Getting married to the love of your life is the best feeling in the world and if you’re lucky to have great in-laws, you’ll feel loved and supported as a couple.
But, if you end up with toxic in-laws, you’ll feel as if your marriage is crumbling around you.
Do you have a mother-in-law or sister-in-law who keeps overstepping your boundaries?
Do your in-laws try to meddle in your affairs and influence your decisions without permission? You’re not alone!
According to Silvi Saxena, a licensed social worker and clinical trauma professional, “Boundaries within families are really tough, especially if your family of origin growing up didn’t have a strong sense of respect for boundaries.”
As a married couple, there are a lot of challenges you’re going to face from communication problems to money issues and even overbearing in-laws or parents who feel they know what’s best for you and your spouse.
It is so frustrating when your new family members try to create problems in your marriage by interfering and crossing the line repeatedly.
It gets worse when you have a new baby and everyone has a brilliant idea on how to raise your child.
If you’re looking for how to set boundaries with in-laws and parents, you’ll find out the right steps to take in this article.
I struggled with an overbearing parent in my first year of marriage and it wasn’t a pleasant experience for me or my spouse.
The lack of healthy boundaries and ground rules almost destroyed our marriage.
My father felt entitled to give us unsolicited advice as newlyweds and his unrealistic expectations put a strain on our marriage.
At first, I didn’t want to be disrespectful, so I listened to him and accepted everything he said.
Things seemed okay for a while until my husband started complaining about how he felt sidelined in our marriage because my father was suddenly the head of our nuclear family.
I knew taking advice from my father and letting him control my decisions was wrong, but I didn’t know how to stop him without sounding rude or hurting his feelings.
However, I couldn’t let my father destroy the healthy relationship I had built with my husband over the years.
There were certain things we had to do as a married couple to draw the line and regain our sanity.
If you’re struggling with difficult family members or unhealthy family dynamics, don’t get discouraged because there is a way for you to take back control of your marriage.
So, how do you deal with in-laws who feel they have a right to tell you and your spouse what to do?
In this article, we are going to discuss how to set boundaries with in-laws and parents without sounding rude or disrespectful.
WHY SHOULD COUPLES SET BOUNDARIES WITH IN-LAWS AND PARENTS?
Boundaries are the rules and limitations a person sets to protect themselves from destructive behavior.
Since we cannot control other people’s thoughts and behaviors, it’s necessary to be in control of our own lives by having healthy boundaries.
As adults, setting boundaries can feel uncomfortable as you may find yourself feeling guilty and not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, but it’s important for your own well-being.
How do you create boundaries with in-laws? It all boils down to being firm and having a few ground rules as a couple.
HOW TO SET BOUNDARIES WITH IN-LAWS AND OVERBEARING PARENTS
In-law relationships are great when everyone knows their place. However, when your in-laws do not respect your boundaries, you’ll feel like a prisoner in your own home.
The good news is that parental love doesn’t have to suffocate romantic love and setting boundaries will help you maintain a good relationship with your in-laws.
Here are 13 proven steps on how to set boundaries with in-laws and parents who are overbearing:
1. Identify your core values and beliefs
The first step to setting boundaries in your marriage is to know what your core values and beliefs are. What do you strongly believe in?
What kind of values do you want to teach your kids? What are your views about money, house chores, and intimacy?
Knowing the answers to these questions is important because when you know what you both want as a couple, you’ll be more likely to stand together when a crisis arises.
Don’t blindly accept your parent’s beliefs or point of view when you don’t agree with them. Choose to hold on to what you and your spouse believe in with strong conviction.
Having a united front on matters like these shows that you are a couple who makes decisions together.
And that’s the picture you always want to display to your parents and in-laws at the end of the day so they won’t have a chance to interfere.
2. Get specific about what you need from your in-laws
Another important step in setting boundaries is to get specific about what you need from your in-laws in order to respect the boundary.
That way they don’t have to guess what you want from them and it also helps to have your spouse reinforce you so that you present as a united front.
Emily Simonian, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with Thriveworks in Washington, DC advises that you let your in-laws know why your boundaries are important to you so that they understand on an emotional level and don’t take things personally.
For example, if you dislike that they show up at your house unannounced, focus on that behavior and specifically tell them how you’d like to see it change and why.
You might say something about how you like spending time with them but would prefer that they call first before dropping by.
For instance, you could say, “We really value having things planned out ahead of time so we aren’t caught off guard and can prepare for social visits, or can plan a time that works for all of us.”
