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Family Dynamics: The In-Laws

It is a common theme in Hollywood movies to depict tension between a couple which largely involves their spouse's or fiancée's parents. The Ben Stiller & Robert DeNiro popular film franchise, Meet the Parents, is entirely surrounding this niche topic. This dynamic is also an increasingly common issue in relationship and marriage counseling or even pre-marriage counseling.

Family dynamics are such a large part of personality development. Family dynamics can play a primary role in how two random individuals establish a compatible or complimentary dynamic within their own relationship. Sadly, poor communication can lead to tension within any family dynamic. Furthermore, differences in communication styles can lead to tension with one's own family of origin, your spouse's parents, and within your own relationship.

The following are aspects to be aware of when addressing conflict with parents or in-laws:

1) Are you being scapegoated?

Family dynamics are a top-down affair. Typically, it is up to the hierarchical structure of the family to determine the dynamic. Often times, one child or spouse is scapegoated as, "the problem." This scapegoat is the reason why all the tension and chaos exists in the family—at least from the view of those at the top of the dynamic. If you can identify the scapegoat in the family, there is a good chance that this person actually has a lot of power to influence the family dynamic. This takes work, some difficult conversations, and good communication skills.

2) Are you playing the martyr?

Is there so much tension in the family that you've decided to take it upon yourself to just appease everyone who might become upset? What a heavy burden to feel responsible for everyone's emotions and reactions! Wouldn't it be nice if everyone just stuffed all their emotions down and just had a good time? The issue with this is everything gets swept under the rug. This is what the martyr attempts to do—smooth everything over. Unfortunately, you are just left with a nice large pile of unaddressed emotional filth that pollutes the relationships in the dynamic.

3) Are you the Authoritarian?

Chances are, if you are the authoritarian, you will need someone to bring this to your attention as it is likely you would be unwilling to admit it. Truthfully, the authoritarian has one goal; create stability within the family. A noble goal. The problem with this is that life is chaotic and people are multi-dimensional—meaning, people aren't only meant to fit a mold, they are also meant to create it. The authoritarian struggles to see how embracing differing parts of a family dynamic can enrich the experience for all those involved. The challenge is that this involves a decent amount of grief and letting go.

Maybe the family doesn't wish to perform an age-old tradition. Maybe they want to create a new tradition. The authoritarian might use guilt or shame to get others to embrace their valued tradition instead.

Above are just a few common roles within family dynamics that can often perpetuate more issues within the family. Working with a licensed therapist can help you identify these roles, understand your family dynamics better, and discover new ways to navigate and resolve the issues within your family dynamic. Addressing and resolving these issues leads to healthier, more fulfilling relationships for you, your spouse, and for future generations to come.

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Sam Nabil is the founder of Naya Clinics and is a Cincinnati therapist and a Cincinnati Marriage Counselor.

Sam offers therapy in Cincinnati and Cincinnati Marriage Counseling for adults suffering from relationship challenges, life transitions and anxiety.

Sam was featured in many prestigious publications. Check out his interview with Aljazeera English And Cornell university , Yahoo News, USA Today,,

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Naya Clinics offers Marriage Counselors near me, individual therapy near me, and life coaching near me in various locations across the USA and the world.

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