The wedding bells have finished ringing, thank you cards have been sent, and you’re now settling down into your new life as Mr. & Mrs. (or Mr. & Mr. or Mrs. & Mrs.). The blissful fog of newlywed life is beginning to fade, and ‘real-life’ starts to pop up in unexpected places like an unplanned game of wack-a-mole. You realize: I didn’t just marry ______, I married the entire family too! Let’s clarify, you and your partner are a team that should always place one another as high priorities in life; however, when you’ve been playing a team sport all your life, and then you’re voluntarily traded, and now play on a two-person team, this shift in dynamics can cause a few rifts.
Navigating In-Law relationships can be tricky because on one hand, you want to be liked (who doesn’t?) but, on the other hand, you’re new to this, and imposing and assuming are the last things you want to be! When you marry your partner, you also inherit his or her relationship with their family (and vice versa, naturally). So, if your husband is beefing with his brother, whether or not you agree or understand, you’ve got beef too. I speak from awkward and unfortunate experience as a newlywed myself, and in summation, I simply want to pay it forward as I can’t be the only one navigating these, at times, rocky seas.
A bit of context: my family is small. At least my immediate family (shout out to the dream team!). I’ve always wanted a big family thanks to shows like Family Matters, Step-by-Step (I’m really showing my age here!) the Brady Bunch, and 7th Heaven, I idealized the big family dynamic without realizing that it comes with its own unique complications. When I realized that my now husband is one of a (oh so) many, I rejoiced! And may have reenacted my own raised fist victory pose a la Sixteen Candles. Finally! I’d have sisters, and brothers, and quirky aunt-in-laws and grumpy uncle-in-laws, and big brothers galore! Then, the reality. Here are 5 things to keep in mind when marrying into a big family:
You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay.
It can be hurtful and a bit disconcerting that not everyone loves you from the jump. I mean, why wouldn’t they, your family thinks you’re the bee’s knees! Remember that you’re an outsider entering into a dynamic that you may or may not fully comprehend. These relationships take time to form, and trust is key. Also keep in mind your family has to love you, because, because. This new family, speaking frankly, started out as a legal, contractual agreement. Give it time. Know that your spouse loves you, and they love your spouse, so by default they’ve got love for you too.
Follow your spouse’s lead
I don’t mean this in an anti-progressive, anti-feminist sense. I just mean, don’t start freestyling because you may unknowingly “meter la pata” as we say in Spanish. If you’re partner gives a clear warning about Uncle Johnny being a bit of a racist because, blah, blah different times, blah blah cultural differences, don’t fly in like Captain Save-a-Bigot and think you can make him see the error of his ways! Respect that your partner knows more than you do about his or her own family, and follow their lead!
Don’t be so hard on Momma
Unless you have children of your own, it’s impossible to imagine the deeply rooted, inherent, almost aggressive animal instinct that comes with motherhood. You may never measure up in his / her mother’s eyes. Deal with it. She may resent you, may be jealous of you, or may just straight up ignore you. That’s a risk you take, sorry! That said, as long as she treats you with respect, that may have to suffice for the time being.
They communicate differently
Coming from a small family, I’d say I speak with the dream team (Yes, I’m making that a thing) at least once a week. Everyone. Not at the same time, but, practically. For some reason, I imagined that siblings in big families are in constant connection through paper cup telephone lines and know all about each other’s lives! What? Is that so unrealistic? I had to get used to long periods of radio silence, sporadic and unanswered text messages, and the occasional Face Time. For me, it seems distant and passive-aggressive; however, I’ve realized that projecting my ideas of family onto theirs can only lead to trouble.
It’s not like TV
This may seem obvious, but real talk, I was expecting ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ and I got a bit of ‘Clueless’ with a dash of ‘Soul Food’ and some ‘Dude, Where’s my Car?’ plus a few other films that have yet to be made. One thing for sure: it’s NOT the Cosby Show. I’m learning patience, flexibility and acceptance everyday and through it all, my relationship with my husband gets stronger and stronger. In the end, I suppose it’s the best of both worlds: our family of two, plus a few more characters to add to the mix!
Have you married into a big family? What's been your experience?
Danni, Community + Content Director at Las Morenas de España, is a twenty-something, Chicago native currently residing in Madrid. Lover of language, words, and travel, she's managed to combine all of her passions through her work. In her free time, you can find her exploring the winding streets of Madrid, hunting down flight deals, planning her next adventure and writing & researching for LMDES. Danni loves spicy food, natural hair, music and of course, her wonderful husband. If you need to find her, she’s the girl with huge hair and her face buried in her Kindle.