3. Make your own rules as a couple
As soon as you get married, you’re automatically separated from your parents and you become one flesh with your spouse.
This means you get to create new rules as you go through the journey of life together. Your parents and in-laws shouldn’t have a say in how you run your marriage unless you go to them for help.
If you want to prevent your new family members from imposing their own rules on you and your spouse, create different rules in your marriage.
For example, if your mother loves to entertain the whole family in her house every Sunday, you don’t have to host Sunday dinners if you don’t want to.
You get to decide this part of your life as a couple and your in-laws or parents have no right to impose their rules or unrealistic expectations on you.
4. Create new family traditions with your spouse
Similar to making new rules, it’s important to decide on which family traditions to reject or adopt from your extended family.
Do you really need to cut your Christmas tree or are you okay with plastic trees? Will you spend Thanksgiving at home or travel to a resort with your family every year?
When you create your own traditions as a family, you’ll feel more confident and empowered in your marriage.
Don’t feel pressured to imitate your parent’s family traditions because you want to please them. Doing that can leave you and your spouse utterly miserable for the rest of your lives.
5. Decide on the parenting style to use on your kids
If your in-laws are already crossing your boundaries as a newlywed, it would become amplified when you have kids.
As new parents, your extended family members will want to teach you how to care for your baby since they’ve raised many babies before.
Unfortunately, too many child care options can leave you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated when you just want to spend quality time with your baby.
Setting boundaries with in-laws and grandchildren is often challenging, but it’s important to think about what’s best for your child.
If you don’t have kids yet, start talking about what you want for your child and the kind of parenting style you would like to adopt.
When you’ve agreed on how you want to raise your children, there won’t be room for arguments anytime your in-laws or parents try to pitch you their ideas because you’ve already made up your minds.
6. Set clear and healthy boundaries
Good parents who mean well for their children like to provide unsolicited advice and even meddle in their marital affairs unknowingly.
They ultimately want only the best for their child and are pained if their child is not content.
However, their intervention is not always helpful so it’s important to set clear boundaries if you want to enjoy a peaceful marriage.
Certified Imago Relationship Therapist Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, LCPC, recommends that you let your parents know early on that you appreciate their input and that you and your spouse are both adults and will decide what you want for your family.
If you can articulate your feelings in a polite manner with love and respect, your parents will most likely understand.
Unfortunately, there are parents who have a hard time respecting boundaries even when they are aware of them. In this case, you may need to be a little more firm until they get the message.
7. Be on the same page with your spouse
When you’re trying to set boundaries with your in-laws, it’s important to have a good working relationship with your spouse.
One of the issues that inevitably arise in a marriage is the need for cooperation especially when you’re attending family gatherings or going on a family trip together.
Rabbi Slatkin encourages couples to have an open dialogue with each other about their fears and expectations for these encounters.
Talking with your spouse about how you feel or what you expect will give you the opportunity to discuss strategies to deal with potential conflict that may arise.
You can also be more in tune with each other and notice if one of you is feeling uncomfortable says, Slatkin.
Usually, when couples prepare ahead of time and form a united front, they are much better at dealing with their in-laws.
If family events have contributed to more stress in your marriage, you’ll be able to weather them successfully when you’re on the same page going forward.
8. Be careful about seeking advice from your parents
One major mistake couples make in the first few years of marriage is going to their parents when they face a challenge instead of attempting to resolve it as a team first.
Asking your parents for advice, especially on issues that directly affect your family, can be very hurtful for your spouse.
Besides giving your parents a say in your family’s issues, your spouse may feel outnumbered especially if they disagree with you and your parents.
The best way to avoid misunderstandings is to include your spouse in the discussion and follow up with any updates or changes.
You can also create a middle ground by discussing the issue with your spouse first or by talking together on the phone with your parents.
This not only provides a good deterrent for the in-laws not to talk to your spouse about you, but it also removes any suspicion on your part that you were being undermined in a private discussion.
If you need help communicating better with your spouse, couples therapy can empower you with conflict management skills and tools.
9. Don’t complain to your parents about your spouse
Marriage can sometimes be hard and you may feel the need to vent to your parents about your spouse when they do something wrong.
This is never a good idea as your parents may not be as easy to forgive your spouse as you would.
Complaining about your partner to your parents could leave a bad impression in their minds which may end up putting a wedge between you and your spouse.
If you have an issue in your marriage, have a healthy conversation with your spouse about what’s bothering you and work together to find the right solutions.
