Thanks so much for joining us for our Encouragement for Imperfect Wives Series! We hope you’ll be blessed, encouraged, challenged and comforted all at once. Please let us know if you need prayer – we’d love to pray for you!

There we were, young college students living far from our families, clueless about this institution we’d just signed onto called marriage. After the honeymoon, it didn’t take long for us to realize we were polar opposites.

I was from the North; he was from the South. I liked to talk; he liked it quiet. I liked football; he liked NASCAR (before NASCAR was cool). He loved sweet tea, and I thought I was making him sweet tea from that jar of instant tea I was raised with up North.

And then it happened.

The first in a series of letters addressed to Mrs. Michael Harwood from Mrs. Margaret Harwood.

“Dear Marsha, I thought you might appreciate knowing how to fix some of Michael’s favorite foods. Let’s start with sweet tea.”

I was flabbergasted. He told his Mother I didn’t make sweet tea the way he likes it, and he asked her to send me the recipe!

A Recipe for Disaster

In laws. Does the mere mention of them give you a migraine? Do you and your husband fight over whose family you’ll spend the holidays? Or maybe you live near your family and your husband feels you devote more time to them than you do with him.

We all bring potential ingredients for disaster into our marriage; even the best of families has flaws. When you married your husband, his family was a huge part of who he is now. The environment he was raised in, the way his family handled conflict, who paid the bills, child discipline issues, even what kinds of foods they ate, all played a part in forming the man you married. Then when you add your ingredients into the mix, a potential Recipe for Disaster is created.

God’s Recipe for Marriage 

If you want a prize winning cake, it’s important to follow the recipe. You can’t just haphazardly throw the ingredients into a bowl. The same is true of a prize-winning marriage.

“For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 (NASB)

Within the context of this one little verse, we see God’s recipe for marriage. 

  1. The Break  – “A man shall leave his father and mother. . .”  We are to be independent of our parents emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially. For women, this is especially important. No running home to Mom and Dad when you have an argument; and no asking the counsel of your parents (or your girlfriend, or pastor) without first seeking your husband’s advice.
  2. The Bond “. . .and shall cleave to his wife.” We are to recognize our need for our spouse. Our relationship with our parents as our authority was designed to be temporary. Our marriage, on the other hand, is meant to be permanent.
  3. The Blend “. . .and they shall become one flesh.” This is where we work through our differences; blend our backgrounds, glean from the good and mix them together to make a new unique home. Blending takes time, patience, and lots of prayers. When it comes to the holidays and visiting family (especially when they live far away), discuss and plan months in advance. For Mike and I, that was easy the first year. We were still in college living far from our families. We enjoyed creating our own unique traditions that first year alone.

You don’t become a world renown chef overnight simply by following a recipe. It takes practice. Those first couple of years were rough for us as a couple. There were hurt feelings and disasters as we worked on the essential ingredients of our marriage and how our extended families blended into the recipe.

A Healthy Recipe for Transforming Your In-laws into In-loves

In our marriage, the blend of in-laws changed. Illness, death, divorce, remarriage, all added unique flavors to our recipe. But the basic ingredients are still the same. We watched as our relationship with in-laws changed to in-loves. Here are the six healthy ingredients we used in our recipe.

  1. Love them unconditionally. Remember, they came into their marriage(s) with baggage, too. Maybe they haven’t dealt with their past, or don’t know how to. Are there multiple marriages? Affairs? Just love them like Jesus would. It’s not your place to change them, but to love them unconditionally.
  2. Learn from them.  What do they do well? What might you be able to learn from them? I actually learned my Mother-in-love was a wonderful country cookin’ wiz who was even sweeter than her sweet tea recipe!
  3. Show them respect. Remember, they did give birth to the man you love. Have you thanked them for raising him to manhood and then giving you the man? This was a huge turning point in my relationship with my in-loves.
  4. Set boundaries, but let them know they are welcome in your home.
  5. Stay financially independent of your families. 
  6. Laugh often with them and develop a relationship of no regrets.      It’s been nearly 42 years since I received those letters from my Mother-in-love. I’m thankful I still have them; they became even more special to all of us when she died of cancer at the age of 58. During the twelve years I was blessed to have her as my mother-in-love, our relationship changed from full of friction to full of fun and friendship. I’ll never forget the first time I confessed to her I tried to follow her sweet potato pie recipe, but her directions weren’t clear and what should’ve made two pies made ten. We laughed about that for years.

I’d love to hear from you. What are some in-law issues you and your husband have worked through successfully? Share them here with us so we can learn from each other. If you have a question, you can leave it here as a comment, or send it to me at
Marsha-Mike-Headshot Marsha and Mike married in 1974. They have 3 adult children, 2 son-in-loves, and a daughter-in-love; their eighth grandchild will be born in June, 2016. They currently live in TN where the Smoky Mountains are in view from their front porch. She’s a biblical counselor, teacher, retreat and conference speaker – both stateside and internationally, a published author, writer, editor, blogger, and co-host of Grace Cafe Radio. Marsha‘s passionate about inspiring women to become the women of grace God designed them to be, her family, coffee, walks in the woods, and chronicling life’s moments through pictures. You can find her website at She’s also on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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  1. I love this, Marsha! I especially enjoyed how you broke down God’s recipe for marriage. My husband and I have always had issues with in-laws. Now, that our children are older, we consider very carefully how we will want to be treated as in-laws. Thank you for sharing! I will be considering your words carefully today 🙂

    1. Thank you, Amanda. I think it’s important to focus on praying for your children’s future spouses as early in life as possible. There will almost always be challenges and bumps along the way, but if we focus raising our children to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind, we can most definitely trust God with the outcome. Honestly, I am absolutely blessed by the 3 in-loves. There’s been a couple of bumps here and there, but over all, we love and respect each other and have from the start; unlike my relationship with my in-laws in the beginning. VERY rocky!

  2. Great post!! My husband has taught me something that I will forever be thankful for. He is a peacemaker!!! He brings the peace of God into tense situations and doesn’t blink an eye. I have a few issues with my parents and they can be challenging to be around. My husband encourages me to walk in grace. My Dad passed away few years ago. We had a tough relationship. My husband encouraged me to work through my inner battles and visit my Dad. I’m glad I did. It’s important to encourage family to stick together and walk with forgiveness. It’s important to not judge so harshly. My husband doesn’t speak badly about my family and when I do, he just listens and encourages me to be understanding. He has issues with his family too. I speak the truth about these issues, I don’t minimize the problems. But I speak peace and pray for his family.

    1. Thank you, Lisa. And thank you for sharing your story as well. “Blessed are the peacemakers” for they shall help us see God in each challenging relationship.

  3. This is great way of looking at it. I really enjoyed reading this today. At a time when relationships were strained with my husbands folks God spoke to me and said that if I was to ask him in advance what the ‘issues’ would be he would give me soft answers. And he has always been faithful – and the relationship turned around.

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