So, You Need to Talk to Your In-Laws About Boundaries
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, use 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.
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.***
We’re Living With Our In-Laws and It’s Destroying Our Marriage
Maybe when you started living with your in-laws, you didn’t think it would be all that bad. After all, they raised your spouse. But now, living with them feels like it’s destroying your marriage.
Criticism. Judgment. Parenting critiques. Lack of boundaries. Arguments. Living with them seems to be impacting your marriage—not for better, but for worse. How’d this happen? Can’t we all just get along?
I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt, lived to tell about it. (Full disclosure: We lived with MY family, so I know what it’s like from my wife’s perspective, too!)
Maybe finances, illness, or some other reason led to your living situation. Regardless, it’s hard to foresee all that can arise when you and your in-laws live under the same roof. But why is it so hard and what can you do about it?
Maybe you feel like living with your in-laws is destroying your marriage because…
1. You haven’t been clear about your expectations.
We’ve all done it. You decide to do something. Then you begin to imagine how it should go—how you’ll deal with food and groceries, parenting and finances. You may even think about how much you and your in-laws will help each other. But you never talked it out with your spouse or the in-laws. And it isn’t going how you expected. You’re disappointed, frustrated, and full of resentment.
Well, guess what? You have expectations. Your spouse has expectations. So do your in-laws.
ACTION STEP: Rewind the tape. Lay out your expectations. HEAR their expectations.
You may want the same things but have totally different ways of getting there. Whether your living arrangement is temporary or not, a plan will help to keep you from being discontented about your situation.
2. You haven’t talked about boundaries, OR your boundaries aren’t being respected.
And that can be a massive part of what’s going on in your marriage. In-laws can totally obliterate bedtime schedules, eating habits, structure, and order in the home. Or maybe they want too much input into your parenting decisions and how you do your marriage. When you don’t feel like someone respects your boundaries or keeps finding fault with you, it can feel like a fire is burning inside.
ACTION STEP: Set boundaries as a couple and stick to them. Household upkeep, eating habits, and house guests (among other things) are all potential points of irritation. Having clear boundaries sets a culture of respect for everyone in the house.
3. You need privacy.
All married couples need time alone to talk and… you know. Sometimes it’s hard to see that the lack of it is keeping you from connecting. Make sure your spouse knows you need some private time together and talk about ways to make that happen. (A hotel room may be in order…)
ACTION STEP: Talk to the in-laws about it, but keep this in mind: it’s best for the spouse to talk to their parents about these issues. It just is. Trust me.
Most people can think of a time where they needed some alone time. Appeal to their own need to discuss how to get yours as a couple.
4. You’re dealing with a case of role confusion.
Are your in-laws taking their parenting roles too far with your spouse or your kids? Are your kids confused about who’s in charge? Has your mate become a part-time child? It’s crazy how easy it is for an adult to change when they’re around their parents. There may be some things that bothered you before that are magnified now. This is an excellent opportunity for growth.
ACTION STEP: Lovingly address the issue with your spouse. Give specific examples where you see actions or decisions that have impacted your marriage. Get some help from a marriage counselor if you need it.
It’s tough when you feel like living with your in-laws is destroying your marriage, but remember, YOU ARE A TEAM. Turn toward your marriage. Not every issue will be solved. Some tension will just need to be managed.
- Teams stick together and grow through adversity.
- Teams see a challenge and plan for the best way to overcome the obstacles. (Just remember the obstacles aren’t necessarily the in-laws. Hopefully, they aren’t the opponents.)
Making sure you and your spouse are on one page about how you’re doing marriage and family is vital. The security of being on one page will help you talk through your problems with the in-laws. And even if you don’t see eye-to-eye, your marriage will grow stronger because you’re together.
