Loving Your In-laws - The Uncommon Marriage Adventure

Loving Your In-laws

CORE PRACTICE #2: Treat your parents and others in authority with respect.

Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.Exodus 20:12


I come from a talkative, expressive family, so early in our marriage, I wondered what the quiet, reserved Dungys really thought about me. Tony, on the other hand, quickly learned to accept brutally honest advice from my father and brothers—whether or not he’d asked for it. More than once, Tony and I had to sit down to discuss our families’ differences as we figured out how to love and honor our in-laws.

Sometimes we even had to laugh—such as the afternoon I told Tony how I’d nearly fainted from the heat after taking his dad outside to show him our new vegetable garden. I’d asked Wilbur Dungy a simple question about how far apart to plant green beans, only to have him launch into a two-hour lecture on soil content and photosynthesis. That’s the day I learned my father-in-law would open up—as long as you were talking about something he was passionate about!

Given our experiences, whenever I am at a wedding I wonder if the bride and groom fully understand that they are not only gaining a spouse, they are inheriting an extended family. Because that is what happens when a bridal couple enters into the sacred covenant of marriage. Despite adding “in-law” to each name, the truth is that every new bride and groom in essence has a new “mother” and a new “father.”

All too often, brand-new married couples are unsure how to deal with their in-laws. I like how Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages, frames their predicament. Couples, he says, must balance two principles: leaving their parents while still honoring them. The Bible makes it clear that “a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” (Genesis 2:24). But while a couple’s allegiance shifts from their parents to each other, they are to continue to honor their parents, to value their wisdom, and to seek their best. If the admonishment to “honor your father and mother” in Exodus 20:12 is not enough for a husband to treat his wife’s parents as his own—and vice versa for his bride—then the respect due to each other should be enough to carry the day.a

The way we treat our parents affects more than our own relationship with them. A speaker at our church recently pointed out that one of the biggest problems in America is that we have not been trained well in how to honor our fathers and mothers as the Bible commands. As a result, we don’t have proper attitudes toward those in authority. Yet even when we don’t like the behavior modeled by a leader, we have to respect the position of authority he or she holds. That’s a lesson Tony and I want our kids to learn. We want to ensure they honor us and develop proper respect for other authority figures, whether or not they like everything those in charge do.

Loving your in-laws is much easier when you start with honor and respect.

Adventure Application: Is there an issue you need to discuss with your spouse about either set of your parents? Talk about how Exodus 20:12 and Genesis 2:24 speak to that issue.

a Gary Chapman, “In-Laws: God’s Blessing,” The 5 Love Languages (blog), November 24, 2008 http://www.5lovelanguages.com/2008/11/in-laws-gods-blessing/ (accessed May 21, 2014).

From the Book:

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The Uncommon Marriage Adventure
By Tony Dungy and Lauren Dungy with Nathan Whitaker

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