Wednesday, July 12, 2017

In-Laws and Money Matters


This week's subject is more for engaged and newly married couples, but it has information that is good to have at any stage in your marriage. We will be discussing in-law relationships and money matters. Both of these things can be sources of great marital conflict if not addressed early.

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I knew a gal several years ago whose marriage ended due to her husband not being able to set up healthy boundaries with his mother. His mother was single and had low self-worth. She relied on her son to give her a sense of value. To ensure that her son continued to give her a sense of worth, she made sure that she was her son's first priority. She saw to it that her son lived nearby so she could call on him anytime day or night and worked hard to make her son's wife understand that she was in control of the relationship between my friend and her husband. Things got so bad that my friend begged her husband to lay down the law with his mother and, instead, the mother-in-law convinced her son that his wife was no good for him, so he left her.
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Now, not all in-laws, particularly mothers-in-law, are like this. It's just people like the one in this instance that gives mothers-in-law a bad reputation. My in-laws, on the other hand, are very accepting and treat me as one of the family, which is wonderful!

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In a marriage, husband and wife are to look to one another for comfort and total support. Spencer W. Kimball, former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that couples are to confide in and counsel together. Also, "if possible, they should establish their own household, separate from their parents. . . . Any counsel from outside sources should be prayerfully considered by both spouses together" (Harper & Olsen, 2005 p. 328). Of course, this does not mean the abandonment of parents needs to occur, but there are new boundaries that need to be set in order for healthy relationships to be built between the couple and their in-laws.

 Here are some suggestions for how a couple can be independent of parents while having good relationships with their in-laws:
  • Separate from the families in which you both grew up. You do not have to go far, but try to live independently from parents.
  • Create your own marital identity.
  • Create a healthy boundary where you share "information and
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    behavior with each other within that invisible fence" (p. 328). Parents and children are not to have access to these things.
  • If either of you has close relationships with your parents, make it a point that your spouse must now come first and make sure that you share more with your spouse than with your parents. A suggestion I have is to make a rule for yourself that you will not contact your parents more often than you get to contact your spouse unless there is an emergency (i.e. someone is dying). Once or twice a week should be sufficient.
  • Make sure your spouse feels secure with you, which will help
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    your marital relationship as well as your relationship between your spouse and your parents.
  • Understand that calling your in-laws "mom" and "dad" can help build a stronger, more secure relationship with them (p. 331). This is not an act of disloyalty to your own parents, nor is it about you giving up your power to your in-laws in any way. It is about building a healthy extended family structure for you and your children.
(Unless otherwise marked, this list was taken from p. 328).

"[Your spouse] occupies the first place. [He/she] is preeminent, even above the parents who are so dear to all of us. Even the children must take their proper, but significant place." -Spencer W. Kimball
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Some suggestions for in-laws to help your child form a healthy attachment to their spouse while keeping your relationship with your child and their spouse healthy:
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  • Recognize that you must help your child and their spouse to define and protect their marital boundary (p. 328).
  • Do not use your child as a mediator between you and their spouse. It can cause feelings of resentment to build in every party involved (p. 328).
  • Allow the couple to adjust to one another and become independent from you (p. 328).
  • Listen and do not impose your opinions or feelings on matters that concern your child's marriage (p. 329).
  • Treat your child with respect and love (p. 329).
  • Warning: "Demands, expectations, manipulations, ultimatums, threats, and emotional blackmailing tend to destroy relationships" (p. 330).
  • "Encourage [your] children to discuss matters with their spouses" (p. 330). 
  • Accept the differences of your child's spouse. They were raised
    by different parents and, therefore, a different set of values. These differences can enrich your life. "Demonstrating [good] humor, exercising patience, overlooking small irritations, and looking for the positive can help with dealing with differences" (p. 330).
  • Do not try to compete with your child's new in-laws for
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    affection (p.332).
  • Do not give unsolicited advice, criticize, blame son-in-law or daughter-in-law for why your child and his family are missing a family event, take over the disciplining of grandchildren, try to control "everyone and everything including children's beliefs", or make unclear or indirect communications (p.332).
"Wise parents, whose children have left to start their own families, realize their family role still continues, not in a realm of domination, control, regulation, supervision, or imposition, but in love, concern, and encouragement" (Harper & Olsen, 2005, p. 327).

Money Matters:

Problems with managing money are one of the leading causes of divorce. The differences in personalities in couples and rules about how money ought to be used can be a perpetual problem that can easily turn into a gridlock issue. If you remember from a previous post, gridlock is a perpetual problem that both individuals in the marriage have strong opinions about due to life dreams and/or ambitions. If gridlock is not overcome, resentments can build to the point where each spouse feels they are being disrespected and will turn away from one another.

