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So, You Need to Talk to Your In-Laws About Boundaries

Setting some limits can be a good thing for everyone.

Do you remember the first time you met your future in-laws? 

Was it important to you that they liked you, or did you even care?  

Did you dress to impress? 

Taking a walk down memory lane gives you a picture of how that relationship began. Once you got married, you may have thought your in-laws would have little to no impact on your marriage. (That’s funny!) 

Until they did. 

It could be that you recognized some of their behaviors in your spouse. Maybe your interactions with them directly or indirectly are driving you nuts. They may mean well, yet you feel overwhelmed and a little emotional about it. 

Perhaps it’s time to have that talk with your in-laws (you know the one), and you’re wondering how to begin the conversation about boundaries. Well, it probably won’t be easy, but it can be oh-so good if you handle it well!

Brené Brown defines boundaries as “simply what’s ok and what’s not ok.” It’s that simple and that complex. Boundaries often define the depth of a relationship, and they change and grow as the relationship changes. Your relationship with your in-laws will change and grow in many ways as you go through different life stages. Hopefully for the better.

Do a Self Check-Up

Before you have the “boundary” talk with the in-laws, it’ll be helpful to do a self-inventory to pinpoint what exactly is going on and what needs to happen. 

Here are some questions to think about.

  • Why is their behavior bothering me?
  • Is their behavior dangerous?
  • Can I deal with it because we see each other often (or not so often)?
  • Am I relating to my in-laws based on how my family operated?
  • Have I ever shared with my spouse that this bothers me?

Now, Do a Check-In With Your Spouse

Once you’ve thought about these questions, it’s time to share with your spouse. Remember that you are talking about their family, and they may be less than excited to have this conversation. Speaking about behavior, not Mom or Dad, can keep your spouse from feeling the need to defend their parents, and vice versa. Also, using I-statements such as “I feel (emotion) when your parent does (behavior).” Instead of, “YOUR mother always (Behavior).” 

Once you’ve discovered the boundary you need to address and share with your spouse what you feel would benefit your marriage…

It’s time to talk to the in-laws. Where do you even start?

Determine Who Is Going To Talk For You.

In-laws typically receive information better from their “child.” When my husband and I had to have a serious boundary conversation with our parents, he spoke to his parents while I addressed mine. They may not have liked what we said, but they wouldn’t stop loving their own kids. 

Give Grace.

If you’re newly-married, this may be the first time your in-laws have ever been in-laws. There are no rule books on how to be in-laws, so try to see the good in them rather than focusing on the negative. If you are new parents, that means they are excited to be new GRANDPARENTS. Everyone has a learning curve around roles, responsibilities, and boundaries. And sometimes those curves are pretty sharp.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get It Out In The Open.

When you don’t address issues openly, it only makes the problem bigger. Pretending something is ok when it isn’t is not helpful. In fact, it creates conflict inside you, in your marriage, and in your relationship with the in-laws.

Being open and honest with them gives them the chance to meet your expectations. They can’t mind-read. If you don’t let them know, they don’t know there’s a problem! Once it’s in the open, you may be able to resolve the issues quickly (and without any hurt feelings)! 

Talking with your in-laws about boundaries is not a one-and-done conversation. We’re talking about an ongoing, progressive conversation. As situations change in your life (moves, kids, job changes) or in theirs (getting older, retirement, health issues), you’ll probably need to revisit and revise boundaries.

But I’ve got some good news for you. When you set a positive tone for open communication, your family will see that limits allow you to love and respect each other more deeply. 

***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.***

What To Do When Your Family Disagrees About Politics

Keeping conversations civil can help you keep your relationships intact.

There are two things you don’t talk about: religion and politics.” I’ve heard that phrase since childhood. Seems like useful advice, but is the best way to address politics with your family not addressing it? Maybe it is, especially if your family disagrees about politics. Still, I don’t think it has to be the only choice.

