"Take my mother-in-law, please!"
The jokes abound, and not only are they unhelpful, they're not even funny. There's little to laugh about when it comes to the push and pull of competing family loyalties.
But why is it so difficult to find a comfortable arrangement with parents, in-laws and other members of your extended family? The idea of leaving your childhood family to unite with your spouse sounds perfectly reasonable. And you'd think making a fresh start free from outside interference would be a joyful adventure. In practice, though, this process often seems more like you're forming a new mega-family that includes parents, in-laws and, come to think of it, your spouse, too.
Before spouses can form their own independent family, they have to renegotiate relationships with parents and extended family. And since those bonds took years to form, the process of breaking away to create a new family isn't complete after the first year, or the fifth. It's an ongoing task.
The Early Years One + One = One
The first few years of marriage bring adjustments that neither spouse anticipated. And one of the thorniest is also one of the least expected: the multiple influences of the families in which each partner was raised. Mary and Steve were blindsided by this clash of cultures just a few weeks after their wedding. Mary's family had always enjoyed lively debates over dinner, so she was never hesitant to challenge opinions voiced by others. Despite the sometimes noisy banter, her family was confident of their love for one another.1