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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 57 - In-laws and Outlaws

We're linked with Wedded Wednesday at the wonderful Messy Marriage site - check it out for great marriage resources!

"It's your fault that my child is sick! Your (fill in the blank) caused this illness, and you're not taking good enough care of her/him!"

Yes, some in-laws really do say that when your husband or wife - their child, whom you wooed away from the family's safe embrace - develops a serious or life-threatening illness.

And if they don't say it...many think it.

Thankfully, there are also many in-laws who are nothing but supportive, and who provide both practical assistance and an emotional refuge for the caregiving spouse. My father-in-law and my late mother-in-law were absolute bricks; wonderful, caring people who knew the right things to do before we knew we needed them. (If you are also blessed in this way, won't you share your story in the comments?)

But for the rest of the world, it can seem like a cross between the Alamo, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Jerry Springer Show.

You're doing your best, and you're second-guessed at every turn.

You're exhausted but still have to face in-depth interrogation from 'concerned' family members.

"We're her family, after all...we know her." Oh, really? She left home for college at eighteen, and we've been married for twenty-four years, and she sees you around three times a year...well, so obviously I don't know her better. Sheesh.

Yourlifestyle is called into question..."Those late hours you keep, trying to get ahead of everyone at work...I could see how much strain that caused for our poor child, having to keep your dinner warm until nine or ten some nights!"

"I told you you shouldn't get a dog. Our boy was allergic to cats when he was a child. That's why we never had pets."

As you can see, both courtesy and logic will be shown the door. Respect for privacy was never admitted in the first place.

So, what to do? (No, you can't have them deported.)

The most important part of dealing with a difficult family is to present a united front. You speak for your husband; he speaks for you. You support one another's decisions in public, even if privately you think they're wrong. A visible disagreement leaves a gap into which a verbal and moral wedge can be driven, splitting you apart...and believe me, there are families that would love to take that opportunity, terminal illness or no.

Second, don't over-share. We live an an age of information overload, and it's made many of us accustomed to sharing details of our life that we would have kept private twenty years ago.  Unless there's a reason to know the details of treatment, there is no reason for someone outside your marriage to be 'kept up-to-date'.

There are exceptions; a change in prognosis, or a treatment that will result in visible effects (like chemotherapy or radiation, or...obviously...surgery) is an appropriate piece of information to share...but be clear that you're not putting it out for debate.

Encourage visits, but don't have an open-door policy. You may one day need the help of even difficult relatives, and need it badly. You don't want to drive them away; they're not the enemy, and they do have love for your spouse, their child or sibling, even if their way of showing it grates on your nerves.

Be compassionate. You're not the only one who's losing someone. Their knowing that they can and should only be at some remove merely makes it harder for them.


  1. I think every newly married couple should read this, Andrew. Presenting a united front is so important. I come from a large family and my sisters and I were close. I married late in life. For whatever reason, they thought they could put me and my husband under the microscope because we were very different from them. At first I didn't know how to handle this, but I did realize if they could not respect my husband and our relationship, we couldn't be around them. It didn't take long for them to realize their comments, though in fun, were hurtful. We have a wonderful relationship with all our in-laws now. Our God-centered marriage has helped lead them to a better relationship with God.

  2. I'm not sure if there is, but I think there should be a book that walks parents through the "in-law laws" that should be understood and obeyed, Andrew. So many times we focus our advice on the couple who is getting married, and yes, they need it! But the couple who loves the couple also need it. My mom could be intrusive in my marriage at times, which is ironic because she hated that from my dad's mother who was VERY intrusive. I am trying to learn how to be a good mother-in-law and find it to be a bit confusing--especially since I live so far from my son and new daughter-in-law. I want to get to know her better, but feel that could be considered somewhat intrusive. I'm impatient in that pursuit, since she's my first daughter of three sons! I just don't want my enthusiasm to be overwhelming for her. Thanks for your insightful post. Great food for thought!

  3. Living or dying, I want to be a good in-law to the men my daughters share life with. I don't want to be a budinski, to interfere, to offer unsolicited advice.

    I just want to love well. And let them know I think they're quality guys.

    I hope I learn better when to keep my mouth shut.

  4. Yes, there will be those who intervere; whether it's with a sick or dying spouse, your children, your life-style, the way you wear your hair! Yeah, I'm getting silly here because - well, it just happens in all relationships! Those who think they know better how you should live your life...

    but, as you said, you don't want to burn those bridges because you may need them some day! And, sharing too much is not a very good idea either!

    Thanks, as always, Andrew! Keep on sharing your heart.