As families come together for the holidays during a presidential election year, politics can be a sticky subject. If your family disagrees about politics, you have two choices. Either you don’t talk about it or establish some ground rules for how you’ll address the disagreements. Remember, first and foremost, your family’s relationships are more valuable than being right about a political dispute. 

Here are some ideas for how to keep the conversations civil when family members disagree:

(If you decide to engage in politics…)

Be respectful.

We don’t always agree with our family, whether that’s lifestyle choices, parenting styles, politics, the list goes on, and it’s okay. We’re humans, not robots. We should have opinions and passions, but just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I should disrespect you. If you embark on a political discussion and the encounter gets heated, put on the brakes. Before the conversation begins, lay some ground rules. A few rules could be no raising voices, no profanity, and no personal insults. The relationship is more important than voicing your opinions. 

Be open to learning.

Our political beliefs are often influenced by our individual situations. It’s okay to ask someone who disagrees with you politically why they believe what they believe. Don’t ask to respond but ask to understand. When we know the why behind someone’s political beliefs, we are often more compassionate toward that belief. This isn’t about swaying them to your side but genuinely understanding their point of view. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I disagree but understand and respect your viewpoint.” Being right should not be the goal; maintaining the relationship should be.

Be prepared to stop the conversation.

Politics bring on passion. When our heart rate increases and we get very passionate about what we’re discussing, we have a greater chance of speaking before we think. Be careful not to let your passion lead you to say something that will negatively impact the relationship. Remember, our goal here, if you choose to approach the subject of politics, is to have a civil discussion without damaging our family. A great way to pause a conversation is to say, “Thanks! You’ve given me something to think about. Can we come back to this topic at a later time?” Both parties feel heard.

Parents, this is for you… lean in. Be cautious about how you engage in political disagreements with kids around. Politics is an alien world to young children and can be very nasty. It’s not fair for kids to feel like they have to choose sides when family disagrees. They are watching what you say and how you react to those who disagree with you. Do take the opportunity to talk to them about the political process. Maybe have that discussion at your home. Check out this resource: How to Guide My Child Through Election Season.

So when your family disagrees about politics, remember this… relationships are more important than politics. As you prepare to gather for the holidays, this year may look a little different. It may be a little more stressful. But be diligent not to let political opinions damage the relationships you have with your loved ones.

Have you ever walked over a frozen pond and realized just how thin the ice was? I have. You quickly understand that you need to stepverycarefully

It’s the same when considering telling your friends and family about your marital problems. One wrong step can mean an icy plunge. It’s slippery, and it’s dangerous.

So should you or shouldn’t you? I wish I could tell you a definite “yes” or “no,” but it’s a complicated question. It depends on several things.

Before you unload your marital issues on someone, you need to ask yourself some essential questions: 

1. What is your ultimate goal? 

There are good reasons and not so good reasons to disclose the problems happening in your marriage to someone. Are you…

Seeking someone to tell you how you’re contributing to the problem? 

Looking for advice from an older, wiser married person who’s been through it? 

Looking for someone to point you toward a good marriage counselor? 

These can be good reasons. Make sure you are talking to someone you can trust.

Are you…

Just needing to vent and blow off steam? 

Looking for someone to agree that you are right and your spouse is wrong? 

Looking for permission to keep doing what you’ve been doing in your marriage? 

These usually aren’t great reasons. It can be counterproductive and hurt your spouse.

2. Who do you want to tell, and why? 

Good listeners know there are three sides to a story: your side, your spouse’s side, and what’s really going on. You don’t need a cheerleader. You need someone willing to listen carefully and be willing to call you out for the part you play.

On the other side of the coin, talking to someone who is naturally going to take your side, like your mother or best friend, isn’t going to help your situation. You’re just making enemies for your spouse. Think about that.

Even worse, let’s say you just want to vent your dirty marriage laundry, and you choose, say, your mother. When the rant is over, you might feel better and move on. But guess who isn’t moving on? That’s right: Mom. This is going to make the next family gathering very awkward. 

