When it comes to in-laws and their role in your happily ever after, things can get quite messy if we don’t address clear boundaries early on.
It’s all fun and games until it sinks in that you actually married five people – your partner and their entire family! In a best-case scenario, it’s just a couple of offhand disagreements about Christmas seating arrangements. But if life takes a turn and you realise you didn’t sign up for weekly visits to your father-in-law’s to clean his house, something may need to change.
Here are some real-life messy situations I’ve heard of from past clients:
? Unexpected in-laws meddling in important life decisions, like buying a house or raising children.
? Disagreements over caretaking involvement when parents fall ill.
? Cultural differences and different values about who comes first: you, or your boo’s family.
Sure, these spats may seem harmless at first, but even research has acknowledged the implications of in-law spats in the long-run. A 2021 study: You Aren’t As Close To My Family As You Think: Discordant Perceptions About In-Laws And Risk Of Divorce (Fiori et al., 2021) followed hundreds of couples over 16 years and showed that in-law relationships might even be a predictor for divorce.
Now, we don’t mean to be a party pooper when you haven’t even cut your wedding cake yet, but having these uncomfortable conversations now might just save you from even worse ones down the line.
Luckily, we’ve carved out three easy steps to help you navigate these conversations early on, without completely losing your mind!
Decide what your personal values are.
Before penning in a check-in with your honey, it’s important to get clear on what YOU want. Where do you personally stand on this question about in-law involvement? Do you desire to feel part of the happy village tribe, or are you really hoping to keep this as a party for two? Do you have strong feelings about this which fall into dealbreaker territory? Or, are you nonchalant and willing to compromise if it turns out your partner wants something very different?
Be totally honest with yourself, in the name of healthy and open communication.
Discuss your expectations about in-laws before you tie the knot.
Although in-law relations may seem common sense to you, you might be surprised at how people can be raised to expect different things.
Most of the time, any difference in expectations really boils down to what’s been normalized in your own family. For example, folks who grew up with a close relationship with their parents will probably continue to have one after marriage. On the other hand, those who grew up riding solo may feel confused or even annoyed at how lovey-dovey parents can be.
Here are some great questions to ask each other:
✨What was it like growing up as a kid in your family?
✨ How important to you is your relationship with your parents now?
✨ How often would we visit and spend time with your family?
✨ During our married life, how involved will you be with your family’s life?
✨ As a couple, how can we make big decisions together that feel good for both of us?
✨ How do you picture we would spend the holidays?
It might seem awkward to ask these questions now, but think about it this way – wouldn’t you want to know if your partner only makes financial decisions if they’ve received the stamp of approval from Daddy? You might want to find out now before you apply for a mortgage.
Let’s say that one person is more independent and wants to keep the marriage between the two of you, but the other partner is more family-oriented and attached to their parents. What will you do if either of you starts to feel resentful?
The real test of love is learning to accept and honour each other’s values, while also giving your relationship the boundaries it needs to grow.
When there are differences, it doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed. It just requires compassion and a willingness to understand. The partner who likes to call their parents every day isn’t necessarily ignoring you. They’re probably just used to being family-oriented and need time to adjust to newlywed life. And folks who want to spend lots of one-on-one time just the two of you aren’t necessarily trying to be controlling. Perhaps they are used to close intimacy as their definition of normal.
By seeing where the other person is coming from, you can avoid misunderstandings in the future.
Establish proper boundaries to prevent parents-in-law from turning into monsters-in-law.
At the end of the day, your significant other still comes first in the marriage, and you will need to have a talk when weird boundaries arise. There comes a certain point where it just isn’t healthy for your aunt to drop in unannounced at night any more. You will need to communicate your feelings in an effective way. For example:
“I do love your family, but when people come over unannounced, it makes me feel anxious and uncomfortable in my own home. Can we talk about setting some boundaries with your aunt regarding how often she comes over, as well as calling ahead first to check whether a visit is convenient?”
“It makes me feel like I’m less important when you allow your aunt to drop into our house unannounced. I understand that family means a lot to you, but I need to feel like I mean a lot to you as well.”
Nipping these issues in the bud is the secret to preventing a nasty build-up after stewing in negative emotions for too long. Plus, who just shows up unannounced after 8?! Talk about rude!
At the end of the day, there are no rules about what a marriage should or must look like. After all, why did you choose to marry in the first place? It was to celebrate the union between two fabulous individuals.
So, if you’re looking for permission to live your damn lives, you’ve got it! You two get to decide what works for you, and everyone else can kiss your married behinds.
About Gloria Zhang, MA
Gloria is an ink-lovin’ Psychotherapist and Relationship Coach based out of Canada, and host of Top 100 show The Inner Child Podcast. Gloria helps High Achievers break the pattern of toxic relationships and create lasting love by healing the inner child. You can find out more about her at bygloriazhang.com and follow her on Instagram @bygloriazhang.