Building Relationships with the Extended Family

Marriage and the Creation of One Combined Family

Marriage is hard. Marriage requires two people to construct one life together. Oftentimes, in that building process, the couple fastens together their respective families and, as a result, spouses and children become very close with their in-laws. In those instances, the marriage becomes more than just maintaining a healthy relationship between the couple; it also involves investing time and energy in cultivating a loving relationship with the extended family. And when this does not occur, resentment can fester and eventually lead a couple to divorce.

The Role of Extended Family in a Marriage

Every marriage is unique and every couple has different boundaries with regards to how involved in-laws and extended family are in the lives of the couple. Our society and culture generally paints a very dark picture of in-laws as dreaded interlopers and meddling nuisances. In reality though, in-laws and extended family play a vital and supportive role in the lives of many married couples. Building close relationships with extended family members can also improve a couple’s relationship.

Building relationships with extended family can provide the following benefits to any marriage:

Creating New Friendships and Expanding Social Networks

Your extended family can be your greatest champions. They can be involved in important milestones in your life and provide emotional support and assistance when you are going through challenging events.

Every person is unique and brings different skills, interests, and hobbies to a relationship. By expanding your social networks, you may also be expanding your resources for when times get tough. A spouse may not be able to satisfy all of your emotional needs in a relationship, and it is important to build other relationships outside the marriage that will allow you to feel fulfilled in both your personal and professional life.

Building Intergenerational Relationships

Even if you are reluctant to build relationships with your in-laws, you may reconsider when thinking about the positive effects these relationships could have on your children’s lives. It is not wise to bad-mouth or talk ill of extended family around your children. Children learn how to build their own relationships by watching others and mimicking their behavior. Also, you do not want to deprive children of creating supportive relationships with in-laws. The more positive adult role models a child has in his or her life, the more the child will grow up to have happy adult relationships.

Know What You are Walking Into

Every family history is unique. Some families have huge skeletons in the closets, while others are open and proud about their family heritage. Educate yourself carefully about the family dynamics before you go about integrating yourself into the family. You could be walking into a ticking time bomb. On a practical note, your extended family can also provide you critical information about your family medical history. This can be important to help prepare you for future health care planning and prevention for both your spouse and your children.

Stabilizing Our Worlds

Strong family relationships can provide us comfort and peace of mind when our daily lives become unmanageable. Having a strong support network can make a difference when faced with difficult challenges in life. As long as realistic and solid boundaries are set, regarding our relationships with in-laws and extended families, and as long as these relationships positively affect the marital relationship, they should continue to be nurtured and protected.


If you have any legal matters you would like to discuss, please speak with one of our Wheaton family law attorneys at Sullivan Taylor, Gumina & Palmer, P.C.