Consider talking to someone distant enough to be neutral and objective—and who will call you out when necessary and remind you of your core values and goals. 

3. What are the possible outcomes that could come from telling someone? 

Sure, you might feel better if you vent. But at what price? Will your friend or family member see your spouse in a positive or negative light?

If you tell someone, will the news about your marital problems spread among the family or the friend circle? Could your spouse end up feeling hurt from this? Would you say the same things about your marriage or your spouse if they were standing with you?

4. Are you having a conversation with someone that you should have with your spouse?

Often, we have conversations with other people that we haven’t even had with our spouse. If you haven’t engaged with your spouse to work toward solutions and growth, it’s unfair to do your marriage work with someone else. Do your relationship work with your spouse.

Related: How To Tell If Someone Is Trustworthy

It’s one thing to seek out encouragement and accountability. We need people in our lives who help us recalibrate and refocus. It’s definitely wise to learn from marriage veterans. Be discerning about what you share about your marriage and with whom.

Complaining to people about your spouse or running them down is always out of line.

I know you want to do what’s healthy for your marriage. You want to work through the problems. Give yourself 48 hours to gain a sense of calm and honestly answer the above questions for yourself before you make a decision to tell friends or family about your marital problems. Walk across the thin ice toward your spouse. Honor them with your words no matter who you are talking to. Rule of Thumb: If it’s not constructive, it’s probably destructive.

Related: 

How to Find Good Relationship Advice

STAYING TOGETHER: Resist The Urge To Trash Husbands

☆ Have questions about this article? Post them in the comment section below!


***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 that 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.***

I was walking in the grocery store the other day and I ran into a friend from high school. We started talking and she asked me about my cousin who went to school with us. Our mutual friend asked how she is doing.  I was actually caught off guard because, in reality, I didn’t know how my cousin was doing. She and I have lost touch. I started to think about how disconnected I was feeling from other family members including parents, siblings, and extended family. Then, I considered my children. They don’t have the same memories that I have with my extended family. How can I bridge the gap that has occurred? How can we, as family, stay connected across the miles?

Here are 7 Ways To Stay Connected With Long-Distance Family:

1. Old Fashioned Snail Mail

Mailing correspondence may seem old-fashioned but it is tried and true. Handwriting letters has become a lost art. Letter writing allows you to share in your own words what is happening in your life. It provides a window for your family to see into. Postcards are another tool you can use. If you see a postcard that reminds you of a family member, write a note saying, “I saw this, and I thought of you.” This lets your family know that although miles divide you, they are still on your mind and in your heart. 

2. Create A Family Newsletter

Whether you choose to do this monthly, quarterly, or yearly, it provides updates to your long-distance family. It shares with them: honors, awards, funny moments, celebrations. Let your children help design it and have input into it. Make a family logo and motto to go at the top along with a name like, “Keeping Up With The Joneses” or “Watson Family Gazette.” You could do this online or make it a family production and put it into print. ☆ You could make a “chain letter” that gets added to by a family member and mailed to the next person on the list and keeps circulating around your family, keeping everyone in the loop. 

3. Send Care Packages

Every holiday season, as a child, I would go with my grandmother as she mailed holiday packages to my uncles who lived out of town. In the boxes would be a pound cake, fruit cake, cookies, preserves, and other sweets. You don’t have to choose the same items. You can create your own theme with the box. One theme could be Our Town. Select items representing the town you live in. You could choose My Favorite Things where you select items your sister, aunt, cousin, or dad loves. Or, even a box of Things That Remind Me Of You.

4. Travel Together

It may be fun to select a location midway between you and your siblings and spend some time there together. It may be fun to coordinate time in the summer with the grandparents and cousins and call it “Cousin Camp.” It may be a blast to schedule a multi-family vacation to the beach, mountains, amusement parks, etc.

