Marriage

It’s Time for the Talk: Boundaries and In-laws

By Shadé Mason

We must talk about it –boundaries. They’re necessary whether your in-laws live thousands of miles away or just a few blocks down the street. Whether your relationship with your in-laws is strained, or maybe you have a fantastic relationship with your in-laws, boundaries are still needed for your marriage and personal peace. 

The topic of in-laws can be stressful, complex, or perhaps uncomplicated.  It’s essential to find out if you and your partner interpret the word “boundaries” in the same way.  What does creating boundaries for the in-laws look like for the both of you? For example, let’s say you and your spouse set a boundary where your in-laws are required to call before they stop by for a visit. In your mind, if they are unable to reach you or your spouse to get the okay to drop by, they shouldn’t come. But maybe in your partner’s mind, the boundary means, as long as your in-laws tried to reach you guys, it still gives them the green light to stop by.   If you and your partner aren’t on the same page regarding boundaries, then it will nearly be impossible to set, agree, and implement them.

While we can’t cover every conversational piece associated with in-laws because there are levels to this topic, we can offer a guide to get you started.

1. Remember Who You Exchanged Vows With

There’s a saying that goes something like, “When you marry, you marry the family.” (This is the part where we wish you could see us rolling our eyes). This saying is absolutely false in the literal sense and by our definition of common sense. When you take on the responsibility of “marrying the family,” this puts you in a space where boundaries may be limited. At the end of the day, your commitment should only be to your better half. Of course, it’s a bonus blessing when you gain a mother-in-law who is more like a mother or marry into a family where you adore your in-laws. Just remember, you committed to building a foundation for you and your spouse to stand on in unity. 

2. Stick to Your Guns

Take a piece of chalk and write “we will not bend” on the chalkboard until you can’t write anymore. Of course, we don’t mean this literally, but we’re trying to stress the importance of the point. We understand exceptions from time to time because life does happen, but do not let this become a habit. If you do, you may find yourself uttering the words, “we mean it this time,” or in a world of endless compromises. Any boundaries you set, big or small, will not work if you and your spouse CONSISTENTLY make exceptions. Remember, commitment is key.

3. Better Late Than Never

I have a friend who has been with her now husband since high school. Fast-forward twenty-plus years later, she struggles with establishing boundaries with parents who have been involved in their relationship since they were teenagers. Since boundaries were never set, she often finds herself in uncomfortable situations and having tense conversations with her husband.  The good news is, whether you find yourself in a similar situation as my friend or you have reached a breaking point of realizing setting boundaries is overdue, it’s never too late. The opportunity to develop and set boundaries for your in-laws should always be there; all you have to do is create them.  Of course, there will be an adjustment period, but eventually, your in-laws should come to respect your decision. Disclaimer: We can’t promise that they’ll be all smiles and giggles, which brings us to our next point. 

4. Be Prepared for Kickbacks

Implementing boundaries, especially new boundaries, may be challenging for your in-laws to accept and adapt. Be prepared to be met with some resistance and be prepared to be questioned. You don’t necessarily owe anyone an explanation, but it’s honestly the make-up of human behavior.  Change is difficult for most people, especially when asking parents to respect boundaries given by their (adult) children. Still, if you value the relationship with your in-laws, a conversation could be the tool to help them understand why the changes came about.  If you decide to have a conversation, remember that you and your spouse are on a united front. It should be clear that the boundaries were a “we” decision. 

5. There’s no contract; changes can happen!

 Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “Change is the only constant thing in life.” And with change, decisions will change over time as well. In other words, the boundaries you set may change. You may find yourself in a position where the boundaries you set are being taken for granted or, even worse, disrespected. It’s perfectly normal for you to go back to the drawing board to determine what’s working and what’s not. If your decisions are based on what’s best for your marriage, then we say, so what if you make changes. If anyone has a problem, tell them to come and see us… we got you, sis!

As always, we hope these tips help you gain some insight into creating boundaries with your in-laws. Of course, we couldn’t tell you what boundaries to develop because every relationship is different. Let us know about some of the boundaries you’ve had to set with your in-laws by commenting below.

Featured image via Shutterstock

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