FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Five Things You Need to Know About Your New In-Laws

with Tom Nelson | October 1, 2015
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The engagement is finally here, and plans for the wedding are well underway, but there's one thing you're still uncertain about. How do you relate to your fiancé's parents after you're married? Pastor and author Tommy Nelson shares five things every man and woman needs to remember about relating to in-laws.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • The engagement is finally here, and plans for the wedding are well underway, but there's one thing you're still uncertain about. How do you relate to your fiancé's parents after you're married? Pastor and author Tommy Nelson shares five things every man and woman needs to remember about relating to in-laws.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

You’re engaged. Do you know how you will relate to your fiancé’s parents after you’re married? Pastor and author Tommy Nelson shares five things every man and woman needs to remember about relating to in-laws.

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Five Things You Need to Know About Your New In-Laws

With Tom Nelson
October 01, 2015
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: You know, relationships with in-laws can get a little dicey from time to time. Here is Pastor Tommy Nelson with some practical advice.


Tommy: If my mother-in-law became a problem in our marriage, it would not be my job to step in—that is my wife's job. If I step in, I step in as a last resort because, if I step in, I'll fix it; and it will be shock and awe. Do you understand?  [Laughter]

[Mother-in-Law Song]

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.



I don’t think that song’s very nice, saying, “Sent from down below.” It's not just mothers-in-law who can be a problem. There are fathers-in-law, and mothers, and fathers—all kinds of issues here. Stay tuned.

[Mother-in-Law Song]

Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. We do not endorse the theology presented in that particular song.

Dennis: What year was that song?

Bob: I'm trying to think of how old you were when that song came out.

Dennis: No, no, no. [Laughter] What year was the song written?

Bob: It was probably—they probably played that on the radio station in Ozark, Missouri.

Dennis: Keith is looking it up right now. You know, I heard that song for years. I've really never thought of my mother-in-law.

Bob: I'm going to guess that was 1959. Keith will verify that.

Dennis: I'm going to guess a little later than that—in the early '60s.

Bob: You think it was the early '60s.



Dennis: It's just a wild guess. What is it, Keith?

Keith: Ernie K-Doe, 1961.

Bob:  I knew it was Ernie K-Doe. I just didn’t know it was—

Dennis: Yes; sure you did.

Bob: Nineteen—what?  Nineteen sixty-one—is that what you said?

Dennis: One-hit wonder.

Bob: Nineteen sixty-one. Alright, so you win.

Dennis: My one time I've been right on pop music, here on FamilyLife Today.

Bob: We're not going to talk about pop music today, but we are going to hear a great message. This is one of those messages—you know, I just love it when a wise man, who has a biblical worldview,—

Dennis: No doubt.

Bob: —kind of sits down and just says, "Let me give you some pointers, son."

Dennis: A straight-shooter—just cuts to the chase / just comes right at it and tells you exactly like it is. In this particular subject—all of us—trust me—I don't care whether you're a host of a daily radio program called FamilyLife Today, or the co-host, or married to either of them, or married to Keith—every one of us needs help in relating to our in-laws.

Bob: That's right.



Dennis: Do you agree with me, as a listener?  [Laughter] Nod your head, as a listener, if you agree because you know it's true in your heart of hearts. I don't even care if you have the perfect in-laws. All of us need all the coaching we can get on this. So, over the next couple of days, we're going to be able to hear the truth about this.

Bob: We're going to tap into the wisdom of a pastor from suburban Dallas, Texas—from Denton, Texas. His name is Tommy Nelson. Our listeners are familiar with Tommy. He's been on FamilyLife Today a number of times.

Dennis: He's the romance guy. We usually play him around Valentine's Day because Tommy is a romantic kind of guy.

Bob: Well, he's going to address, this week, the subject of in-laws; and then, later in the week, he's going to talk about money. These are from a series of messages that he preached at his church on marriage. I think our listeners are going to enjoy the wisdom of Tommy Nelson when it comes to relating to your in-laws.

[Recorded Message]

Tommy: There are four great problems in marriage. Do you know that?



Whenever you do marital counseling, there are four great problems: communication, specifically in the area of conflict / the inability to listen and talk—and, secondly, what comes out of that is alienation, sexually / you have a sexual problem—money / the ability to manage money that creates problems—and, fourthly, in-laws. The fourth major problem in marriage is the understanding of in-laws.