5. Book Club

For many, storytime is an integral part of their bedtime routine. Create space for grandparents who live out of town to be “guest readers” via phone, Skype, FaceTime, Messenger or video. Another idea is for the adults in the family to choose to read the same book and then have a discussion about it. Even the kids could read the same book and draw pictures about the scenes or main characters.

6. Go Virtual

Technology is an innovative way in which families can stay connected. It may look and even feel different from the past. Nevertheless, it allows family members to maintain connections. Don’t be afraid of trying some “high-tech” ways to stay in touch with your long-distance family members. Here are some examples:

  • Have Virtual Dinner Night: Each family makes the same meal and you sit down ‘together’ at the same time to eat via ZOOM, FaceTime, Google MEET, etc.
  • Create Family Group Texts: Families can create a text message group or utilize a messaging app to share information with each other.
  • Virtual Game Night: Families can choose to play online games (PlayStation, XBOX), board/card games (UNO, Battleship), Minute to Win It, or Charades via ZOOM or Google MEET.
  • Schedule Weekly/Monthly Calls: Families can utilize whatever platform they have available (i.e., Facetime, ZOOM, Skype). On the calls, birthdays, special awards or everyday moments can be shared.
  • Facebook: Create a Family Facebook page where you can post pictures, videos, etc.
  • Family and Friends Movie Night. (Netflix for Chrome) Families can watch the same movie at the same time while being in their own homes. Then use FaceTime or ZOOM to talk about it.

7. Cardboard Cutout 

Select a fun picture of the family member you choose and get a life-sized cardboard cut-out made. It allows your kids to recognize their family members. It’s also a way for that family member to be “present” at events such as a spelling bee, soccer games, or track meets.

If you’re feeling disconnected, that’s when you need to be intentional about communicating and connecting with long-distance family members. Whether you choose to make a phone call spontaneously or you send out a calendar invite for everyone to group chat, making that first step to check-in can change the direction of your connection

Don’t get discouraged if everyone can’t make everything. We have to recognize that we’re all dealing with life in some form or fashion. Also, remember to stay in touch with family and friends who live close to you. In this current time, everyone could benefit from a call or note letting them know someone is thinking about them.

When it comes to family, every member of your tribe brings something unique to the team. Teaching them early and often how important it is to build teamwork will not only benefit your family; it’ll teach your child the value of working with others to accomplish a goal. 

Talk with any human resource officer and they’ll tell you—being able to effectively function as a team member is a valued skill. They look for it when hiring new team members, along with other essential skills like communication, conflict management and problem-solving.

There are lots of fun ways you can build teamwork into your family’s daily living.

Here are a few examples:

  • Share chores. Since you aren’t running a hotel, it takes everybody contributing something to keep everything going. From feeding the dog, picking up clothes and making beds to clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, vacuuming, packing lunches and folding laundry, even the youngest family member plays an important role. Talk about the difference it makes when everybody works together to get it all done.
  • Cook together. Deciding on a menu, buying all the ingredients, prepping ahead of time and preparing the meal allows for lots of teamwork. Then sit down and eat the meal together to celebrate what you accomplished!
  • Play games as a family that require teamwork. Whether it’s going to an escape room and figuring it out together, playing Minute to Win it or Jenga together, or creating an obstacle course in your yard, these games teach the concept of working together to accomplish a goal and it’s fun in the process.
  • Volunteer. Giving back to others as a family teaches your child many lessons, not the least of which is the value of serving and exposing them to worlds they may not realize exist. Helping to build a hiking trail at a park, pick up trash along the river or in your neighborhood, serve food at a community kitchen, or mow and rake an elderly neighbor’s yard instills self-confidence in your child. It also encourages problem solving, teaches them their presence and voice matters and lets them experience the impact you can have working together as a team.
  • Plan a trip or a staycation. As you prepare for your next trip or even a staycation, add some fun to the mix! Instead of planning it all yourself, divide up the responsibilities such as: when and where will you stop to eat, what sights should you plan to see along the way, what’s the best route to take and how much gas will it take to get there, among family members. Oh, and be sure you have someone in charge of fun—as in elements of surprise that only you and the “fun person” know about! Give the ones working on food a budget to work with. And, share any cool sights that you know of as a jumping off point for the sightseeing planners.

