“But what’s the harm in taking some advice?” My sister says to me after I bring up the subject of setting boundaries with in-laws. We share a look and she bursts out laughing. “They don’t give advice. They are just highly and inappropriately over the top indulging.”
Overstepping in-laws isn’t something people want when getting married, but it sure is something too many of us have to deal with in our marital journey. And while we’re raised to be adjusting in our marriage, setting boundaries with in-laws should actually be the first step to take if you do not want to adjust and crib your entire life.
The process begins with drawing up a list of boundaries for the mother-in-law, father-in-law and other members in your spouse’s family, and then, holding your ground in enforcing them.
When you marry a person, it’s a known saying (read: a universal truth) that you marry your spouse’s entire family. But if your newly-wedded self doesn’t want to deal with the headache that interfering in-laws can be, then it’s vital that you set some boundaries as early on as possible.
How To Set Boundaries With In-laws
From an overbearing mother-in-law to a sister-in-law overstepping boundaries, from advice on what to eat to how to set the living room, the initial days of your married life can truly seem like a full-blown invasion of your personal space – both physical and mental – if your in-laws aren’t big on the concept of privacy.
In situations like these, setting boundaries with the in-laws not only gives you mental peace but also doesn’t make you throw the spatula at them, causing in a mild stroke. Anyone who has ever been in a family of disrespectful, controlling in-laws and relatives will know how peaceful it is to give them a piece of your mind.
That being said, a healthy marriage means communication. You might be a polite person who doesn’t want confrontations but you are an independent child of your parents and their controlling nature stops at your doorstep.
You know this and understand this all too well but the ‘family is family; your in-laws are your family’ conditioning often gets in the way of distancing yourself from in-laws in a healthy manner and drawing a line between what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Of course, a wedding brings families together and you have another extended family but that doesn’t mean giving them unbridled access to every aspect of your life. What do you do when your father-in-law wants your spouse to quit his superb job in Kochi to move in with them in Chandigarh? Or when they need you to cut down on the meat because apparently going vegan is the new talk of the town? Or when they want to raise the grandkids (not even conceived yet) in a private boarding school?
Family is family; but mustn’t there be some regulations as to how much control they are going to have on your life and your household?
Of course, yes. And that process begins with defining boundaries for interfering in-laws right from the beginning of your marriage. Suddenly asking the grandma to stop giving money to your 6-year-old son will raise tension and animosity. That’s why setting boundaries with in-laws after a baby is born is also equally vital, as the arrival of a child changes family dynamics all over again.
Being accommodating of a controlling and manipulative in-law can only be done until you find reasons to fake poop three times a day because your head can only take so much nagging and advice from the in-laws.
If you don’t want to spend much of your life hiding in the washroom, it’s essential to draw the line between which aspects their participation is welcome in and which are strictly personal. Lay the ground rules for taking over your household independently. And for who should have a say in raising your kid.
Healthy relationship boundaries make life easy. Set boundaries and communicate them in the gentlest way possible. And most importantly, discuss them with your spouse and make sure they’re onboard to avoid setting boundaries with in-laws blowing up in your face.
Related reading: Living with the in-laws: What works, what doesn’t
8 No-Fail Tips For Setting Boundaries With Your In-Laws
Whether you’re working on setting boundaries with toxic in-laws or understanding and accommodating ones, the process is most effective when enforced from the get-go. You cannot spring up with, “First call, then visit” rule after spending 7 years of having them walk in and out of your house as they please, and expect that boundary to be respected.
Yes, asserting yourself early on in the marriage can be intimidating because your connection with this newly acquired family is still fragile, and you’re really just getting to know each other. How to talk to your mother-in-law about boundaries? How to tell your sister-in-law where to draw the line? How to say no to your father-in-law without coming across as disrespectful? These are all legitimate concerns.
The answer lies in being polite but firm in what you consider acceptable in your relationship dynamic with them. While setting boundaries with in-laws as early on as possible is ideal, it doesn’t mean that you cannot start defining or redefining the limits later in the marriage. Just because you couldn’t bring yourself to say ‘no’ as a newlywed, doesn’t mean you’re doomed to say ‘yes’ to whatever they ask of you for the rest of your life.
However, be mindful that when you begin the process of making a list of boundaries for a mother-in-law who is manipulative or dominating father-in-law once the behavior patterns have been set, enforcing them will be harder.
Now that we’ve addressed the basics, let’s get down to the specifics of how to set boundaries with in-laws. Here are some tips and examples of boundaries with in-laws to help you get started:
1. Remember it’s all about spending time together
The family you have gained along the way won’t let you go easy. That means a whole lot of picnics together, family dinners once a month, spending a few days together during the holidays. If spending a hot summer afternoon with your sister-in-law and her teenage kids is not something you want, compromise and plan an outing instead. Invite your family as well – that way the tension gets divided and you have people to fall back on.
Hang out with her as long as the interaction is pleasant for both of you, and as soon as the overbearing comments and advice start to creep in, excuse yourself on some pretext and spend time with your spouse, kids or family instead. This way you can create a buffer to deal with sister-in-law overstepping boundaries without letting it get to you.
