Hollywood is great about making “crazy family” movies where family members interfere in each other’s lives. It is funny to watch – if you are not in their shoes. But if your first thought when you see these movies is “Oh, I feel your pain”, then this article is for you.
From career choices to when to have children, parent’s interference in their adult children’s lives is real and it’s toxic for your marriage. Even when you have been happily coupled for some time, maybe even have kids, It’s easy to still feel like a child being watched over by “helicopter parents”. It can be hard for you and your loved one to make decisions because your families have to give “advice” in the matter.
While it’s not uncommon for couples to allow a degree of intrusion from parents as they learn expectations and rules for relationships, you have to be careful because this openness to suggestions can lead to an expectation for them participating in your life. You don’t need to cut your family out of your life, but you do have to some control over your relationship with them. Here are some ideas of how to proceed in setting boundaries with your family or in-laws:
How to set healthy boundaries with family:
1) Identify your limits: First you need to decide with your partner what boundaries BOTH of you are comfortable with. Every couple and every person is different so it is important to listen to each other and respect limits. Try to be reasonable when deciding which boundaries are non-negotiable. If your spouse appreciates frequent visits from family don’t request to only have family gatherings on holidays. Discuss a comfortable number on the lower end of the spectrum and grow from there.
2) Choose your words: It is not the family’s fault that you haven’t set healthy boundaries for your relationship. Don’t lash out just because you have reached your boiling point. Practice positive communication skills by starting the conversation owning the responsibility of not setting boundaries in the first place and how you believe your relationship can benefit from keeping outsiders outside. Make it about your need to bond with your spouse and to learn from your decisions. Don’t blame or point fingers, that is a recipe for family feuds. Setting boundaries is about personal growth.
3) Validate their feelings: Your families most likely meant well when interfering. They might feel hurt or angry that you don’t find their opinion as helpful as they see. Let them know you understand their intentions, but you want to do this the adult way…taking care of your own life.
4) Stick to your plan: Change is hard and you will be tempted to give in sometimes. You might feel guilty that your mom is not allowed to call so often or that your father-in-law doesn’t get to carve the turkey at your Thanksgiving party. Remember that it will take some time for everybody to adjust. But your marriage will get stronger and stronger as you two will have a chance to bond over the joint decisions.
As part of this journey you also will have to accept that due to your boundaries some of the good support from your family might go away with the bad intrusion. This is a natural part of growing and becoming more self-sufficient. When this happens don’t get angry or feel resentful towards your family. This is positive for you and your relationship. Be aware of what boundaries you’re setting and make sure you’re working together to set boundaries that work for you both!
About the Author
Patricia Cochran is a marriage counselor with The Marriage and Family Clinic. She is passionate about helping couples and families to feel connected again. In her spare time, she is busy with her toddler and enjoying friends and family time.