life. You might have in-laws that are not believers. You might have in-laws that are believers. But no matter what, we’re called to be Christlike, that we are an example to them, that even if we’d set boundaries with them, that we’re doing in truth and in love. And that our whole heart for them is that they grow in maturity, that they grow in understanding, that they get … have healthy relationship with you, and eventually, your children as grandparents. Right?
So that we can have a Christlike relationship with them, that we have kindness towards them, that we have love towards them, now we have patience towards them because we are the … we are the Christians and we have a marriage after God. And we’re trying to walk with them like we would walk with anyone.

Jennifer Smith:: Yeah. I think sometimes, it can be easier to think about that stranger down the street or that barista at the coffee shop. And you know your role in their life is to be that light, and to be that person who reflects Christ to them, and to be kind towards them. But then you consider family, and you go, “Oh. Well, they can handle it because they’re not going anywhere.” And sometimes, that can be a … always, that can be a destructive perspective to have. And we can find ourselves complaining about our in-laws. We can find ourselves having a poor attitude towards them, or-

Aaron Smith:: And perspective of them.

Jennifer Smith:: … Yeah. So I would just encourage you guys to be mindful of your heart towards your in-laws and know that they’re no different than the stranger down the street, your neighbor, your spouse. They are important people. God loves them. God wants their hearts to be directed towards Him. And He may … well, He will definitely use you to be that light in their lives.

Aaron Smith:: Well, and that’s the other thing is if you aren’t a light their lives. Let’s say that you have family that are unbelievers, or if you have family that are just immature believers, do you not … are you afraid to be a light in their life? And you’re like, “Oh, I’m not going to say anything because it’s always a fight. I’m not going to … I don’t want to have that argument again. Oh, I don’t want to bring up God because every, single time, it’s blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Right? If you’re being influenced more by them than you are influencing them, that’s dangerous. Are you a light in their life? Are you who you are at home with them? Are you who you are at work with them?
So not allowing who they are, unless they’re just godly and mature, and you’re looking up to them, because you should be influenced by them. You should follow their example. But if they’re not, you be a light to them. And you don’t let how they are and the things they love to do … because, to be honest, if they do … if you go over there and they do things that you don’t want your kids around or you don’t want to be around because you are a believer, maybe you shouldn’t be around them in that situation. So not letting your witness, and your light, and your Christlikeness change around your in-laws.

Jennifer Smith:: Yeah. And this is going to be a really hard one, especially for women, I think, because we are … we can be so emotional and sensitive. But you encouraged me a while back with a family member that I didn’t feel really loved or that they wanted to be around me. And you just told me, “You can’t let how they respond to you affect the way that you respond to them. You were still called to love them, and cherish them, and respect them-”

Aaron Smith:: And it helped you not feel so burdened by it.

Jennifer Smith:: … Yeah, because I was wrestling with some insecurities in that relationship. And it just helped me see them as Christ sees them and be mindful that my love doesn’t change. I still love them, and every opportunity that I have to hang out with them, I do take that. And it has made the relationship, itself, more healthy. So not to let other people’s responses, especially family members, affect you to the point where you’re ineffective in their lives because you can still be effective. You can still love them. You can still show them the light of Christ. And I think that that was … that was a huge encouragement for me towards some family members.

Aaron Smith:: So the next thing I want to talk about … being Christlike leads us into our next section, which is going to be responsibility. And being Christlike … Christ prayed for us in John 17, the high priestly prayer. We should be praying for our in-laws, just always. Whether they know God or not, we should be praying for them. If they don’t know the Lord, we should be praying that God gets ahold of their hearts. If they do know the Lord, we should be praying that they get mature and that God takes care of them, that they lean on Him for everything. And so that we have a heart of prayer and under the responsibility section, I feel like, just like with anyone, we should … or one of our responsibilities is prayer for our in-laws.

Jennifer Smith:: Absolutely. And I think we should also be praying about our spouse’s relationship with their parents or your … their in-laws, which would be your parents. And so just making sure that you are just entering into God’s throne room with a heart of humility, wanting to preserve all those relationships and making sure that God’s will is being done in them.

Aaron Smith:: Yeah. So under this responsibility section, there’s a scripture I’m going to read in first Timothy that gives us a pretty stark perspective on how we should see our in-laws. And again, not every single relationship’s going to fall perfectly in every category. So we just want to explain that you use wisdom, and you walk in discernment in these relationships. And if you’re in … if this … if that relationship with an in-law is dangerous, you need to be careful. You need to get Godly counsel on how to deal with that relationship. But again, for the most part, what this is going to say in first Timothy, chapter five, verse eight is this. It says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
And so what this is saying is first of all, when it says, “especially his own household,” this relationship, the oneness with each other and our relationship with our children, our own household comes first and foremost. The health … I’m not going to sacrifice the health, the spiritual welfare, the financial welfare … I’m not going to put my family in danger to take care of someone else. So it needs to go in order, “Okay. Is my family okay? Oh, cool. We are.” So we can actually … as a family, we can take care of the needs of our relatives. An idea of relatives is saying if you have … if your father’s dying, do you take care of them? Are you there for them? If your mother is sick, or if they’re in a massive financial burden, are you able to help if you can? Not just, “No. They’re on their own. I have no responsibility.” It doesn’t work that way. So again, for the most part, in most situations, the idea is that we have a heart of care for our relatives.

