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Love, marriage and the in-laws 

By BEA TRINIDAD, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 10, 2021 5:00 am

When I asked online how to get along with in-laws, I received a response: “Where do I even start?” With that one question, I sensed that in-law relationships could be tricky for some.

We’ve all watched Crazy Rich Asians, My Big Fat Greek Wedding or Meet The Parents and have seen how tough it can be to marry into a family. 

I spoke to young and seasoned couples, blunt mothers-in-law, and a marriage counselor on how to simplify relationships with in-laws: Luch Zanirato and Ava Daza Zanirato with Gloria Diaz, Deo Magadia and Beth Trinidad Magadia, Cito Mendoza and Cheskie Ayson Mendoza with Suzette Ayson, Eric Dee and Bea Soriano Dee, and Lissy Puno, a counseling psychologist and relationship therapist.

Lissy Puno, based in Singapore, shared her theory: “There are six people in a marriage. We complete the unfinished business of our childhood through our marriage or our partner. That means that there is influence from our parents and in-laws into our marriage.”

Couples can’t just impose everything they want. They need to learn how to adjust and need to understand the needs of others. That’s a daily thing. Dealing with in-laws is a constant work in progress.

If this is the case, striving for healthier relationships with our in-laws is a worthy endeavor for couples that want a happier and lifelong marriage.  So, how, then, should a couple learn to get along with in-laws and vice versa?

Luch Zanirato & Ava Daza Zanirato: ‘Never contradict or expect’

Gloria Diaz shared one piece of advice she gave her daughter Ava: “Never contradict.” She explained, “She has to respect the mother-in-law, not make fun of her. I don’t care that it may be that she is in the Mandaluyong lunatic ward. You still have to care. You still have to be kind. You still have to be thoughtful — basically, all the positive things.”

This approach is why Gloria Diaz believes she was still the favorite in-law, even if she was already separated. Ava joked, “My mom knows how to butter people up.” Despite teasing her mother, the truth is Ava followed suit: “Agree to everything. And find a way to live with it.” 

Luch Zanirato and Ava Daza Zanirato with Gloria Diaz on their wedding day last year

Gloria believes that getting along with in-laws is prioritizing one’s family values. As she puts it, “At the end of the day, all you’ve got is your family. You can have the biggest house in the village, but if you have no mother, no father, no kids, no aunts, no uncles, and no in-laws to be part of your life — what good are you?” 

Luch Zanirato sees long-term value in in-law relationships. He says, “You wouldn’t want to find yourself being the odd man out every time your partner’s family gets together. That’s just no fun and could even make your partner uncomfortable with the whole situation, which could lead to other possible relationship problems in the future.”

For example, at Luch and Ava’s wedding last year, the couple followed one of Gloria’s pieces of advice — to never expect, especially with in-laws.

There were no traditional arrangements as to who paid for what in the wedding. Instead, they set a budget themselves, grateful for whatever support in-laws provided them in their ceremony and, later on, in their marriage.

Cito Mendoza & Cheskie Ayson Mendoza: Be yourself and don't try too hard

Suzette Ayson, the owner of JMA Jewelry and mother of three girls, understands the challenges of dealing with in-laws. She has seen several engagements and weddings as their business involves creating the perfect engagement and wedding rings.

But, she noted, “Things have changed. Before, there were mothers-in-law that tended to meddle.” I asked for her advice on dealing with hard-to-please in-laws. She said, “Be yourself and don’t try too hard. Otherwise, it will be a constant struggle to prove yourself. Just be good.” 

 Cito Mendoza and Cheskie Ayson Mendoza with Arnold and Suzette Ayson on their wedding day

On the other hand, in-laws also need to meddle less and be more open-minded. She said, “I always tell people, you should always see how your children look at their partner.” For this very reason, she is open and supportive towards her son-in-law, Cito Mendoza. 

He recalled a conversation they had at one random party when Cheskie and Cito had been discussing getting married: “It was just Ma and me in the living room.

She just casually said, ‘Cito, I know you guys are thinking a lot about getting married.’ And siyempre napag-usapan ang finances because that was my main issue. Then she said, ‘You will work it out. That’s why you have a partner, and you will always have us.’” This moment gave him the confidence to propose to Cheskie. 