***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.***
What to Do When You Aren’t Crazy About Your Future In-Laws
When you marry the love of your life, they bring so many different things to the table for the two of you to share. Their personality, adoration for you, commitment, maybe some furniture or experience with things you don’t know how to do. And don’t get me wrong—this sounds lovely (and it is…) until one of the things they bring to the table are in-laws. If you’re honest, it’s possible you aren’t crazy about your future in-laws, to put it politely. In fact, you’ve decided what you want to bring to the table in your relationship is an extra table 😡 … one that doesn’t always have seats for the future in-laws… but that’s not really the solution. (And don’t assume that your fiancé doesn’t have any issues with YOUR parents.)
It’s okay to not be fond of your fiancé’s parents, but you also have to be okay with them being a part of your lives in some capacity. You can’t marry your fiancé without also understanding you are essentially marrying into their family. So let’s put together a game plan so when the visits begin, you won’t be nervous to pull up a chair to the table!
What to Do When You Aren’t Crazy About Your Future In-Laws:
1. Talk about your concern with your fiancé.
If it hasn’t come up already, be honest with your fiancé about your concerns and why you feel they’re important. Also, consider the possibility of your fiancé not being crazy about your parents either! Ask yourself these questions:
- Are they interfering with your relationship?
- Do they say things that hurt your feelings or rub you the wrong way?
- Is it that you don’t like them or don’t get along with them?
- Do they point out every little thing you do differently or “wrong?”
The least you can do is invite an honest conversation to try and clear up any potential misunderstandings. If you’ve never really gotten along with your fiancé’s parents, ask your fiancé to talk to them on your behalf. Try to get to the bottom of what they’re feeling or what could be misinterpreted. Perception is reality until you get a different perspective. This would be a great place to start before any serious decisions of how to allocate your time are made.
✦ The two of you will form your own family once you’re married and you have to make decisions based on what’s best for your family (the two of you) before anyone else. When you’ve decided what to do for the holidays, for drop-ins, like calling before, use “we” statements and each of you should tell your own set of parents. In doing so, you protect your future spouse from getting thrown under the bus or having your parents put blame on your new spouse!
2. Set Boundaries Early-On.
If you know your in-laws have a knack for being overbearing, giving unsolicited advice, criticizing things you two enjoy, and even guilt trips you by saying things like, “If you lived closer we could have dinner more,” or “It’s a shame you don’t have enough time for us.” Prepare yourselves and have a plan in place. This is why the first step is to talk about your concerns with your fiancé, to get it all out there so making a plan will be easier!
You don’t have to live in the Anticipation Zone; you have an opportunity to decide with your future spouse what the relationship with your future in-laws will look like and entail. The two of you need to talk about what the relationship expectations are for them, what you want the relationship to look like, and then work toward meeting a compromise. For example, calling before you/they stop by. Or, it could go from seeing them weekly to calling weekly and having a meal together once a month. You could trade off holidays, family vacations, or maybe decide to just see them a few times a year and send cards.
However you decide to make it work, decide that’s how it’ll be for now, but leave room for the relationship to change. It’s possible in the future you’ll want (or be okay with) more or less time together. The last thing you want is extra stress, drama, or tension in your marriage because of your in-laws. The two of you need to come together and figure out the best way to have the least drama and tension.
Here are some great topics to get the conversation going:
- How much time will you spend with them?
- Topics that are off limits for discussion.
- How you allow (or won’t allow) their behavior to impact you.
- How do you honestly feel about my parents?
3. Location, location, location.
If you both know your future in-laws are the type to drop by, overstay their welcome, or cross boundaries like finish lines, then it may be a sign to move somewhere that makes it less of a possibility. Travel time is a great buffer. Normally, if you live further away, you have to make a plan before you see each other. This is great news because it gives you the space to prepare mentally and physically for a visit. Plus, it’s much easier to suggest coming for just a weekend every so often than feeling the pressure if you live nearby to have weekly meals. (This could be difficult because of work or school situations, but it is something to keep in mind. Downside: Less free babysitting for date nights.)
At the end of the day, you and your soon-to-be spouse will come to a compromise, and compromises sometimes include sacrifices. On the big day, you’re committing your life to them, for better or for worse, and promising to make it work. And making it work takes work! But it’s worth it when the love of your life encourages you, pushes you toward your best self, helps you realize your dreams, and has committed the same things as you. You’re about to be your own family!! Good luck, and I hope you both find the balance that works best for your relationship.