I have to tell you—in all of my time in ministry / 30 years, now—I have never, ever preached a message on in-laws. Do you know that?  I have reliable evidence that never, in the history of the faith, has in-laws ever been preached on. [Laughter] Do you know that?  When you get married—if you're a son or a daughter—you pick up parents, and you don't get any choice on it.


You get parents.

Now, how are you supposed to relate to these new parents and how, if you're a parent—and all of you parents are going to become / most of you are going to become in-laws. So, you better learn “How do you relate to a son- or a daughter-in-law?  What are the rules of engagement right here?”

First, I'm going to look at how you relate to your in-laws, if you are a son-in-law or a daughter-in-law. Number 1: Your in-laws are to be honored. Whenever that verse occurs in the Bible, "Whither thou goest, I will go; where you lay down, I will lie down; your people will be my people; and your God will be my God."  We quote that quite often in weddings, of a wife to a husband. In the Book of Ruth, that is not spoken of a wife to a husband. That is spoken of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law—that there is an honor that is given to them.



Your in-laws are your mate's parents, and so you don't criticize and initiate criticism about your wife’s or your husband's parents. You force them [your mate] to take a hard stand. Now, you may feel free to agree with them upon their railings upon them, if you would like, but you don't initiate criticism about your in-laws—not normally.

In 1Timothy, Chapter 5, let me show you that the Fifth Commandment of honoring your parents—it still holds, even when you get married / even if they're not your parents. In

1 Timothy 5, in verse 3, "Honor widows who are widows indeed."  In the rest of

1 Timothy, the idea of honor has the idea of financial support: "Let all who bear the name of elder be worthy of double honor."  It has the idea of "honorarium" / of financial support.



Honor widows—take care of, in your church, widows. True religion is to visit widows and orphans in their affliction. That word "visit" is the word episcopos—oversee / look out for their needs. But in verse 4, there's a certain widow in the church that you do not physically take care of because there's someone else that has the responsibility. She was—now in verse 4: "If any widow has children or grandchildren, they"—meaning the children or grandchildren—“must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some"—my Bible says—"return to their parents,"—that's a bad translation. The Greek word "return" means “to pay back” or “to recompense.”



As a matter of fact, there is a Bible that says, "to make some," meaning the children recompense their parents. That's why, whenever young people get married, I tell them: "You need to discuss this with your future wife, ‘That we're going to have a responsibility to parents someday. The money that we make—we just don't throw away with wantonness. We have a responsibility.’” Even a pagan has a sense of caring for parents, much less the Christian.

And so, Rule Number 1: You don't rundown your mate's parents—you honor them.

Number 2: Parents are to be left: "For this cause, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife."  There is a sense of leaving your parents—that a new institution is begun. There is an honor, but there is a different order that begins.



In the book of Numbers, if a young girl went to make a vow, she couldn't make that vow binding unless her father said it was okay. A young girl's faith and devotion could never usurp the order of a home. The father could okay it, or the father could negate it.

Once that woman got married, Numbers 30 says, "If she went to make a vow,”—the father is nowhere to be seen. The father is not a controlling element on that girl anymore. Counsel, yes; advice, yes; model, we hope—but now, the husband has that right. So there is expected to be a changeover whenever marriage occurs.

What that means is that, when you get married, you don't call home every day, as a rule. Now, my wife frequently gets after me and says, "Would you call your mother?!"



 "Okay."  But for a kid to have a bond—sometimes it goes to that point—may be an intrusive thing in their home you have to break. You not only don't call home every day, you don't run home when trouble hits and go running to Mommy and Daddy.

Now, are there occasions that things can get out of hand?  We have had two, that are high in leadership in our church, that have had to go into the home of their daughter and to take her out because of abuse. Are there times that a parent may have to make a hard call?  Yes, you may have to; but normally speaking, you don't run home as soon as problems start. You work through them, if at all possible; and you don't look home, in need.



Whenever, all of a sudden, finances start getting short, you don't have your home speed-dialed—you know—to where you immediately go to the well, like you always went to when you were in high school and college—and go to Mommy and Daddy to bail you out. Have I ever helped my married son?  Sure, I've helped him. When I saw a need, I asked if I could help him; but if he is calling every week, that's not good—that's not healthy for him. You leave your father and mother.

