As some of you may know, I’ve been having trouble with my mother-in-law recently. It feels like as soon as Mr. M and I announced our marriage, my relationship with my mother-in-law fell to pieces. We’ve never been exceptionally close, but we’ve always liked each other, and since last February when Mr. M and I formally announced our engagement, I’ve felt like she dislikes me. Recently, it’s even gotten to the point where I worry she’s started to hate me. I confided in my husband with my fears, and he assured me this wasn’t the case, but issues between the two of us came to a head shortly before New Years when I learned she was feeling the same things about me that I was feeling about her.
I grew gradually move awkward since the spring of 2018, and as she picked up on my awkwardness, she became more distant and awkward as well, resulting in the painful situation that occurred over the holidays. We both made mistakes along the way, which are now difficult to reconcile.
For context, Mr. M and I were together for almost six years before we formally announced our engagement. Before we made our announcement we had already decided we were getting married after he finished up school, but that we’d wait to make it official until we were ready to start planning. Because of this we technically had a very long and informal engagement, and during this time both of Mr. M’s parents would regularly tell me that they had “talked to” their son about making a decision and “putting a ring on it.” I assured them it was unnecessary because we already had our timeline, and it was a foregone conclusion, but their support was still appreciated. I think the drawn out and informal nature of our engagement added to the difficulty when Mr. M and I did announce our engagement. His mom ended up brushing it off, and continued to refer to me as his girlfriend, because we chose to forgo things like an engagement ring and engagement party. With the long, informal engagement prior to our formal announcement, the fact that neither one of us corrected people much before then when they called me his girlfriend, and the lack of traditional indicators of our engagement I fully understand why it still seemed “unofficial” to his mom, even after we started correcting people and introducing me as Mr. M’s fiance.
Regardless of what her intentions were, I was hurt, and my behavior showed that. She noticed I was distant and awkward, and this led to her being distant and awkward. It only escalated over time, as I took offence at otherwise small issues, and my distance from her grew. When Mr. M came home for holiday leave, things had escalated to the point where I felt like her actions were a deliberate attempt to snub me. I tried to hide my ire and disappointment, but things ended up reaching a tipping point on Dec. 30th, when we had an actual argument. My mother-in-law told me she felt like I had been avoiding her, that I wouldn’t talk to her, and that I acted like I was too good for her son and family as I couldn’t even take time off while he was home on leave.
I told her how I felt like she was treating me like I wasn’t good enough. That everything I said was met with contention and I felt like I wasn’t allowed to have different opinions from her, so I just stopped talking in order to avoid little fights. About how I felt like she didn’t care at all about what was going on in my life and never listened to anything I said, or else she would have known that I couldn’t take time off, because I’d already used all my vacation time to visit Mr. M for his graduation from basic and at his new station over Thanksgiving. It was a mess. In the end, I left the argument feeling less secure about my relationship with my mother-in-law, less secure about my marriage, and less deserving of my husband. I wondered if I really was being a neglectful wife by not finding some way to take extra time off, if I really was disrespecting his family in my attempt to give him time alone with his parents, and if I could be doing something different.
Mr. M, the sweetheart that he is, comforted me as best he could. He assured me that now that we’d had it out and everything was out in the open his mom would go right back to treating me like she had a year ago, she’d just needed to air her grievances. He told me about how even if she felt I wasn’t good enough, he did, because he had chosen me, and she’d liked me just fine and thought I was good enough before. He told me about how he hadn’t read any of my actions as disrespectful, but he had seen the growing awkwardness between me and his mom, and understands how each of us read the events as deliberate and hurtful. He also reminded me that with bills to pay, and his current job not being enough to cover all of our expenses, it wasn’t inappropriate for me to continuing working.
Despite his best efforts, I still felt lost and hurt though. I felt like I was standing on unstable ground, and everything could shift at any moment. I’ve always been a very religious person, even before returning to Christianity. That’s why I turned to God and the bible to seek guidance on this burden that has been growing inside of me, this weight of doubt and turmoil that has taken root in my heart.
One of the first things I found, in seeking out guidance for this matter, was Mark 10:9
“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
The amount of comfort I found in reading that single line shook me to my core. My husband and I made our vows, we promised our lives to each other before God, friends, and family. We have been joined in God’s will, and that is something permanent and beautiful. Mark 10:9 served as a reminder to the permanence of my marriage, and to the resolution in the hearts of myself and my husband to commit our lives to one another. It was a reminder I didn’t even know I needed, especially only a few months into my marriage. When I realized that part of my problem was that I was feeling unsure about my marriage, and feeling like my mother-in-law might try to break up my marriage, I felt ashamed, if I’m to be honest. I’ve been married three and a half months, how could I feel like my marriage was at risk already?
The truth is, it’s not unreasonable to feel worried about your marriage, especially when you feel like there are outside factors complicating your relationship. It’s pretty normal for people to get worried about how factors outside the marriage might negatively impact their lives. Reaffirming the strength of your marriage through God actually can be useful for lots of people.
We’re met with challenges every single day, and sometimes those challenges are against our marriages. Unfortunately, sometimes those challenges come in the form of complicated familial relationships. When everything goes smoothly, in-laws are a source of support, offering guidance and wisdom to help strengthen your marriage. Under their care and affection you can learn how to navigate difficult waters, and hopefully avoid some of the same difficulties they may have faced before. We’re all aware however, that this isn’t always the case.
That’s why I think it was so important for me to turn to God, and remind myself of a few things as I approached moving forward and strengthening my marriage. For me, I found three very simple verses, which outline the foundation God laid for each of us to build a marriage on.
Firstly, as declared in Ephesians 5:31-33, we are are meant to leave our parents under God’s command and join together in marriage.
“For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular love his wife as himself; and let the wife revere her husband.”
This is a sacred thing, a relationship meant to emulate Christ’s relationship with the Church. We are meant to support one another, honor one another, and make each other better for our union.
Secondly, as referenced above, Mark 10:9 tells us that which God has bound together should not be separated. Spouses have entered into this sacred covenant, and that bound, that commitment, should be honored…not just by each other, but by others as well. Acting to break up a marriage acts against this union which has been created and blessed by God.
Thirdly, looking back on Ecclesiastes 4:12, we’re told to stand in unity with our spouses.
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Remembering to stand together with your spouse in unity can help conquer many of the issues you’ll encounter in marriage. Standing together, supporting one another, and being dedicated to acting as a united force through your marriage creates a situation where both you and your spouse are going to be working for the same goals, and where you always have each other’s backs when those outside forces can add stress to your relationship.
God has laid out the foundation for a strong marriage for each of us. He’s declared our union to be sacred, to be permanent, and that we should support and uplift each other. As long as we’re doing those three things, we’ve got a solid foundation on which to build our lives. There is of course more that can be found in scripture, and more ways in which we can begin to accept God’s guidance for our marriages, but having a strong foundation is key.
It’s okay to need reminded sometimes that you’re standing on firm ground. When the earth shakes, sometimes you need to check to make sure the foundation is still in tact. There’s no shame in that.