Talking to a licensed marriage counselor or family therapist is another way to resolve conflicts in your marriage.
Resist the temptation to give your parents a phone call when little problems arise.
When you run to them for everything, you’re giving them the upper hand in your marriage and they could take advantage of the situation to overstep your boundaries.
Involve your parents and in-laws only when you’re experiencing a major crisis that needs their intervention.
Otherwise, figure out how to deal with the issues that arise in your marriage on your own.
10. Don’t go out of your way to impress your in-laws
Most people obsess about how to behave with in-laws before marriage and they end up becoming people pleasers who do everything they can to impress their new family members when they eventually get married.
While it is okay to honor your in-laws and make them feel welcome in your home, this can be a source of anxiety and emotional exhaustion for many couples as they may end up overdoing things just to please their in-laws.
If you find yourself getting stressed out and screaming at your spouse or your kids every time your in-laws come over, no one is going to have fun during the visit.
Try to stay calm and do your best but don’t go overboard. Your calm and happy home will impress your in-laws much more than your spotless house or flawless catering.
Plenty of children grow up to resent having their grandparents come to visit because of the tension it creates in their home.
The number one goal for parents is to ensure that they raise happy and responsible adults.
Always remember to do what’s best for your child no matter what your in-laws or parents have to say.
11. Create some distance from your in-laws and parents
When you’re dealing with toxic in-laws, they may refuse to respect your boundaries even when you’ve politely asked them to give you and your spouse some personal space.
You may be wondering, “How do I distance myself from my in-laws?”
Distancing yourself from in-laws is possible and it can be a good idea if they keep overstepping your boundaries and trying to take control of your home.
If you call them every day, try reducing the phone calls to twice a week and limit visitations as much as possible.
I know this can be difficult when you have a new baby because grandparents always want to be around their grandchildren.
However, being firm about your need for space and freedom will eventually make them back down and allow you to raise your child according to your own standards.
12. Let your spouse handle their difficult family members
Women often complain about their sister-in-law or mother-in-law overstepping her boundaries in their matrimonial home and how it’s seriously affecting their mental health.
If you’re going through the same situation, how do you deal with disrespectful in-laws?
The truth is, when it comes to your spouse’s mother or sister, things can get complicated fast so it’s best to leave the difficult conversation to your spouse and deal with your own family.
Even though you’re itching to write down a list of boundaries for your mother-in-law, let your spouse handle the situation the best way they can.
If you find out that a particular family member is getting on your nerves or that they have ulterior motives, discuss the issue with your spouse instead of giving them the silent treatment, which can be a destructive behavior in the long run.
When you have an overstepping MIL who is giving you a hard time in your own home, the best thing you can do is keep your emotions under control because of your spouse’s attachments to her.
Let your spouse understand that you can no longer endure the lack of respect from his family members and that their behavior makes you feel threatened or sidelined in your marriage.
If you work as a team to deal with your boundary problems, you’ll enjoy a happier marriage with your spouse.
13. Make it clear what your actions will be if a boundary is crossed
Boundaries without actionable consequences are going to make it hard for the boundaries to remain respected.
Within limits, people can want to push and bend boundaries, and that is a natural response.
“If those boundaries are pushed continuously, consequences should be taken so there is no opportunity for that boundary to be pushed”, proposes Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta, PhD, LMHC – a licensed mental health counselor.
You need to stay firm in establishing the boundary and if your in-laws resort to old behaviors or dismiss the boundary altogether, you and your spouse may need to be more assertive with your request.
The last resort in these types of situations where boundaries are blatantly being ignored is to not engage the unwanted behavior so that you aren’t accidentally enabling.
For example, you may refuse to answer the door if they continue to drop by unannounced.
Hopefully you won’t have to get to that last step and your family members will be understanding and cooperative.
You’ve probably heard a few horrifying stories of how mother-in-laws ruin marriages. This often happens when there are no boundaries in place.
Boundary setting is important in every marital relationship and it is possible to cultivate a decent relationship with your in-laws.
It requires a conscious effort on the part of both you and your spouse.
If you are committed to weathering some rough patches along the way and can be forward-thinking, your in-laws can serve as an asset to your marriage as opposed to a liability.
If you’ve been looking for ideas on how to set boundaries with toxic in-laws, use these tips to establish some ground rules in your marriage.
About The Author
Jennifer Dagi is happily married to her best friend and the love of her life. As a relationship coach, she is passionate about helping couples build healthy and happy relationships.
She strongly believes communication and intimacy are important in building a successful relationship.
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