And Number 3: If ever a parent / if an in-law causes a problem—if you have—and I'll discuss what those problems are—if you have an in-law that begins to be intrusive into a marriage, here is the order of dealing with it. The natural-born child deals with the parent.



Now, my wife put an asterisk on my notes and said, "Make sure you mention this."  I'm not giving this message out of personal experience. [Laughter] I have wonderful in-laws!  I could wish my in-laws on all of you. They have become my parents. I have wonderful in-laws; but hypothetically, if my mother-in-law became a problem in our marriage, it would not be my job to step in—that is my wife's job. It's awkward for a child to step in with their parents. It's more awkward for the in-law to step in. The in-law—if I step in, I step in as a last resort because, if I step in, I'll fix it; and it will be shock and awe. Do you understand?  [Laughter]



When the married son / the married daughter steps in, that’s the last resort because, if they deal with it, it’s going to cauterize that wound. It’s going to burn that bridge, and you’re probably not going to be able to go back. Are there some times that has to happen?  There are some parents that can ruin marriages, and sometimes that bridge has to be burned. That sounds terrible, but it has to be. That's when the son-in-law steps in and says: "That's all. That's not going to happen." 

I saw this happen of a mother-in-law—a mother of a married daughter—who continually would harangue her, and criticize her, and hurt her feelings, and embarrass her, and make her cry. That old woman had this girl so under her thumb that she was afraid to speak up. This man called me. Now, I got her opinion to make sure that I was not getting one side; but I told this young man: "You step in there.



“You assure them that she is not going to do that to your wife ever again; and if she does, they are not coming to your home. They are not going to play with their grandchildren. You are going to sever them."  He stepped in there, and he fixed it—that's the last-case scenario. If your in-laws are giving you problems, the natural-born kid has to go to Mama and Daddy and say, "You need to back off."  Hopefully, that wouldn't happen; but it does.

Number 4: To a child—you don't isolate or withdraw from your family. A lot of times, a kid gets married; and they never go home again because, somehow, they think the proper relationship to parents means that you sever them. That is wrong. I think, personally, that one of the great, great problems with the American family is that we have lost the American family. 



I don't know about you—I grew up with grandparents. Maybe, it was just my day; but you could go from my house, Wynn Street, to Reuter Avenue, and you could find my grandfather and grandmother. You could go further on to the east, to North 19th, and you found my paternal grandfather. They were part of our lives. As a little boy, I grew up with the veneration of my grandfather and my grandmother. They reinforced conduct. All my grandfather had to do was clear his throat. [Laughter] Did you all experience that?  You never want a grandpa to reprove you. My grandparents never laid a glove on me because I was in awe of them. They were the people my parents revered.

I grew up with uncles and aunts, and nephews and nieces, and cousins.



It was that kind of—and we weren't Italian—alright?  [Laughter]  We were a Scotch-Irish family, but there was that kind of nuclear family idea. It was wonderful!  Don't—you parents—eliminate the greatest ally you have—and hopefully / hopefully, it's your parents.  My little T.C.—my little grandchild—Teresa and I glory in the times that we get to have with our grandchild / to build into him. Don't isolate from your parents—that's not necessarily biblical.

Number 5: If you're a child, don't be resentful when advised. If your mother sees you doing something that she did wrong, back in 1947, it's probably wrong now.



Now, granted, there's a way to advise and there's a way not to; but if your father calls you over to the side and says: "Son, you can't do that. I tried it, and you can't do it."

When my brother had been married just a few months, we went down for Christmas. My mother noticed a way that she felt my brother was not addressing his wife as he ought. I knew something was up because Mama turned to Bobby and said, "Bobby, let's go get a loaf of bread."  [Laughter] Bobby, unbeknownst, said, "Sure, let's go, Mom!"  Like Wally and the Beav, they headed on off. When they came back, Mama had told Bobby—said: "Pull over. We need to discuss something."  You know what?  My brother was wise enough to take that reproof—



—he'd never been a husband. Don't buck whenever your parents step in. They still have the place—the Fifth Commandment doesn't end at the altar.