It’s worth it!

Getting the whole crew involved might be a bit more time consuming, but the teamwork opportunities and lessons are endless. Not to mention you’re making family memories, especially when unexpected things happen like a flat tire, a detour or foul weather, requiring the team to make a quick pivot. 

While you’re trying to build teamwork, your kids might not be super appreciative. However, over time it’s pretty likely the benefits of working together will pay off. Things like: realizing that as a family, we can do tough things together and get to the other side. Having different personalities, likes and dislikes actually makes us strong together. We’re depending on each other to help carry the load. We can disagree or not do something right and still love each other. There’s more than one way to get a job done. 

Here’s what’s really awesome: your goal is to get your family to work together as a team. In the process of doing that, you’re teaching your children a life skill that will work for them forever. That’s a good and powerful thing.  

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Feeling some disconnect? Is there underlying family tension? Is the management of household chores lacking? Are big changes coming to the family? How is everyone handling what life is throwing their way? Do we only talk to each other to discuss the next day’s plans?

Or maybe you want to prevent your household from going in 1,000 different directions and losing touch with one another.

You need a family meeting.

The Benefits of a Family Meeting:

  • Pause to connect. There’s a lot that may be going on individually. Work, school, friends, extracurriculars, health, the list goes on. It’s easy to disengage and disconnect with one another even though you live in the same home.
  • Be on the same page. Meetings ensure that everyone understands the direction the family is moving in. They also help to eliminate misunderstandings and miscommunication
  • Not leave anything to chance. Meetings erase the need for assumptions and statements like, “I thought you were going to do…
  • Coordinate schedules. As families move from season to season, coming together to talk about plans and schedules for an upcoming season can prevent being overextended.
  • Children’s Self-Esteem. Meetings make sure that everyone in the family knows they are important. They let every family member know there’s a space for them to be heard.
  • Mental and Emotional Check-In. Meetings are an opportunity to observe and share how family members are doing.
  • Problem-Solving Skills. Family members learn and practice ways to solve problems together as they see what is modeled in family meetings.
  • Sees interconnectedness of family. Meetings allow everyone to see how each person works with and depends on each other.

The Step-By-Step

Pre-meeting Setup

  1. If married, talk with your spouse about the need for a family meeting. Tell them what you’d like to discuss.
  2. Set a time that’s going to work for everyone. Don’t try to squeeze it in 30 minutes before a ballgame. If you have older kids, give a day or two’s notice, but not more. It helps them coordinate with their robust calendar.
  3. Set a place for the meeting. You may have them all in your living room. You may change it up and have it outside by a fire, at a local ice cream shop, or during a family meal.

The Family Meeting

  1. Introduce the reason for the meeting.
  2. Have a Brief Activity such as pulling a question from a question jar. There’s value in getting everyone involved, laughing, and talking at the very beginning. You can find great family questions here and here.
  3. Introduce topic. Be mindful of how you approach the topic. Is this a topic for discussion, disseminating information, and making decisions? Is it about solving problems or hearing everyone’s thoughts? Whatever the topic, try not to lecture.
  4. Leave room for questions and feedback. Be sure to give everyone an opportunity to share their feelings about the matter and its conclusion.
  5. End with something fun. (Game, movie, ice cream, karaoke, etc.)

The Follow-Up

  1. Over the next couple of days, ask family members individually what they thought of the family meeting. (They may have more thoughts they didn’t express during the meeting.)
  2. Proactively address any action items that result from the meeting.

