Bonding with a new father-in-law, especially one who you don’t know very well yet can be one of the most challenging things to deal with in a marriage. Of course, each situation is different and the process is not the same for a new daughter-in-law as it may be for a new son-in-law.
So how do you bond with your new father-in-law?
It is possible to create a bond with your father-in-law without having to fake common interests or change who you are, and although it may feel like a difficult, and daunting thing to do, these feelings won’t last forever. Being an important influence on your marriage, it’s a battle worth fighting.
If you are dreading spending time with your new father-in-law, then this is the article for you. I’ve worked through the problem with my wife, Lea, and we have come up with some crucial tips for bonding with him more effectively.
Our experience with father-in-laws
Initially, for my wife, she just didn’t know how to start bonding with her future father-in-law, and he always made her feel a little intimidated and awkward (way to go Dad!).
To be fair, I did invite her on the annual family vacation my parents had been taking to France after only knowing her for three weeks. When you know you know, right? But it was the first time she’d ever met my entire family and spent so much time with British people!
However, she did get through this and successfully took steps towards creating a strong and meaningful bond between them. They now get on like a house on fire after a few more interactions and trips away. At the end of the day, it was mostly to do with cultural misunderstandings.
In my case, my wife’s father died several years before I met her in Bordeaux, France, but I certainly know what the experience is like through previous relationships with ‘father-in-laws’. Nevertheless, I have the pleasure of knowing her mother, which has its own unique challenges!
How to build a relationship with your father-in-law.
Bonding Tip 1:
Firstly, you may need to change your perspective of him. Often you’ll realize that you are the one who views the relationship with your father-in-law negatively, because of your feelings of intimidation and fear or what have you. When you realize that if you can’t get past your negativity you’ll see that things can never change between you.
Bonding Tip 2:
Tackle building a bond with him in a fun, relaxed and completely different way. Start by just trying to put less pressure on the relationship and then made some plans to create fun and positive experiences together. Learning to have a good laugh together will lighten the mood between you.
Bonding Tip 3:
Plan to do fun things in a group if you feel intimidated by one-on-one time together. Invite his friends or family to play board games, go on a hike, go golfing or on a bike ride together. You could even try a comedy movie night or go out for dinner. Keep it simple so you don’t get stressed out.
Bonding Tip 4:
Find an opportunity to take an interest in him. Ask about his interests and hobbies and try to learn something new from him. You don’t have to fake you’re interested in what he does, but showing you are interested in him will create a positive imprint in his mind. Learn about his childhood, his life, his friends and what he considers acceptable behavior. You should learn what type of man he is and show him the sort of person you are.
Bonding Tip 5:
Avoid any political or highly opinionated discussions with him that might lead to an argument. In the midst of these types of conversations, it is very hard to avoid verbal attacks and judgment and although it is great to have a relationship where you can have discussions and be open to each other’s views, not everyone can do this. When possible steer developing conversations in another direction or simply ask if you can talk about something else, even explaining why if you feel up to it.
The more you talk to your father-in-law the easier it becomes. Sometimes you just need to face your fears head-on to realize they are not as great as you imagine. As you learn to bond with your father-in-law, you’ll likely realize how important this relationship with him is.
My father is the head of my childhood home and when there was conflict he was the mediator. Through building a solid relationship with him, my wife found he was more likely to stand up for her where my mother and even I did not. It did take time, and it wasn’t always easy. My wife said she often had to remind herself how important a relationship with her father-in-law was.
Building a good foundation with your father-in-law.
Remind yourself that he will be a strong influence on your marriage and in the lives of any future children you might have.
Creating a strong foundation with your father-in-law will, most likely, strengthen your marriage. It is easy to want to give up but remember his importance when you are feeling down. Your husband or wife’s father is important to them and by building a strong lasting relationship with your in-laws, you are honoring and strengthening your relationship with your spouse.
You both share a love for your spouse.
The love you share for your partner should always take precedence. Remember your father-in-law raised and loved your spouse before you, so don’t put him in a position where he has to defend his child and don’t say negative things about your spouse around his father. You can ask for advice but be careful how you do it. Respect goes a long way.
Focus on your father-in-laws’ positive qualities.
