Are you newly married and have you and your partner learned about the importance of setting healthy boundaries in a marriage? Have you worked hard to identify what your boundaries are and are you determined to respect them so that your marriage is successful?
Good for you.
What many people don’t know is that it can be very important to, from the get go, set boundaries for your in-laws as well. Why? Because your in-laws will be a part of your lives for a long time and your relationship with them could have a huge effect on your marriage.
Let me tell you why boundaries with your in-laws can make your marriage stronger.
#1 – Setting boundaries will create clarity.
While now that you are married you have created the beginning of a new family, for all of the previous years of your life you have been a member of your original family.
Things that formed this original family – holiday traditions, gender roles, financial considerations etc – were the foundation upon which that family existed.
Now that you are married, those things, those things that lay the foundation for your original family, might not exist in the new family.
I know when I was married, my husband’s family had always lived close to each other and, as a result, they spent a lot of time together, particularly around birthdays and holidays. My family had always been more spread out and our time together was somewhat limited and we lived more independently of each other.
I was hoping that our new family could live in a way that was more aligned with my original family. My ex wanted to spend holiday times with his family. And his family expected it too.
In retrospect, I believe that if we had set boundaries early on, boundaries with both of our families about how we were going to spend birthdays and holidays, instead of having to have conflict around them every time one arose, then we would have saved ourselves a lot of conflict, conflict that was part of the erosion of our marriage.
So, setting boundaries early on with your in-laws allows everyone to know what to expect going forward so that conflicts and hurt feelings can be kept to a minimum.
#2 – The new relationship must take precedence.
One of the most important reasons that healthy boundaries in a marriage may apply to in-laws as well is because the marriage of two people creates a new family.
This new family is new and untested and needs its own time to develop into what it is going to be.
It is of the utmost importance that this new family take precedence, that the wants and needs of this new couple are taken into consideration above the wants and needs of the original family.
This is not to say that the original family should be shunned but that the wants and needs of the new family are discussed first. Once that discussion has been had, the new family can make a decision, together, about how they are going to proceed.
For my ex and I, we never truly made a decision about what was important for our family. Every time a family conflict arose we punted it to the next holiday. If we had only made a conscious decision, for ourselves and OUR family, then we both would have been happier and there would have been less conflict.
#3 – Everyone needs to know what expectations are.
Unmet expectations are the number one thing that can cause problems in any relationship. And, unfortunately, no one usually knows what those expectations are. This isn’t done maliciously – it just never comes up, not until someone gets hurt.
If you can set expectations early on with your in-laws you can prevent hurt feelings on both sides. In the example of my ex and I, perhaps if we had clearly stated at the beginning of our relationship what it was that we expected around the birthdays and holidays, if we had engaged in a discussion with our in-laws about what we all wanted, then a whole bunch of conflict would have been avoided.
Instead, we just assumed that it was a command performance at holidays and birthdays and we showed up accordingly, often crabby because we had fought about it the whole car drive over.
#4 – Relationships can be maintained.
One of my biggest regrets of my marriage is that we weren’t able to set boundaries and manage expectations with our families. If we had, some important relationships would have been healthier.
As I have said before, my ex and I often ended up butting heads when we were put in the position of meeting extended family obligations that we didn’t necessarily want to engage in. That was very damaging for our marriage.
Furthermore, our relationship with our in-laws suffered as well because there was often conflict about how we engaged with them. We weren’t always honest, in an attempt to not upset them, but they often knew. And my ex and I, usually crabby, weren’t always fun to have around.
So, if you want to maintain a healthy relationship with your in-laws, I would encourage you to set boundaries to preserve those good feelings.
#5 – You will be prepared with the kids arrive.
Ah yes, babies. Aren’t they wonderful? Adorable little creatures that arrive and totally turn our lives into chaos.
And, yes, grandparents. The adults in our lives who raised us, sometimes in ways that we wished that we hadn’t been raised. And they want a say in how your new family is going to be raised as well.
If you have set and practiced healthy boundaries with your in-laws, when the babies come you will be able to discuss with them what kind of boundaries you need around the kids. You can work together to define how they will be involved with the children – will you need them for child care, will they be part of managing discipline, do they understand how important the car seat is, etc.
The grandparent relationship, I believe, is a key one in the lives of our children. I know that my relationship with my grandmother was one of the best, most nurturing, of my life. I know that my mother’s relationship with her mother wasn’t always a healthy one and if they had set boundaries then a lot of silent dinners might have been avoided. I know that I wish they had been.
So, set up and practice boundaries now so that, when the kids are born, both sides are well practiced in the art of managing expectations and avoiding conflict.
Now you know why healthy boundaries in a marriage may apply to in-laws as well.
Marriage is long and hard (and wonderful) and for the length of your marriage your in-laws will be a part of it.
It’s important to set the boundaries right away so that you can maintain a good relationship with them. The boundaries need not be set in stone – as relationships develop, needs can change – but it is important that the discussion be had and expectations are clear.
I know it might be difficult, for all parties involved, to have the discussion but know that, in the long run, it will have been worth it.
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I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.