Reasons to Call a Meeting

  • Family Conflict. Siblings aren’t getting along (more than usual).
  • Celebrate. A family or individual milestone, an accomplishment, demonstration of a family value, paying off a loan, etc. (Don’t use family meetings for birthdays or holidays.)
  • Transition. New home, new job, new schools, new person moving in or coming to visit.
  • Changes in family routines and schedules. New season of gymnastics, scouts, soccer, and piano lessons. Discuss meal and night routines when everyone will be getting home later.
  • Check in emotionally and mentally. (Your kids may “show” more than “tell.”)
  • Family values. Introducing values, noticing behavior that isn’t consistent with family values.
  • Family Lifestyle Changes. Moving to healthier eating habits, money-saving practices, altering rules about electronics.
  • New family initiatives. Eating meals together, being more generous as a family, implementing a movie night, game night, etc.
  • Family Rally for Support/Encouragement. Supporting a family member dealing with health issues, job or school stresses, or working to accomplish a difficult task such as running a long distance race, etc.

Rules & Tips

  • Be Purposeful. Have specific topics for family meetings that are important to the entire family. Do not over schedule family meetings. Some things are one-on-one conversations. Others don’t require much conversation.
  • Quiet children may need a prompt to share. If someone isn’t talking at all, ask them, “What are you thinking?” or “What do you think is best?
  • Meeting Length: 20-30 minutes for families with children under 12. Can extend to 45 minutes with teens if they are engaged and are keeping the conversation going.
  • Family meetings often start the conversation. Children may think about it more later and share in the days after. Be open and sensitive to opportunities to listen to their thoughts after the meeting.
  • No electronics during the meeting—phones away!
  • Calm tone by the parent. (Kids take their emotional cues from their parents). Display the emotions that you want your kids to have about given topics.
  • Don’t use this time to single out a child’s negative behavior. (They’ll begin to dread family meetings if you do.)
  • Teach and practice listening without interrupting. If you model it as a parent, you can set the tone to help your children follow the same practice.
  • Don’t let the family meetings get into a rut. (Change location. Keep it fresh. Call a meeting simply to celebrate an accomplishment.)
  • Look for opportunities to allow your child to lead a family meeting, too. (And discuss with them the end goal and then give them freedom to lead responsibly. Teaches them healthy communication, leadership, empathy, and problem-solving skills.)

Your family meetings may initially get resistance from your children and maybe even your spouse. That’s ok.

People often don’t see the value in them until they experience the unity, increased communication, and connectedness that result from them. The meetings can help your family navigate through challenging situations. Additionally, they can provide anticipation for celebrating unique accomplishments. They can become a family staple that provides your children with some predictability in an extremely unpredictable world.

Image from Pexels.com

Family. Have you ever wondered how you can share the same parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents, a common bloodline, yet see things so differently and have so many different opinions? COVID-19 has highlighted the differences in belief systems, political views, economic status, and so many other issues that can lie within a single-family.

These differences can become polarizing, causing serious divisions and potentially irreparable damage to your family unit. You’re probably reading this because you’re aware that your family is at risk of ripping apart. And of course, you want to do everything you can to keep it together.

How can you keep COVID-19 opinions from tearing your family apart?

Call it Out. You may be the one who has to say, “I’m afraid that we’re going to allow this virus and our opinions on this virus to tear us apart.” You may have to ask, “All of the memories, experiences, love, and connectedness that we’ve shared as a family over the years, are we willing to throw it away because of our opinions about the virus? How do we make sure that doesn’t happen?

The awareness of the virus is infiltrating so many of our thoughts, plans, behaviors, and lifestyles. You may have to be the one who is intentional about shifting the focus to what it means to be a family. Family is the one place that you remain a part of despite the differences. So you learn how to thrive in the midst of difference. Bringing to everyone’s attention the need to be intentional about staying connected as a family in the midst of the virus can be powerful.

The family is bigger than one person. Don’t carry the weight of trying to control how others may or may not prioritize the family. No one person can carry the full weight of keeping the family together. Family means different things to different people even within the same family. Recognize what you can control. Leverage your influence to help your family see the bigger picture. 