When it comes to money, people tend to have a money personality. Some people believe that it might be associated with birth order:

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  • 1st born/the controller: Loves to save, makes out a budget, and makes sure everyone adheres to it.
  • 2nd born/ the saboteur: Experiences stress if unable to satisfy material wants vs. needs. Hates being controlled. Often sabotages the controller's budget plans because they do not like to feel restricted.
  • Middle born/the sensitive spender: Tends to go along with whatever budget is established. Sensitive to fairness and is considerate of everyone's needs. Assumes responsibility for management tasks.
  • Last born/the impulse buyer: Cannot distinguish between needs and wants. Avoids responsibility for debts.
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My experience has shown me that birth order affecting your views of money is certainly not true all of the time. It is more likely that it is a combination of life experience and personality type. For instance, some people are more generous than others simply because it is a part of their personality, not because they were a middle child.

Even with having a money personality trait as presented above, there are things you can do to make sure that these traits do not hurt your family's finances. When you come together to discuss money matters, follow these rules laid out by Dr. Bernard E. Puduska, author of Til Debt Do Us Part:

  1. Be aware that each of us has . . . values, standards, and goals that tend to influence the way we want [to spend money].
  2. Accept that each of us comes to marriage with a unique set of financial rules.
  3. Appreciate the severe stress placed on individuals and families when family financial rules are broken.
  4. Understand that it is possible for families and family members to modify their financial management procedures.
  5. Assess the financial management patterns of your family of origin,and determine which of these you wish to perpetuate or discard.
  6. Develop a family plan designed to alter existing, dysfunctional financial patterns and establish functional financial management techniques.
  7. Learn as a family how to effectively plan, control, and evaluate the management of financial resources.
(List taken from Poduska, 2000, p. 33).

Something else that will help is to try to adopt these financial health characteristics:
  • Self-reliance: try to be your own banker, if possible, and learn how to set aside money for big purchases rather than using credit (which causes you to pay more money in the long-run due to interest rates).
  • Accurate perception of reality: appreciate the need to live within your means and to have money set aside for any financial setbacks.
  • Flexibility: when you live within your means and do not have debt, you are able to be more flexible with your funds.
  • Problem-centeredness: ability to discern between the things they can do something about and the things they can do nothing about.
  • Active appreciation: does not feel the need to have "the latest and greatest" of anything out there. Instead, you appreciate and take care of the things you have and also make purchases according to an item's function, its aesthetics (visually appealing), and how long they will last.
  • A strong sense of ethics: being honest with yourself about all of your financial dealings.
  • A strong sense of self: understanding yourself so you can avoid what might tempt you to waste money such as fads, status symbols, or feeling the need to compete with others.
  • Imagination: being creative with your spending or increasing income will allow you to better cope with changing economies.
  • Appreciation of emotional costs: "If I buy this, will it hurt or take something important away from my family?"
  • Charity: understanding that money does not come out of thin air and that not everyone has equal access to it; you feel the desire to be of service to others in need.
(List taken from Poduska, 2000, p. 41-42).


Resources you can use to help you plan your finances better can be found by talking to financial planners (ask around for honest and effective ones), talking to someone you trust about taking care of your financial security, or seeking out information on financial planning. A couple of books I can recommend are Till Debt Do Us Part by Dr. Bernard E. Poduska and The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Both of these resources are good to get you started on planning your finances together so they become an asset to you, rather than a burden. Lastly, try to incorporate weekly or monthly meetings to go over money matters together. Good luck!


Harper, J. M. & Olsen, S. F. (2005). "Creating Healthy Ties With In-Laws and Extended Families." In C. H. Hart, L.D. Newell, E. Walton, & D.C. Dollahite (Eds.), Helping and healing our families: Principles and practices inspired by "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" (pp. 327-334). Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.

Poduska, B. (2000). Till Debt do us Part, (Chapter 2). Salt Lake City, Utah: Shadow Mountain.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Marital Power Struggles and Couple's Council


"It is important that [couples] work together in their leadership in the family." - Richard B. Miller, PhD (Miller, 2008).
This week's subject is on councils as well as understanding and overcoming marital power struggles. It is natural for couples to want to try to take control in the marital relationship, but allowing yourselves to get into a power struggle will have an outcome where one or both spouses will be dissatisfied in the marriage. It is also the perfect setup for Dr. John Gottman's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" to infiltrate and destroy your friendship.

