In-laws can be a source of contention within marriage.
So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her.… And in the morning, behold, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” (Genesis 29:20–25)
If the requirement of working seven years to marry Rachel does not give Laban a place on the list for most awful father-in-law ever, his next move seals the deal. The seven years Jacob worked for Rachel’s hand in marriage seemed to him just a few days because of his love for her. The day of the wedding arrived, but instead of joy in uniting with his beloved Rachel, Jacob was devastated when he discovered Laban had tricked him into marrying her older sister Leah. Laban gave his permission for Jacob to marry Rachel after a week, but only following another agreement to work for him another seven years! Even with polygamy an accepted practice in the ancient Near East, this was unacceptable.
In-law jokes abound, but there is no humor in a poor relationship with your in-laws. Such a relationship can be an ongoing source of conflict. In Jacob’s case the conflict with his oppressive father-in-law lasted twenty years.1 Laban demonstrated his dependence on Jacob for his own prosperity—he manipulated him to get rich.2 Another term for this type of dependence is enmeshment.
In an enmeshed family system, parents are dependent on their children to make them feel fulfilled. Laban’s conniving and controlling behavior is a clear symptom of enmeshment. He involved Jacob, Rachel, and Leah in a difficult situation that was almost impossible to escape.
Navigating Life with the In-Laws
The expectations placed on all members of a family following a marriage can be unrealistic and overwhelming. Kay recalls feeling threatened and intimidated by her strong-willed mother-in-law. Her husband offered wise advice early in their marriage: “Listen to my mother, and then do what you think you should do.” Scripture tells us that we are to obey our parents, but obey transitions to honor when a couple marries.
In their book Loving Your Relatives, David and Claudia Arp suggest ways to navigate the often complicated in-law relationship:
- Be proactive and look for ways to connect.
- Don’t compete with other family members.
- Refocus your perspective by looking for the positive.
- Accept reality.3
What kind of relationship do you have with your in-laws? Even if you have a good relationship, there is always room for improvement. What is one thing you can do today to connect positively with your in-laws?
Prayer for the Journey
Lord, help my husband and me to find creative ways to connect with our parents. Help us to honor our parents even when we do not agree with them. Amen.
1 Waltke, 405.
2 Arnold, 267.
3 David and Claudia Arp, John and Margaret Bell, Loving Your Relatives: Even When You Don’t See Eye-to-Eye (Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family, 2003), 50.