Understand your need to be emotionally and mentally healthy. A healthy and secure you will have more influence than an unstable, insecure you. Your family may have helped you develop a sense of self. However, do not depend on your family for your entire sense of self. You can’t depend on your family’s acceptance and agreement to feel validated and complete. If you do, you can run the risk of trying to keep the family together out of fear or a personal need for fulfillment. 

Don’t invest energy trying to change the mind of others. A person convinced against their will is still of the same opinion. Let that sink in. Rarely do I see arguments and debates where someone actually changes their mind. I still haven’t heard of someone changing someone’s mind using social media. Often, the more we try, the more we can slip into trying to control others or lose control of ourselves.

Respect. Leading a conversation about what it means to respect one another can help the family set boundaries and be intentional about respecting one another’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Sometimes we can become so passionate about our position that we totally disrespect the position of others without even realizing it. As a family, having a clear understanding of what it means to respect one another’s differences can help family members coexist with the differing opinions.

Model healthy behavior. Be the one to talk less and listen more. Recognize that people are motivated by different things. Some have good motivations, and others not so good. Manage your emotions and be willing to try and understand your family. If you can help people feel heard, valued, and understood, then you’ve helped your family members know that they matter even if their opinions are different.

Acceptance of choices. Some family members are going to be extremely cautious and follow all of the CDC guidelines. Other family members may believe the virus isn’t a big deal and act accordingly. Some may feel like family members don’t care and are putting others at risk. Others may believe some are acting totally out of fear. A family is made up of individuals who have the freedom to think and feel whatever they choose. Give individuals the freedom to be who they are and you do what you need to do.

Make decisions based on what you know about the virus and your family members. This can be difficult because it may mean we don’t get to see certain people. When a person shows you who they are, believe them. There are conversations you may not need to have with family members because it always sparks animosity. Remember, everyone is learning how to live with COVID-19 in our world. Learning to live with differing opinions can take time.

Look for ways to show that you care about one another. Host virtual family game nights and Zoom family calls. Send one another care packages. Send messages of love and support. COVID-19 can have you so focused on what we can’t do that we forget what we can do

Set aside time to be intentional about spending time with one another and talk about other topics. This helps to remind you that the family is stronger and has more history than COVID-19. For example, celebrating birthdays. This has been a wild year! Instead of letting a birthday go by with just a card or phone call, consider celebrating virtually and making it a big deal because this year will be one for the books for sure! 

✭ Beliefs, opinions, and thoughts regarding COVID-19 dominate social media and news outlets. It hasn’t escaped family dinner tables and Zoom calls and it’s affecting everyone’s ability to show love and care to the ones we care the most about—family. This can cause fear, stress, loneliness, and anxiety. People develop their own expectations—some reasonable and some unrealistic. Family members will respond to change in different ways

You CAN’T control what family members say and do. You CAN focus on being your best self while at the same time working to care for and understand your family. As you model respect and value for each person, you can hope that the love and care you have for your family will help others see that the family is bigger than the virus.

Image from Pexels.com

If you have ever watched Everybody Loves Raymond, you know firsthand how overbearing in-laws like Ray’s mom can be. Giving her opinion when nobody asked for it, making off-handed comments about their parenting, criticizing decisions they make, and talking about them to each other was Marie’s style for sure. And, Raymond found it really hard to stand up to his mom, and we all know how that impacted their marriage. [Cue: Laugh Track]

Funny how so many have said they could truly identify with much of what happened on that show because they felt like they lived it every day. While some can kind of laugh it off, plenty of other couples find themselves actually having conversations about divorce because while they still love each other, they cannot figure out how to get one or both sets of parents out of their business. That’s NOT funny. Can you relate?

If you believe it is truly unhealthy for your family to be around your in-laws, your first responsibility is to your spouse. If being around your in-laws creates safety issues or requires you to put your family in an unhealthy situation—setting limits or creating boundaries is completely appropriate. Sometimes it may be necessary to make the decision that it’s in the best interest of your family not to be around your in-laws for a period of time. ★ 

If you feel like your in-laws are all up in your business, but it isn’t unsafe to be around them, the good news is, you’ve got options. You can:

  • Limit the amount of time you spend with them.
  • Plan ahead for how you will handle a visit that goes south.

