Setting Boundaries with In-Laws

In-Law relations can constitute a serious challenge for any married couple.  This is especially true in the case of newlyweds.  If you’ve recently tied the knot, you probably know what we mean.  It’s not unusual for mothers and fathers of brides and grooms to get so excited about staying actively involved in the lives of their grown kids that they forget where to draw the line.  Unannounced visits, unsolicited advice, and other forms of ill-advised if well-intentioned parental “help” can put a lot of unwanted pressure on a newly developing relationship. 

If you’re facing a situation of this kind, the first thing you need to do is make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page.  After that, come up with a plan of action.  Approach the problem with sensitivity and care.  Be gentle.  Choose your words with discretion.  If the incursions into your privacy are coming from his folks, then he should probably be the one to broach the issue with them.  If it’s her mom and dad who are wearing out their welcome, let her take the lead.  The important thing is for the two of you to stick together and present a united front.  

If that proves difficult, ask yourselves if there are any marital issues that you need to address before tackling the in-law problem.  Genesis 2:24 says that “a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife.”  When a couple marries, they are given the task of founding a new family unit, distinct and separate from their families of origin.  They are further required to grant this new family unit precedence over the old.  If they can’t do this, their marriage won’t succeed.  Once you’re clear on this point, you can proceed to talk things out with your parents.

Hopefully, you can manage this within the context of a good-natured, non-defensive family discussion.  Sit down with the parents and explain that, as newlyweds, you’re trying to establish a new life together.  Point out that this requires a certain amount of privacy.  Assure them that they are always welcome to come by as long as they provide advance notice.  If they react negatively, there are probably some boundary issues below the surface that may not be so easy to address.  In that case, you may want to think about making yourselves less accessible, at least for a while.  It might also be a good idea to talk about your situation with a qualified family therapist.

For additional help, you may want to check out Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend’s classic book on the subject, Boundaries:  When to Say Yes, How to Say No.  You can order a copy directly from Focus on the Family’s Online Store