How to Avoid Taking Sides in Family Arguments

What to do when you agree with your child's spouse — not your son or daughter

(This article originally appeared on Grandparents.com.)

My husband and I went through a challenging time several decades ago, as people in most long-term (and short-term) marriages do. Nothing all that unusual for a young couple battling the growing pains of lifelong commitment.

What was unusual, though — and unforgettable to me — was the response of my parents: They rallied behind my husband. My mom and dad comforted and cared for their son-in-law rather than their daughter.

Sure, I was the one questioning the coupling, the marriage, but I never thought my own parents would support their son-in-law instead of me. Their interference was far from helpful and was, in fact, quite hurtful.

My husband and I made it through that challenging period and now have three adult daughters. I have one bona fide son-in-law and two likely-to-be sons-in-law.

With that many partnerships between imperfect people (as we all are), there are sure to be disputes of varying degrees.

As such, I occasionally find myself on the verge of committing the same faux pas my parents did: supporting an in-law instead of a daughter. Then I recall the sting of such unwelcome interference and set out to approach clashes in a manner as unbiased (yet truthful) as I can muster.

(MORE: What to do When Your Adult Children Don’t Like You)

While the best tactic for parents may be steering clear of sticky situations between adult children and in-laws, that strategy can be impossible and unrealistic at times. So when my opinion, feedback or perspective is requested concerning a child and their betrothed, I do my best to adhere to the following eight rules, whether I believe fault for the friction lies primarily with my child or with my in-law:

I think before speaking. Rather than spouting off with my first, potentially hurtful thoughts, I choose my words carefully and share them calmly.

I avoid telling either party, “You’re wrong!” Instead I express understanding of each position, while encouraging both to consider the other’s point of view.

I say to one only what I’m willing to say to both… while we're all in the same room. Forming secret alliances, talking behind a child's or in-law’s backor shaming either in private is harmful and likely to be used as ammunition by one against the other. Worse yet, once the issue is resolved, your actions will undoubtedly backfire and be remembered forever.

(MORE: The 6 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Adult Child)

I keep the grandkids out of it (when there are any). Despite the best intentions and the best parenting, heated moments can and do happen in front of children. I refuse to participate when little ears and eyes witness such disputes. Better to take the kids elsewhere and let Mom and Dad disagree in private.

I show love. I love my daughters. I love their partners. And I do my best to let all of them know that — even when they are right, wrong or somewhere in between (and even when I agree with one more than the other). 

I remove myself. I’m not the judge, jury or referee in issues between my children and their partners. I raised my girls to be kind, fair and wise, and I believe they’ve chosen partners who are equally able. Conflicts are theirs to repair and I trust that both parties are fully capable of doing just that. They may ask my opinion and advice but neither they nor I should expect my input to be the final word or a deciding factor.

I respect the outcome. Marriage partners engage in a dance all their own, to which no one else need be privy. If despite asking for my advice and input, my daughter and son-in-law resolve an issue in a way I don’t necessarily agree with, I keep my mouth shut. It’s their issue, their relationship and their resolution.

If my daughter balks and questions my loyalty, I show her an extra dose of love and honesty. I know how it feels to have a parent align with my spouse, so I gently remind my daughter that parents sometimes have to say the hard things but that doesn’t alter my feelings for her one iota. Such truths may sting, but they are eventually appreciated (even if not admitted aloud). I know that from my own experience.

(MORE: How to Heal a Rift with Your Adult Child)

Perhaps my parents’ reaction to my marital discord all those years ago was more helpful than I originally thought. It’s by considering how they treated their son-in-law that led me to formulate a plan for potentially similar sticky spots with my own sons-in-law. And daughters.

Taking sides between an in-law and your child is an eggshell-walking experience of epic proportion. These tips should assist you in expressing your opinions — as well as your support — without causing harm to your relationship with either side.

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