Great! Got that part! But please tell me strategies for building a protective perimeter around my marriage!

Okay—here you go!

1. Your Marriage Is The Primary Relationship.

You both have to be intentional about making your marital relationship first. Marital distress may occur if one spouse doesn’t want to hurt his/her parents’ feelings and doesn’t see how them “investing” in your marriage is harmful. The two of you are a family and on the same team. Each person is responsible for communicating with their own parents in a way that does not throw your spouse under the bus. So, “We aren’t coming to your house this weekend because he doesn’t want to come.” is not an option on the table. Ever.

2. Stop Anticipating And Start Planning.

When you rehearse conversations in your brain, it actually gets you revved up. Stop playing it through in your mind how you think your in-laws are going to react or respond. Instead, discuss with your spouse how you want to approach or avoid certain topics. In essence, you are creating a strategy to help you both engage them and avoid being triggered by them. Make your plan together with your spouse. It may take a minute to get on the same page about how to move forward. It’s vital at this point however to remember that your spouse comes first, not your parents.

Here’s a side note worth mentioning: Before you and your spouse talk, spend some time thinking about where the angst with your in-laws is the most intense. 

  • Are they interfering with your marriage? 
  • Are they interfering with your parenting? 
  • Do they say things that hurt your feelings or rub you the wrong way? 

This is important to know in order to make a plan to help you move forward constructively.

3. Decide How You Will Respond.

Straight out of the gates, make a commitment to respond versus react. Every time you react to a situation, you are giving over power and control. When you respond, you are calm, think before you speak, take the time to get with your spouse and discuss feelings and opinions and then share your response with your in-laws. Think through the typical scenarios that tend to take place and decide what your response will be.

If something out of the ordinary happens and you aren’t sure what to do, you are probably better off taking a moment to breathe. Maybe even take a walk around the block with your spouse to decide the best plan of action. People often regret flying off the handle, but rarely regret an intentional, constructive response. Before you say a word, ask yourself, “Will my response build-up or further tear down the relationship?

4. Set Appropriate Boundaries.

As a couple, it is important to have clear rules of engagement with extended family. When you are being clear with established boundaries, you are choosing your marriage, not between your spouse and parent. 

Examples of this could include:

  • We will call before we come to visit and we are asking you to do the same.
  • Yes, we have given you a key to the house in the event of an emergency, but we are asking you not to use it unless there is actually an emergency.
  • If we ask for your thoughts about our parenting style, please share your wisdom with us. Otherwise, we are not looking for unsolicited advice.

But what about power struggles? For real!

The best thing you can do is seek to avoid them. That sounds easier said than done, but if you and your spouse are on the same page, there shouldn’t be “power” up for grabs.

⇨ Don’t underestimate the power of a positive attitude. I know it’s hard. Dig deep. ⇦

➤ Remember, they are family. No matter the conflict, they are part of your family. Be aware of the level of tension, tones of voice, and language choice. All of these things can and will impact your children (their grandchildren). Are there behaviors you can choose to ignore? Give the benefit of the doubt? Extend grace? Ask yourselves, “Is this really worth ruining the relationship over?”

➤ Don’t assume they are intentionally trying to be difficult. In many instances, people think they are being helpful. They don’t realize that dropping by unannounced or giving unsolicited marital or parenting advice is not appreciated. Get with your spouse and brainstorm things that your in-laws could do that would be helpful. Then sit down with your in-laws and talk about what you would appreciate them doing. Also, discuss things that you would like them to stop.

➤ Relationships change and evolve. Believe it or not, many couples have been in exactly the same place you are at the moment. Through some advance planning, agreement on changes that need to be made, and strategic conversations, they now have a healthy and respectful relationship with the in-laws. It may take a minute, along with some tears and hard conversations, but don’t give up.

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