Bob: Well, we have heard—

Dennis: Yes.

Bob: We've heard—

Dennis: We sure have.

Bob: —some wise words from a pastor in Denton, Texas—Pastor Tommy Nelson. It's just—it's a good reminder, for all of us, on the issues that can become very destructive in a marriage relationship. If you don't heed this kind of wisdom, you may be sowing seeds that will really create a problem in your marriage.

Dennis: I'm telling—you could reap a harvest for years, if not decades to come. As I was listening to Tommy, my heart was drawn back to Proverbs because I think we've just sat at the feet of a very wise teacher—almost like a son would sit at the feet of a father in Proverbs, Chapter 4, where the father says, "Hear, my son, and give heed to what I teach, for I give you sound teaching,”—“I am giving you wisdom.”



What Tommy has imparted to us is skill—that's godly skill in everyday living. The real theme of Proverbs—if you go through the book, it really talks about listening: “Who are you listening to?  Are you listening to the world or to fools?” or “Are you listening to wise men?” and “Are you listening to wisdom?”  The key to acquiring wisdom is keeping your ear attentive / being teachable.

That's what Tommy was talking about here. When you are rebuked, even if it's done in a way that is not easy to take: “Are you going to listen and hear what you need to hear from your parents or your in-laws and continue to grow, as a husband / as a wife, or maybe it's in your role as a mother or father?”  Our in-laws provide great ways for us to be able to grow up, as followers of Christ.



Bob: It’s critical for us to be on the same page, as husband and wife, as we’re dealing with issues that we may be facing with in-laws. That foundation of oneness in marriage is critical for—not just dealing with in-laws—but what we’re going to hear in a little bit as Tommy’s going to talk about money. All of the issues we face in marriage—we’ve got to face them together, as husband and wife, united in a oneness marriage relationship.

That’s what’s at the heart of the video event that our team put together called The Art of Marriage®. There have been more than 600,000 people who have gone through The Art of Marriage since it was released a couple years ago. Two thousand sixteen is going to be FamilyLife’s 40th anniversary.



Our team has been thinking, “We would love to have tens of thousands more people go through this Friday night/Saturday event—held in a local church or in a community—during the year, 2016.” Our team has put together an anniversary special that is available for a limited time. When you agree to buy five sets of workbooks for The Art of Marriage video event, we will send you the event kit, with the DVDs, for free.

We’re trying to partner with you to make this event happen in your community—you’re just agreeing to take, at least, five couples through the material. They can pitch in for the workbooks. We’ll send you the DVDs; and you can host one of these events on a Friday night and a Saturday—in your church, in your community, in your neighborhood / have folks over if you’ve got a big living room and a big screen TV—have folks in / go through The Art of Marriage in your living room together.



Find out more about the anniversary special for The Art of Marriage when you go to and click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” Again, you order five sets of workbooks / go ahead and pay for those; and we’ll send you the event kit for free, with the DVDs and everything you need to be able to host one of these events. Go to for more information; or call us at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

The message we heard from Tommy today—it really does not get much more practical than that. He was offering solid biblical counsel in a very practical way. Our commitment, here at FamilyLife, is to provide you each day with practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and for your family. We believe that the future of any civilization is directly tied to the strength of the marriages and families in that civilization. Our goal is to effectively develop godly families who can change the world, one home at a time.



We want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who make this program possible—who help us cover the cost of producing and syndicating FamilyLife Today through your regular donations to this ministry. If you’re able to help with a donation today, we want to send you something brand-new from Barbara Rainey. She has developed a line of—these are napkin wraps that you can use for special meals or special occasions. Each napkin wrap has a different question on it designed to spark some very provocative conversation around the dinner table.

Go to Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I Care,”—make an online donation. Or call: 1-800-FL-TODAY, and you can make your donation over the phone—and request the napkin wraps, the “Untie Your Story” resource from Barbara Rainey. Or you can mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and the zip code is 72223.



Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear again from Tommy Nelson—this time on the subject of finances: “How do you get together on the same page, as husband and wife, when it comes to how you handle money in your marriage?” We’re going to hear about that tomorrow. Hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

©Song: Mother-In-Law

Artist:   Ernie K-Doe

Album: Burn! K-Doe! Burn! (P) 2006 Charity Records

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