Matters of life & love – Navigating Family Dynamics: Dealing with In-Law Challenges

by LukeAdmin

by Sarah Tolmie

Reader Question:
“My mother-in-law is moving to the Coast. She is very negative and can drive a wedge between my husband and I. We already fight a lot about kids, parenting and our families and I am worried this is going to make us fight even more . How do I approach this?”

Dearly Beloved

I am sorry to hear you and your husband are fighting. It’s really hard when we begin our family of creation with our partner to know how to integrate the things that worked from our family of origin and identify the things we want to evolve out of, and what needs to be created anew. It’s important to understand and appreciate that we have all had different childhood experiences and family histories – good and bad – and part of our couple and parenting journey is to decide consciously what it is you both want to create.

How do you create a shared value system for your family? Sometimes this means honestly reflecting on your own childhood and parents and begin sharing that with each other. Sometimes this means accepting you might have to learn some new skills, such as how to communicate better. It definitely means leaning into better and healthier conflict skills. Negotiating our differences is a perpetual challenge in relationship and it takes a healthy approach to conflict to do it without it becoming a fight and sounding like criticism and defensive, or even worse, stonewall and contempt. But the good thing is, these are learnable skills.

Underneath all conflicts are our core needs and dreams not being understood or met. Maybe the catalyst of your mother-in-law’s imminent arrival is a timely invitation to turn things around with your husband. Talk without it sounding like a criticism – try a ‘feelings first’ approach and speak about your fears. Speak to what you want and hope for, and invite him into a shared vision for a better outcome.

I am sure he will have his own fears and maybe some ideas too. Approach this as a team together. In fact, that needs to be your essential mindset – ‘team us’. When we create our own family, whilst that may not be our ‘first family’, you now have to think about your family of creation as your ‘family first’.

Much love Sarah x

Sarah Tolmie – Life & Love: Sarah is a marriage therapist, life & love and relationship coach, end-of-life consultant, an independent and bespoke funeral director and holistic celebrant. She provides holistic care, mentoring, guidance, healing and transformation for individuals, couples and families at their most important times of life & love – at end-of-life, in love & relationship, and in ritual and celebration. Sarah has a relationship online course for couples called “Creating a Miracle Marriage” and a free resource and video series for families facing dying, death and grief called “Landscapes of Life & Love and Loss” . To find out more, visit

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