Areas of your relationship where power struggles often come up are:
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  • Parenting techniques/child discipline.
  • Money issues.
  • Sex.
  • Division of chores.
  • Other perpetual or solvable problems.
 Ways a power struggle is made manifest:
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  • Discounting a spouse's opinion.
  • Not listening to or understanding your spouse.
  • Refusing to talk when a subject you don't wish to discuss is brought up.
  • Dominating conversations/lecturing your partner.
  • Stonewalling (giving the cold shoulder) when you are not getting your way.
  • Not allowing your spouse to express their feelings or opinions.
  • Making decisions that affect the family without the other spouse's input.
  • Not willing to compromise, or insisting that your way is the correct way.
  • Taking control of the money.
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  • Trying to control your spouse.
  • Not allowing your spouse to be involved in parenting your children (for reasons other than protecting them from abuse).
  • Doing things in the relationship that you would never allow the other partner to get away with doing.
  • Making the other person feel like they cannot be happy unless they do what you want.
  • Partners that will not allow each other to influence one another (as discussed in a previous post).
  • Refusing to compromise.
(List adapted from Miller, 2008)


Healthy couples work together to build their relationship and lead their families in a way that benefits all of its members. Dr. Miller says:
"In healthy, well-functioning families, there is a clear heirarchy between parents and children. Parents are the 'executive committee' and the 'board of directors' of a family. As with any other leadership position, parents should not be harsh, domineering, or dictatorial, but they are the leaders of the family, and the children need to follow that leadership" (Miller, 2008).

The bottom line to parenting children is to always present a united front. Do not allow your children to play you against one another (ex. "But, Daddy! Mommy said that I could do ______!"). Do not insult one another, especially directly to or around the children (Miller 2008). This goes for divorced couples too. Children are affected by such things more than you know, so don't do it. (If you need some recommendations for parenting books, there is a list at the end of this post.)

Link: Parents with Adult Children

If your children have already grown and left the nest, the rules will be different. You are no longer their leaders. They are now to govern themselves. You can give advice, but you cannot enforce any rules on them unless they are living under your roof. 

If your children are married, encourage your children to seek solutions to their marital issues together with their spouse instead of coming to you for comfort or to confide in you. Their married life needs to be independent of all parents of the married couple, both his and hers (Miller, 2008). Of course, you can still counsel together, but the spouse of your child needs to be okay with it first.

Egalitarianism; Equal Partnership

Marriage should be a partnership where both partners have equal standing, even with each person having their different duties and personalities. Both spouses need to be able to share opinions, to make decisions together, and to share power equally:
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A great way to make sure that you are sharing power and making decisions together is to hold regular Couple's Councils (that does not mean to go see a marriage counselor). A couple's council is where you hold a special meeting each week where you can both sit down together and make decisions on marriage and parenting matters while also keeping each other informed of weekly schedules.

Here is a basic blueprint for holding a counsel:
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  1. Decide on a time for you both to hold a council each week.
  2.  Make sure that each of you knows what will be on your agenda for discussions at least by the evening before the counsel. This will give you time to contemplate on matters before you meet.
  3. Begin your meeting with expressions of love and concern for one another.
  4. Open with a prayer (I suggest that you hold hands for this). Ask for divine guidance so your meeting may be without contention and that you may be guided to the best solutions for the issues on the agenda.
    Link: Pray Together
  5.  If this is not the first time you have held such a meeting, this is a good time to see how things are progressing from the previous meeting and if anything should be put on the agenda for next week. Be sure to thank and praise one another for following through on previous agreements.
  6. The spouse whose turn it is to open the discussion introduces the first item on the agenda.
  7. Have an orderly discussion (allow one spouse to share their thoughts on a solution to the issue, then the other person shares theirs).
  8. Keep going back and forth on the agenda item until a consensus is reached. Consensus: where each person agrees on something.
  9. Plan how to implement or move forward on the consensus. 
  10. Close with a prayer of thanksgiving for helping the both of you work together to find the best solutions for the items on the agenda.
  11. Have a snack or treat. You guys worked hard! It's time for a reward!
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 Note: If you can't seem to reach a consensus on a matter right now, it is more than okay to table it until the next meeting. You can do this however many times you need to until a consensus is reached.

(List adapted from Ballard, 2012, p. 52-53).

My husband and I tried doing a counsel recently in the manner that is outlined above. It is amazing how quickly some perpetual issues came together in a way that both of us felt was correct! I highly recommend this for any couple. Plus, you can hold councils like these with your family, where you present a family agenda, or you can have it one-on-one with a parent and a child, or both parents with a child.

Overcoming power struggles in your marriage, along with practicing the principles in previous posts and holding a regular Couple's Council, will help set and keep your marriage on the correct path. Just keep trying to do your best to come together and become as one. Keep up the good work!

Book Recommendations:
  •  The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting by Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D.
  • SOS, Help for Parents by Lynn Clark, Ph.D. 
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Ballard, M.R. (2012). Counseling with your councils. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.

Miller, R.B., Ph.D. (Mar 28, 2009). Who is the boss? Power relationships in families. BYU Conference on Family Life, Brigham Young University.