Jennifer Smith:: Yeah. I’d also like to encourage everyone that a husband and wife moving forward in their relationship with their in-laws, they … as far as taking care of relatives, they should be unified in that, too. I think it’s really important that they’re actively communicating, “Hey. How are we going to be able to support so-and-so?” And not just one spouse taking the lead or control in that area, saying, “No. It doesn’t matter how much it takes. We’re doing this.” I think it-

Aaron Smith:: Yeah. Being very considerate.

Jennifer Smith:: … Yeah. I think it’s important to communicate your feelings and how driven you are to be able to support, or help, or encourage your relatives. But if the means aren’t there to do it, or if maybe your spouse comes in with a different perspective, I think it’s important to … just to listen to each other and to walk with each other in an understanding way when it comes to relatives outside of your own household.

Aaron Smith:: Well, and you can have one … I could be super partial to my parents and not even consider yours, or vice-versa. And so having a singular mentality on how we are going to help our relatives as needed … again, there’s an infinite number of scenarios that’s going to be played out in your life. But as we always talk about, go to the Word of God, go to prayer, get Godly counsel in any situation. Don’t just like … oh, someone needs $1000 … they need to borrow $1,000. Boom, here you go. It’s not what this is talking about. It’s just saying … it says, “provide for his relatives,” as in are they in actual need? Not that they could actually go get a job and figure it out. If one’s a widow or a widower, that you consider their situation, you consider how your family can participate in helping them, that you’re available if needed. But you don’t just-

Jennifer Smith:: Do it. You be in agreement.

Aaron Smith:: … You do it with wisdom, and in discernment, and in agreement. But it does … the Bible does tell us that we should have a mind and a heart that is willing to provide for our in-laws. Provide for … it says relatives. So I don’t know how far that goes. Again, that’s going to be different in every scenario, but just have … going to the Christlike and going to the boundaries, it’s all encompassing that we do care. And we want to participate. And we don’t want to just cut people off in our lives, which again, that might be necessary. That might be the way you need to help someone is like, “Actually, no. You’re dangerous,” or, “You’re unhealthy.” But not just willing to do that because they bother us or because it’s hard and sticky.
So again, wisdom, discernment in every area, but that we would set boundaries in our marriage, knowing that we are one and that everyone else is on the outside looking in. That we are to be Christlike, not just in our neighbors’ lives, but in our relatives’ lives and our in-laws’ lives. That we are to be an example to them and not let their life influence us unless their life is a good influence, if that makes sense. And then the responsibility that we have to be praying for them and to honor them because the Bible tells us … the fifth commandment, it says, “Honor your parents.” Right? And then what’s the scripture?

Jennifer Smith:: It’s in Ephesians.

Aaron Smith:: In Ephesians 6:1, it says it this way, just so you can get the next level of this. It says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother. This is the first commandment with a promise.” So when you’re out of the home and begin to put the boundaries, you’re no longer responsible for obeying your parents as if you were still under their roofs. But we are totally required to still honor our parents, just like we’re supposed to honor the elders, the elderly, older people because they’re wiser, they’re older. We’re still respectful in honoring them. That doesn’t mean what they say goes. What that means is in how we respond to them and how we interact with them is with honor. It’s like, “Hey. You are my parents. I love you, and I’m going to honor you, but I’m going to gracefully disagree.” Or I’m going to say, “Actually, that goes beyond our boundaries. And we love you, but you need to make sure you stay within these confines.” You could do that with respect. You could do that with honor.
You don’t have to be disrespectful, and cut them off, and be mean, and … Christ wouldn’t do that. So the responsibilities we have is to pray for them, to provide for them if necessary, and to honor them. Not necessarily obey, but honor.

Jennifer Smith:: So those are the three areas that we just thought no matter what the dynamics are in anyone’s family, these are three areas that you can evaluate, talk about, and set for your family in regards to your extended family. So again, setting boundaries, being Christlike no matter what, and just the responsibility that you do have in those other people’s lives. And so we just wanted to encourage you guys today. We hope that this episode would just get you and your spouse on the same page when it does come to in-laws. And if there is contention there, if there is conflict, if there is a disagreement, that you guys would just move forward, submitting it all to God, and allowing Him to shape your hearts and perspectives in regards to in-laws and your relationship with them.

Aaron Smith:: So thank you for joining us this week. We hope this episode encouraged you and gave you some talking points, as
Jennifer Smith: said. And we just look forward to having you next week.
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