Other Blogs You May Find Helpful:
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.
When you tie the knot, family relationships change.
Your mom was probably your first teacher, encourager and biggest cheerleader. And chances are, she’s one of the first people you’ve gone to for advice since… well, as long as you can remember.
But now things are different, and while your mom is still there for you, your wife takes the top spot.
Think of it this way: You’ve added an all-star player to your team who wants to be there for you in every way possible, and she is at the top of your priority list.
Adapting to marriage and navigating the changing road with Mom will take skill and finesse, especially since you don’t want to hurt Mom’s feelings, but these tips can help.
- Do your best to speak positively to your mom about your wife. If your mom starts to criticize her, honor your wife in the conversation. And let Mom know that although you value her opinion, you don’t want to hear her speak badly of your bride.
- When you and your wife make decisions together, present your decisions as a united front. You should be the one to tell your mother about the choice you made. Don’t make it sound like it you only went along with it to avoid rocking the boat–that will only create problems.
- Check with your wife before making plans with your mom. Never, EVER commit to something with your mother (like bringing her to live with you) without completely talking it over as a couple first.
- Got problems in your marriage? DO NOT talk about them with Mom unless your bride says she’s ok with it. (Hint: Make sure she’s REALLY ok with it!)
- Remember, you’re no longer single. Turning to your parents for emotional support is not a bad thing, but turning to them BEFORE you reach out to your wife is not the best idea for your marriage. Your wife is now your number one support system – make sure she knows that.
Image from Unsplash.com
Whether you are a son or a daughter, mom or dad, relationships change quite a bit when after marriage. Here are tips for strengthening the relationships that bind you together as a in-laws and family.
How to be a good mother/father-in-law
- Let your in-law make his/her own decisions without meddling from you.
- As the relationship between your child and his chosen partner deepens, expect that they will want to spend more and more time alone, together.
- Make positive comments about your child’s spouse – both in private and in public.
- See your in-law as an individual. Do not compare him/her to others, and do not become too wrapped up in the stereotype of the “perfect” in-law.
- Make your in-law feel needed.
How to be a good son/daughter-in-law
- Maintain direct contact with your in-laws. Don’t enlist your spouse as an unwilling “go-between.”
- Find a comfortable way of addressing your in-laws. Solicit their help in determining what they would like you to call them.
- Try to see your in-laws as individuals separate and apart from the role they play.
- Be real and authentic with your in-laws.
- If you feel jealous about your spouse’s relationship with his/her parents, talk to your spouse, to better understand each other’s feelings.
How to be a good child/spouse
- Encourage your partner and your parents to relate to one another directly. Don’t allow yourself to be put in the middle.
- Compliment your spouse and your parents in front of each other.
- Do not tolerate criticism from either one toward the other.
- Don’t make your spouse responsible for the relationship between you and your parents.
- Do not play your spouse against your parents.
Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!
Becoming a team in marriage can be tough. After you marry, who should you approach first as your confidant, to ask for an opinion or to work through an issue? Your spouse or your parents? Many couples wrestle with this in the early stages of marriage.
One woman shared that she resented her husband of two years going to his mother about everything. He responded that he is closer to his mother and that she knows him better.
“My husband and I dealt with this in the first few years of our marriage,” says marriage educator, wife and mother, Gena Ellis. “When I showed up on my parents’ doorstep, my mother told me to go home. She said I didn’t live there anymore and I needed to go home to my husband. My husband was not being mean or hurting me. I was just spoiled and mad that things weren’t going my way, so I ran home to Mama. I am grateful my mom set these boundaries.”
Even though you love your spouse, learning how to get along together and grow your trust level takes time.
“I think a lot of men don’t realize how their relationship with their mom can lead to their wife’s insecurity in the marriage relationship,” says marriage coach Dr. David Banks.