Cheskie, having been married for almost two years to Cito, said that a healthy in-law relationship is about “integrating that person into the family.” She believes that her parents, in-laws, and even their godparents at their wedding can teach a newlywed couple about married life. But, she said, “You just need to have some genuine interest in what they’re trying to teach you.”

Deo Magadia & Beth Trinidad Magadia: Find what tickles them. And leave in-laws out of the conflict.

Deo Magadia and Beth Trinidad Magadia have been married for 21 years. So they’ve gone through the early stages of getting to know their in-laws. And in their case, both sets of in-laws became the best of friends. 

 Deo Magadia and Beth Trinidad Magadia have been married for 21 years.

I asked how one goes about establishing a strong relationship between in-laws, and Deo suggested, “Find their kiliti.” 

For both sets of in-laws, they loved to travel and play mahjong. For this reason, during Deo and Beth’s honeymoon in Australia, their parents followed and joined them. Seeing both sets of parents get along inspired them always to have positive energy in their marriage. 

 Deo Magadia and Beth Trinidad Magadia’s in-laws: Perry Trinidad, Rory Trinidad, Dan Magadia, Lely Magadia

One crucial lesson they learned at the beginning of their marriage was to leave their parents out of their conflict.

Beth said, “At the beginning of our marriage, we went through a period where I had to adjust. Siyempre, I was the bunso, but then suddenly, I had a bigger family now. So kailangan talaga mag-adjust.”

Beth, guilty of sharing some of her earlier frustrations as a wife to her in-laws, realized something: “Don’t let your in-laws know that you’re fighting because siyempre kakampihan nila yung daughter or son in-law nila.”

Deo added, “The husband and wife have to talk to each other regarding dealing with in-laws. Only if there’s good communication between husband and wife will their relationship with their in-laws follow suit.” 

Eric Dee & Bea Soriano Dee: See your in-laws as a support system

Some say don’t live with your in-laws. But this is not the case for Eric Dee and Bea Soriano Dee, who have been married for six years. Both had the chance to live with their in-laws and discovered many benefits to living under one roof. 

 Eric and Bea Dee (left and right) with Rikki and Beng Dee, Mama Lisa Dee and kids Billie and Braeden in a Christmas photo

Bea has been living with Eric’s family since the beginning of their marriage. They are now more than 10 people in the house.

She labeled Rikki and Beng Dee as the “coolest in-laws” and considered herself lucky that Eric had good role models when it came to marriage. She shared their family experiences of having three dinners a night, drinks after, followed by dancing. She also mentioned, “In the house, the men cook and do the groceries.”

Eric shared his experience of living under one roof: “There is that mutual respect of your boundaries. When we were living with my parents, their approach was, ‘You do you.’ If you want to go out, you can. But they come up with one schedule and space where, if you want to join, you can. So you don’t necessarily feel the pressure that you always have to join activities. Everyone has a life of their own.”

These moments are proof that living with your in-laws can be flexible even within the home structure.

 The FamiDee: (front) Eric Dee, Enzo Dee, Parker Gonzales, Mama Lisa Dee, Bea Dee, Billie Dee. Standing are Pat Gonzales, Erika Dee-Gonzales, Rikki Dee, Beng Dee, Cheena Dee, Cheeno Dee, Ean Dee in a 2020 New Year’s Eve celebration

Eric and Bea still keep their independence by handling financial responsibilities for their family and establishing their own rules for their kids. But, he said, “Sometimes, personal space is a challenge if I want just to watch a movie with Bea.” The benefits, though, outweigh the lack of personal space.

Bea shared what she loves most: “My kids are around a lot of people. They learn different things and interests.” She continued, “It does hold that it takes a community or a village to raise a kid.”

At the end of the day, it’s about having peace in the home and family. Bea shared, “You can’t just impose everything you want. You need to learn how to adjust and you need to understand the needs of others. That’s a daily thing.” In dealing with in-laws, it is a constant work in progress.

 Lissy Ann A. Puno, M.A. is a certified Imago relationship psychologist. She has over 24 years of experience and was appointed a Clinical Fellow in Psychology by Harvard University, trained in McLean Hospital.

Tips from relationship therapist Lissy Ann A. Puno

  1. Appreciate that both sets of parents are different. 
  2. Peace and respect on both sides. 
  3. Organize joint family events. 
  4. Don't bring in-laws into conflict. 
  5. Speak well of your partner and highlight their good intentions.