No one is perfect so try to look at him in a positive light and remember he is probably doing what he thinks is best. It’s better to try and look at what you know is good in him, instead of focusing on what annoys you which causes unnecessary arguments. Learn to love and accept him with all of his quirks and eccentricities and don’t criticize him. Just be kind.
Your father-in-law can get anxious too.
He may feel like he is losing or has already lost his spouse, and letting go is hard. Accepting another family member is never easy, and remember your father and mother-in-law have to accept their child will have less time for them now. It is likely they too have fears of their own in response to this. Remember trust takes time, and you will need to be patient.
Communication is key to building relationships.
Be honest and share your thoughts and feelings with your in-laws. Every family is different and likes to deal with situations in different ways which can lead to difficulties in an extended family. Just let them know what these difficulties are and try and talk things through.
Always communicate, brushing things under the rug will only cause issues later on. Remember difficulties don’t last forever, as you learn more about each other things will get easier.
Learn to listen.
A lot of misunderstanding arises because we do not listen. We cannot read each other’s mind and we can only truly understand someone once we listen to them. Sometimes this means asking questions that can also show another person we are concerned for them and care. This is a helpful strategy when working through a misunderstanding with an in-law.
Show respect for different views.
It always pays to have an open mind. We all have different opinions and often in a misunderstanding no one person is right. Show your in-laws you appreciate their thoughts and ideas by affirming them and show them you understand or at least are trying to see their point of view. You don’t have to agree but always be humble and learn to forgive.
Just be yourself.
Above it all, always be true to yourself. Don’t try to be like anyone else, it will cause problems later on. We aren’t all alike, we have cultural differences, religious differences and we all have personality differences. Even if it does take a longer time than what you expected, your in-laws will learn to love you for who you are.
Respect should be mutual and they should show you just as much grace and respect as you show them. Your spouse loves you for you and you should be free to show his parents exactly why they do love you so much.
Building a relationship takes time as you all learn to get to know and love each other. A successful in-law relationship needs lots of love, patience, and kindness. A loving attitude will pave the way to similar behavior. When you try to reach out to your in-laws and they see your efforts, it is likely they will respond with similar behavior.
How to admit defeat
In the rare case that your father-in-law is dead set against you, for whatever reason, when do you just give up?
First impressions are hard to overturn and prejudices are even more challenging. If your father-in-law just doesn’t seem to give you the time of day, it’s ok to stop actively spending time with him. But, don’t become the enemy in spirit.
Time can soften relationships, and by just being the best partner you can to your spouse and perhaps even a good father or mother to your children, you’ll see a change in your relationship.
Until that does happen, however, make sure that you don’t get your partner caught in the middle of the toxic relationship between your father-in-law and yourself. He may be unpleasant to you, but don’t complain too strongly to your partner about it and put them in a difficult situation of having to choose between their father and their soul mate.
It’s not an easy situation, but how you deal with it can make it more or less manageable. Avoidance is best when possible and acceptance of the things you can’t change yourself the only other policy which won’t cause a strain in your marriage.
How do you keep your in-laws happy?
Loving your spouse is the best way to please your in-laws. All parents what to see their child happy and cared for and if you can show them this, they will probably approve of you more. Don’t nag or put your partner down around them and try to avoid arguments with them at all costs.
Spend time with them and try to get to know them. Find out about their love story, about their childhoods and your spouse as a child. See them often and invite them over for dinner. Spend time with them on their own too. Ask their advice often, even for small things. It will make them feel special and included in your life. Always be respectful and warm towards them and be thoughtful on their birthdays and special occasions, respecting their family traditions even if you don’t agree or practice them.
Making a good first impression with the in-laws.
Dress well to make a great first impression. Dress in clean, smart-casual clothing and don’t wear anything too revealing or too flamboyant. Your actions and physical appearance will form an initial opinion of who you are, so watch how you speak and act around them. Be courteous and polite and greet them with a big smile. You want to come across as warm and friendly. Do some research with your partner beforehand, and find out what topics will interest his parents.
This way, you will be able to start conversations and know what not to talk about. You might even find out you have similar interests. Remember to compliment them and to ask them questions. Let them know you are happy to meet them and that you enjoyed your time together. Thank them for spending time with you.