2. Tune your perspective
A lot of people get married knowing that their in-laws are going to be difficult. Well, that’s not always true. Sometimes, our own insecurities or mindset make us see things that aren’t really true. Like on your first anniversary, if your MIL tells you about setting a savings account for your future grandkids, it does not necessarily mean she thinks you are ill-equipped to deal with your children financially.
It only means she is trying to help, just in case something goes wrong. It’s harmful to the marriage if you keep finding ulterior motives and meanings in everything your in-laws say just because you had a preconceived notion of a behemoth overbearing mother-in-law.
So, it’s really important to reflect whether you’re setting boundaries with toxic in-laws or because your prejudiced notions make them come across as toxic. That said, even if your in-laws are absolutely adorable people who dote on you and whom you adore wholeheartedly, having boundaries can help your relationship truly thrive and keep it healthy in the long run.
Related reading: Why I became happier when I stopped trying to please my in-laws
3. Don’t be competitive
Parents can be protective of their children, even if your husband isn’t a mama’s boy. No matter how old parents or their children get, they will always want the best for their child and put them before all else. What you need to know is that romantic love that your spouse has for you and the parental love he bears for his parents are two entirely different things.
Fighting over who your spouse gives more attention to will put you in an unhealthy competition with your in-laws that is going to end badly. Besides, it would leave your spouse feeling torn and conflicted.
So, avoid that. Setting boundaries with in-laws also means setting some boundaries for yourself. And that includes not getting insecure or jealous if your spouse wants to spend some quality time with their parents or do something nice for them.
4. Don’t direct your anger at your spouse
Let’s say, something your sister-in-law said to you is getting on your nerves. But she SIL is pregnant and you don’t want to upset her, so let it slide. That’s great. Just don’t let the anger simmer and lash out at your spouse. Your spouse isn’t at fault here.
In all probability, he wasn’t even privy to the conversation that has left you all riled up. Instead, communicate what verbal discussion got you so mad. Rant, if you must. But don’t be passive-aggressive toward your spouse because you do not like your in-laws. At the end of the day, the in-laws are a tiny part of your life and your marriage is a lot more important.
Related Reading: In laws disrespect me as I am not earning
5. Stick to a schedule of spending time together
If it was decided that everyone would gather at your place for Thanksgiving, don’t let your sister-in-law or brother-in-law change that plan just because “they really would love to host the dinner”. If you had planned to go attend your spouse’s second cousin’s wedding, honor that promise. These small examples of boundaries with in-laws go a long way in driving home the point that you honor your side of the bargain and hold your own if others try to walk all over your plans.
Likewise, explicitly but politely mention that unannounced visits aren’t something you or your spouse like if that’s something you feel strongly about. Don’t wait years when you are fed up with the visits to tell them. Springing the truth on them after years will make them think you don’t like them anymore. On the other hand, stating your expectations clearly sends out the message that you mean business.
6. Get to know them
Like really get to know them. If they have a favorite movie that makes them cry or if they did wild stuff when they were young – stuff like that. Though they might not be as handy as knowing the secret family recipe for Thanksgiving turkey or eggnog, getting to know them well will bring you guys closer together.
It is a sweet gesture of thoughtfulness and compassion and you will probably have a laugh about it. Bond with your MIL over a cup of coffee sometime. That’s bonding; without any hostility or passive-aggressiveness. Having a list of boundaries for the mother-in-law doesn’t mean cutting her out of your life.
7. Don’t try to control the children in front of them
If you have children, your in-laws are going to shower them with love and spoil them silly, no matter how hard you work at setting boundaries with in-laws after the baby arrives. And by love and spoiling, we mean occasional gifts, chocolates, a little allowance or extra TV time.
As much as you would like to keep the kids under a tight schedule and not give too much of anything, they love their grandma and grandma and only get to see them every once in a while. Controlling your kids when the in-laws are present might backfire. You might receive pushback not only from the in-laws but from the kids as well.
So, if grandpa wants to take them to the amusement park and the movies four days in a row, let him. The kids will grow fonder of the in-laws and why shouldn’t they? Grandparents are the best people in the world for them and you don’t want to seem like the bad guy who doesn’t let them have fun, do you?
Related Reading: My Mother-In-Law Manipulates My Husband and He Has Become Aloof
8. Don’t take it personally
If your in-laws are condoning the behavior of your kids or your spouse, don’t take it personally. It is hard not to do so, especially when your mother-in-law has already remarked about your daughter’s small nose that she got from her mother (i.e. you) but try to keep an impersonal spin on things said and done.
Know it’s only temporary. Know that every struggle you are going through is only temporary and that you do not need to live your life according to their wishes. It’s temporary. You just need to get through the afternoon, the weekend, or just a month.
Not all in-laws are evil, toxic or domineering as widely popularized by the media. If you give them a chance, they might not be as overbearing as you think. If not, make boundaries for a healthy relationship with them.