When Your In-Laws Seem Like Outlaws

The words in-law and outlaw are examples of how two words that look very similar, can have vastly different meanings.  According to the dictionary, an in-law is a relative by marriage, while an outlaw is a fugitive from the law or a habitual criminal.  Of course nearly every marriage will at some point have feeling that dealing with your in-laws is far worse than dealing with outlaws.  To help you handle this situation, our readers have shared their best tips for coping with and even winning over the in-laws.

Court Those In-Laws

This is a tip we received from a woman whose mother, father and sister did not like her fiance.  He basically courted her family after he won her over.  He’d bring flowers for her mom, and a little something for her dad and sister.  He didn’t have money for real gifts, but he’d bring things like their favorite ice cream or candy. I was impressed that he listened so well and remembered what they liked.”  During their first year of marriage her sister got a serious boyfriend and suddenly they loved her husband and were full of complaints about the sister’s boyfriend instead. She summed it up this way “I can’t say enough about how his efforts paid off. We’re lucky, because we know couples who are always fighting because they have in-law problems.”

Ask About What He Or She Was Like As a Child

This tip came to us from a woman who could not seem to win over her mother-in-law.  She decided to put together a collage of photos to make a special birthday card for her husband. “When I asked his mother about getting some photos she pulled out boxes of old photos, trophies and awards.  For the first time ever, we talked for hours and we actually had fun together.  I learned so many things about him that I didn’t know before, and she was thrilled to have someone else ‘ooh and ah’ about how cute he was in his first grade photo with his two front teeth missing. It was such an obvious way to bond, and I wish I’d done it sooner.”

Set Limits

Of course not all the tips for getting along with the in-laws were so positive.  There were many tips that had to do with setting limits with the in-laws so that family get-togethers didn’t turn into a miserable experience. Some couples found that there were topics that needed to be declared off limits because they continually degenerated into arguments.  Others set limits about in-laws needing to call first rather than paying them a surprise visit. Most of these couples admitted that at first it was difficult to approach the topic of setting limits, but that once the initial awkwardness wore off their relationship was better after laying down these rules.

Sometimes a Hotel is a Couple’s Best Friend

Quite a few couples mentioned that the only time they don’t get along with their in-laws is when they are all living under the same roof.  Whether you’re vacationing together or they have some into town for a visit, this time together was the most common time when disagreements with the in-laws cropped up.  Again, couples agreed that it is difficult to approach the idea of the in-laws staying at a hotel, but if a visit is lasting more than 2 or 3 days this can reduce the stress for everyone.

Most couples seem to stumble on this solution after surviving many long visits where everyone was struggling to get along.  One woman told us about how her in-laws headed to a hotel after 2 sleepless nights when her son had a croupy cough. She felt that they must have realized how peaceful the relationship was once they were no longer trying to stay civil under the same roof because ever since then they have always booked a hotel when visiting.

So, there are the top tips from our readers for helping you feel that you spouse’s family indeed consists of in-laws rather than a rowdy bunch of outlaws.  Like blood relatives, your relatives by marriage are your family and they are a permanent part of your life.  It is always best to nurture these relationships because having them run smoothly is crucial to having your marriage run smoothly.

What do you think? Do you have any in-law tips or stories? Please share them in the comments section.

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Older Women, Younger Men

For a while it seemed like older women dating or marrying younger men was becoming more acceptable.  Beautiful celebrities like Demi Moore and Madonna married much younger men and the press seem to accept this rather than criticize it like they did years before when celebrities like Cher were involved with younger men.  It even seemed like this positive view of older women and younger men might carry over into everyday life, but then a series of television shows with the word “cougar” in them seemed to declare that women dating younger men was still not as acceptable as men dating younger women.

So just where did we get this notion that the man should always be older than the women?  And why is there such a double standard when it comes to women dating younger men?  Here are some points that I’ve come across as I’ve taken a closer look at why we tend to view a man dating a younger woman as more acceptable than a woman dating a younger man.

The Maturity Factor

When they’re growing up, girls mature a few years earlier than boys.  In previous generations, it was common for women to get married anywhere from their late teens into their early twenties.  It makes sense that women tended to marry men a few years older than they were because these men were mature enough to marry.

