People seeking a successful relationship often do not realize how their extended families can affect a new relationship. They don’t anticipate or realize how much influence their childhood loyalties and current family expectations can undermine their commitment to each other.
It is hard enough for any couple to intertwine different histories, cultures, and belief systems on their own, let alone be controlled by those who want them to repeat them untouched. If their extended families compete and attempt to maintain influence, they may inadvertently sacrifice each other to escape the conflict between their two loyalties.
Their families may also ostracize them for non-compliance, leaving the couple in grief, which they might then project onto one another. Internalized, unresolved conflicts can impair a couple’s ability to trust their decision to prioritize their relationship’s expectations and dreams.
If a devoted couple recognizes and understands what they are up against, they can find ways to help each other navigate those dilemmas. Without the creation of their sacred pact and a mutually chosen path to manifest it, they will be unable to move forward, creating a new set of their traditions.
The Eight Most Common Inter-Family Challenges
Religious beliefs are a major motivator in how people choose their lives. They also drive how people define moral actions and how people “should” behave. Depending on how ritualistic and committed the partners are to what they have been taught to believe and how to act in their families of origin, they may not be aligned in how they respond to those ethical requirements. When external family members pressure one partner to force religious beliefs on the other partner, it can create unmanageable conflict within their relationship.
2) Socioeconomic Status (SES)
If one comes from lesser status than the other, the more status-secure external family may look on the other partner as “marrying up” and expected to submit more to that “wealthier” family. The difference in being brought up in a struggling family from being able to have the multiple options of one that can afford more is often more markedly obvious in the way genders are viewed. The person from “less” is often expected to submit. It is often more difficult for men than women, depending on their culture and family loyalty.
3) Mandatory Obligations
Many new relationship partners are no longer in close proximity to their extended families. Yet, their families of origin still have expectations that the couple will attend and respect certain rituals and observations. If, for instance, Thanksgiving is always a mandatory family reunion for one partner and the other wants to alternate or take that time for a personal vacation. Is Christmas Eve crucial for one family and Christmas day for another? This dilemma worsens when children come into the equation and are expected to comply.
4) Familial Ownership Over Each Partner
Certain interpersonal factors show up when competition for a grown child’s allegiance can put that person in the middle of sometimes very toxic connections. In the four in-law interactions, the mother of a son can too often become competitive with her daughter-in-law. Some fathers do not like how the other extended family treats their daughters. Whatever role each father has played in rearing his child may become an unwelcome competition.
5) Cultural Expectations
It is often hard to separate cultural practices from religion, but there are differences. Distribution of resources such as time, energy, devotion, availability, support, and inclusion are often dictated by the expected rituals each extended family has.
Are dependent parents automatically invited to live in their children’s homes? Are boundaries respected when the new couple needs to be left alone or is going through a problem unrelated to their extended families? Is the partner not raised in those traditions expected to give up their commitment to those extended families or free to demand priority?
6) In-law Personal Feuds
For various reasons, one member of the extended family may simply not like a member of the other family. Sometimes, it can be mothers or fathers of one partner who feel their adult child is not being treated properly or alienated from the parent by the other partner.
Fathers can compete for who has accomplished the most or has had power over his child all his life and doesn’t like that teaching undermined. Their inability to put their adult children’s needs above their own can pressure the new relationship as the young couple wants to protect their partners from the conflict.
Many of these potentially intrusive and difficult situations often don’t manifest until grandchildren come into the picture. Proximity may become a problem if one set of grandparents live further away or doesn’t have the means to compete with the other. Or, one family wants those grandchildren to follow their ways and beliefs and don’t want them undermined by a competing family’s desires for influence.
8) Communication Misunderstandings
Unless a new couple has talked through their misunderstandings of how they hear, see, or feel what the other means accurately, they can fall into negative patterns when influenced by those different interpretations more powerfully around their extended families. They may find themselves frantically trying to explain to the extended families that they didn’t mean what the others heard because it didn’t mean the same to them. That can trickle down to creating more problems for the couple as they ask them to interpret and translate.
Caveat: There may be times when a person is rebelling from their family origin and makes a choice for a partner that is not necessarily a good one. It is a painful conflict for their families of origin, knowing they are powerless to stop something they know will not work out in the long run. To reconnect at a future time, they must be patient and support the new relationship, hoping that, if it ends, their child will reconcile with them in the future.