As a newlywed, establishing and navigating relationships with in-laws can be filled with tension and pitfalls. I recall the first significant conversation with my in-laws when I felt disrespected and disconnected. The conversation went something like this: “Hey, you never call. You never come by. Do you not like us?” I remember trying to gather my thoughts. My first reaction was, “OMG! I want nothing to do with them!” From there, I had to stop and consider what they were asking for, not what I was hearing. They wanted to be part of our lives but were pushing too hard to make that happen.
You may be saying, “There is nothing to consider! They said something I don’t like, and there is nothing to think about and nothing we need to talk about, ever.” I get it. I really do.
And please hear me say this: If your in-laws are verbally or physically abusive*, this blog is not for you!
Nevertheless, for me, there were things to consider, like:
- Relationship with my sisters-in-law (They had nothing to do with that conversation.)
- My husband loves his parents and wants to continue to have interactions with them.
- How will our future children be impacted by this distant relationship?
- What about other family gatherings?
So before I chose to destroy (sever) the relationship, I sought to find healthy boundaries* and create appropriate distance between my in-laws and me.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you need some distance from your in-laws, too.
1. Understand that their family dynamics or interactions are different from yours.
I struggled with needing distance because my in-laws expected the same thing from me that they expected from their children. They expected me to call every morning and have dinner with them on Sundays. It took me a while to recognize that they didn’t have unrealistic expectations; their expectations were just different from the ones my parents had. Once I set a boundary of once a week calls and dinners once per month, things calmed down.
2. Be willing to create a relationship with the in-laws.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re just getting to know them or if you had a long-term relationship before your marriage. Now that you’re married, you are establishing a new and different relationship. As such, you’re still getting to know each other. Be open to a fresh start.
3. Their behavior probably comes from a place of care.
Usually, in-laws desire to feel close and connected. To you, it may feel like they’re smothering you and your relationship. Try to see the good in their actions.
4. Living away from them can provide natural boundaries.
I remember watching “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The main characters, Deborah and Ray, lived directly across the street from Ray’s parents, Marie and Frank. Deborah and Marie had issues. One of the main ones was proximity. Marie and Frank constantly barged into Deborah and Ray’s house without advance notice or invitation. I would tell my husband, “Couldn’t be me.” Gratefully, it wasn’t. Within six months of our marriage, my husband and I moved 12 hours away from our families. Truthfully, it was easier to deal with or even ignore behaviors because I would only be around them for short periods.
5. You and your spouse are a FAMILY.
It may be hard for one or both of you to set boundaries with family. Remember this, though: Once you’re married, your spouse becomes your primary family member. In my case, I do respect my mother-in-law as his mother. Yet, I know my PLACE as his WIFE. I am confident and don’t feel the need to compete with my mother-in-law. Your primary allegiance is to the family you created with your spouse. Standing up for them with your family or supporting them as they stand up to their family for you is crucial.
When you and your spouse said, “I do,” you united your families as well. Learning the rules of engagement for each family requires time, effort, and patience. You may have heard the old saying: “Good fences make good neighbors.” That saying also applies to families. When you have healthy boundaries, it can prevent in-laws from being outlaws.
*If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.*