Of course these days, the average age for women to marry is nearly twenty-seven, and by this age, men have long since caught up with their maturity level (and the few that haven’t caught up most likely never will).  The maturity factor is not an important factor like it used to be, but the notion that the man should be older than the woman has not caught up with the times.

Man as the Provider

Another big factor in how the tradition of the man being older than the woman came to be is due to simple economics.  Back then, the man was the provider, and even if a wife did work she was not the primary bread winner.  The need to find a man who was financially able to support a wife and family drove many women to find a man who was more established rather than one who was just getting started in the work force.  Of course just like the maturity factor, all this has changed with women having careers where they earn a large portion or maybe the largest portion of the family’s income.

Biological Clock

One thing that has not changed with the times is the simple biological fact that a woman only has a certain amount of childbearing years.  A women who is getting to be forty is running out of time to have children despite some advances in science, whereas a man in his forties has no such limitations.  For this reason, men who want children are often willing to get involved only with older women who are still in the middle of their prime childbearing years rather than nearing the end of those years.

Standards for Dating a “Younger” Person Vary Depending on Who is Older

When we think of men dating a younger woman, we usually think of an age gap that is somewhere around 8 to 10 years.  If the man is only 4 or 5 years older than the woman he’s dating, then we tend to think of them as being the “same age.”  This is not so for women, where it is not uncommon to hear a women say that she is dating a younger man even if she is only 2 or 3 years older than him.

So yes, there are many double standards when it comes to older women dating younger men.  Many of the double standards are a throwback to an older time when couples married much younger and life was very different.  Of course there is still a double standard that is very much alive today, as proven by the popular term “cougar.”  I don’t find the term offensive, but it certainly is a negative term which makes it sound like the older woman is just waiting to pounce on and rip apart these younger men.

What do you think? Is there still a double standard when it comes to women dating younger men?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Rules of Relationships – Saying Thank You

expressing thanks to your partnerOne of the first things that we learn about manners when we are children is to say “thank you” when someone does something nice for us or gives us a compliment.  As adults we usually keep up this habit of saying thank you to casual acquaintances, but we often get a little lax with expressing gratitude to the people who are most important to us.  We’re usually good about saying thank you when we receive a compliment from our partner, but it’s easy to fall into a trap where we forget to say thank you for all the everyday nice things that they do for us.

Here are some basic rules for saying thank you to your partner.  I’ve also thrown in some of the common excuses that we use for not saying thank you when we should.  Here are some “thank you” tips to keep in mind, especially if you have been in a relationship for some length of time.

Say Thank You Even if You View it as “Their Job”

Most households have a separation of chores to keep things running smoothly.  As newlyweds, you would probably say thank you if your husband swept the floor after dinner while you loaded the dishwasher.  Of course over time it’s typical to view sweeping as “his job” which usually designates this as a task that is no longer worth a simple thank you.  Instead of just dismissing this as his job, think of all the men out there that don’t sweep the floor (and possible don’t even know where the broom is kept) and be sure to say a little thank you every now and then.

Don’t Withhold a Thank You Because You Had to Ask

When it comes to chores, most households have one person who knows what needs to be done around the house at any given time.  The other person is often willing to help, but first they need to be told what needs to be done.  Just because it is obvious to you that there are dishes in the sink that need to be washed doesn’t mean that everyone who steps foot in the kitchen will notice this.

The person who washes the dishes because you asked them to deserves thanks every bit as much as the person who noticed that the dishes needed to be washed and did it on their own.  Even though it seems like a much bigger deal if the person didn’t need to be told, remember that takes just as much work to wash the dishes whether you were asked to do it or you did it on your own.  And of course a task that completed is that much less work for you no matter why it was completed in the first place.

Don’t Over Analyze a Thank You

For some strange reason there are people who cannot take a compliment at face value and must search for a deeper meaning.  If you just made a fabulous dinner and your partner thanks you for making a delicious meal, then just take this at face value and be happy they noticed.  Do not try to find a deeper meaning by examining what this compliment says about all those other meals that you made that didn’t get a compliment–weren’t they delicious too?