“For example, many well-intentioned men do not realize that confiding in mom after getting married is like being traded from one sports team to another and going back to your former coach for advice. This actually works against building trust in the marriage and figuring out how to rely on each other.”
Both Ellis and Banks agree that parents should receive, raise and ultimately, release their children.
“It is truly in a couple’s best interest if parents are a safety net rather than the first line of defense,” Ellis says. “If your adult child is having trouble ‘cutting the apron strings,’ helping him/her do that provides the best chance of a healthy and successful marriage. It is not helpful to say things like, ‘You will always have a room here.’ Or, ‘If she starts treating you bad, you just come home to Mama.’”
If you are a newlywed, Banks and Ellis offer these tips as you leave your parents and join forces with your spouse.
- First, sit down together and talk about what it means to be a team.
- Resist the urge to run to your parents at every turn. Set healthy boundaries for you as the couple and for your parents. Constantly turning to your parents creates difficulty in building trust and confidence in each other.
- Watch the influences you allow around your marriage. People who have a negative view of marriage don’t typically help you to build a healthy relationship with your spouse. In other words, you may have hung out with people before marriage that you should see less often now.
- Consider attending a marriage enrichment class. There are great tools to help you build a strong, lasting marriage.
“Loyalty is foundational to a healthy marriage team,” Banks says. “You may feel like your parents know you better and can offer better advice. But think of your marriage as your new team. Even though your old team knows you better, your job now is to make sure your new team knows you. This isn’t about giving up your relationship with your parents. It is about creating a new system where there is balance and everyone understands their appropriate role.”
***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 your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
Make Holiday Memories, Not Misery
Although it has been many years ago, Deanna Brann, clinical psychologist and author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law, has no problem recalling “The Thanksgiving from Hell.”
It was the first Thanksgiving she and her husband spent with her son, new daughter-in-law and granddaughters. Although looking forward to seeing them, Deanna was quite uneasy. Her daughter-in-law was apprehensive, too. The stress and tension on both sides caused a huge explosion. That’s why that particular holiday is remembered as hellish by both women.
There have probably already been a few interesting discussions about this year’s holiday gatherings with the in-laws. While a first holiday together can be awkward for everyone, you may also be dealing with the stress from annual pressure from both sides of the family. Maybe each side wants you to be there because, “It just won’t be the same if you aren’t here.” Yet trying to please everyone can make the whole season miserable.
If you are the in-laws, remember what holidays were like when you were newlyweds or raising children. What would happen if you backed off on the pressure to be at your home on a certain day? Everybody might enjoy celebrating the holidays more when there’s a little flexibility.
For couples trying to navigate the holidays with in-laws, Brann offers tips to help you create great memories instead of misery.
Have realistic expectations. Hope for the best, but be realistic. Families are families – and they are going to act how they act.
Don’t take it personally. Stressful times and tension can cause behavior to be exaggerated. Remember that your in-laws’ indiscretions are more about them than they are about you. And your mother-in-law is probably not trying to get on your nerves. Keeping this in mind can help maintain the peace.
Be a team player. Remember you really aren’t on opposing teams. Different opinions about certain aspects of the holiday are okay. Find ways to share the workload. Plan fun outings that can help keep people out of trouble.
Hunt for humor. Finding humor in situations can help maintain your sanity by helping you create enough emotional distance so you won’t take people’s words and actions so personally. Plus, you’ll have some great stories to tell your friends.
It’s just one day. You can make it through one day of just about anything. Knowing that there is an end to the evening – and that soon you’ll be seeing their taillights (buckling your seat belt) – can make all the difference. If you or your guests are staying overnight, you can close the guestroom door soon enough.
Plan your exit strategy in advance. Visiting couples should agree beforehand how long to stay – and then leave at the predetermined time. If you’re traveling, getting a hotel room or staying elsewhere can lessen the stress.
Don’t let others steal your joy. A little advance planning (along with a good attitude) can help you make holiday memories, not misery.
Looking for more? Watch this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!
***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.***