So yes, thank you is an important component to any relationship, but especially to a long term relationship where it can be easy to take things for granted.  Another important part of saying thanks is that it force us to focus on the positive things about our partner instead of honing in on every negative.  One other benefit to keep in mind when it comes to saying thank you as that these words are often contagious.  Not only will expressing thanks make your partner feel more appreciated, but it will often prompt them to say thank you more often to you as well.

What do you think?  Are there some tasks that you find no longer merit a thank you, or do you regularly express your thanks?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Is Marriage Getting a Bad Reputation?

The end of 2010 brought about an enormous debate over the future of marriage.  The Pew Research Center released the results of their latest marriage study which had many people declaring that marriage was officially obsolete.  There was such a buzz, that I was asked to discuss the future of marriage on Oprah Radio with host Derrick Ashong.

Despite what many of those writing about the Pew study would have us believe, the study’s results were not nearly as bleak as we’ve been led to think.  So why does marriage seem to be getting such a bad reputation?  Here are some of trends that I’ve noticed that contribute to marriage getting much worse press than it truly deserves.

For Marriage and All Topics, Bad News is Big News

No matter what the topic, when it comes to big news stories, bad news always trumps good news.  It’s no different when the topic is marriage.  It makes for a much better story to report about the scandalous breakup of celebrity marriage rather than to report on famous couples that have been married for decades and are still going strong.  This is especially true when reporting about a study like the Pew report.  It makes for a great headline to say that nearly 4 in 10 people believe that marriage is obsolete, yet it’s not much of a headline to say that 61% of people do not think that marriage is obsolete.

Marriage Attitudes Reflect Our Situation

One statistic that was very under-reported when it came to those writing about the Pew marriage study was that the group that was most likely to declare marriage as obsolete was parents who live together.  Like so many other aspects of life, we tend to gravitate toward attitudes that reflect the way we live our lives.  We certainly can’t ignore this group’s input in the survey, yet it is certainly worth noting that 62% of cohabiting parents reported that they felt marriage was obsolete.

To not report on the living arrangements of those responding to the marriage study is like reporting on optimism about the economy without divulging how many respondents were employed versus those who were unemployed.  For the record, I am pro-marriage, and just celebrated my 17th wedding anniversary.  So yes, I am predisposed to my attitudes reflecting my situation as well.

Divorce Rate Skews Our Perspective on Marriage

No discussion of marriage is complete without touching on the divorce rate.  Despite the 39% of Pew respondents who felt marriage was obsolete, 67% were optimistic about the future of marriage.  In some ways these numbers may seem to contradict each other, but in our LuvemOrLeavem surveys we have also found that even people who are optimistic about marriage can’t help but have some doubts given the high number of divorces that they see all around them.

The Gay Marriage Component

One of the groups that I have found to be the most critical of how relevant marriage is to modern society is proponents of gay marriage.  I find this interesting, because the percentage of gay couples clamoring to get married seems to be much higher than that of straight couples.  I think that the argument that marriage is obsolete because it focuses on the tradition of being between a man and a woman is a totally separate issue from whether or not marriage itself is obsolete.

Some of the main arguments that have people doubting the viability of marriage have to do with broad issues like longer life expectancy, people marrying beyond a broader geographic region than they did in the past, and of course the question about whether monogamy is really compatible with human nature.  Whether or not someone supports gay marriage or believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, these broader issues surrounding how marriage fits into modern life still exist whether a couple is gay or straight.  For this reason, I think that the future of marriage and the issue of gay marriage are best dealt with as two separate issues.

So there are some of the main reasons why I think that marriage is getting a bad reputation that it really doesn’t deserve.  Let’s not forget that marriage has been around for thousands of years, so to declare it obsolete based on some mixed data gathered from people over the past few generations ignores just how many obstacles marriage has overcome to survive for so long.  If you’d like to listen to my radio discussion about marriage, head over to  The Derrick Ashong Experience.

What do you think? Can marriage survive in modern society, or is it indeed becoming obsolete?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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