We've all heard the expression "When you marry the person, you marry the family." Long-married couples can attest to the truth in that expression. Whether it's where you spend the holidays, how to raise your children or what you do with your money, your in-laws may have strong feelings on how you live your life. Though their opinions can be annoying (especially when they are regularly expressed), what begins as a nuisance can quickly turn into bigger problems if you and your fiancé don't establish boundaries around your relationship.
Set the Ground Rules
When parents live relatively close, one of the first boundaries you should set concerns visits to your home. Are you okay with family members dropping by or do they need to schedule in advance? The need for rules also applies for in-laws who come from out of town. If you and your fiancé believe there should be a time limit on visits, you need to communicate that to your in-laws before they arrive at your door. Otherwise, you may find yourselves having a whispering argument in your bedroom because your spouse's brother is going into his third week sleeping on your couch.
Have the Money Talk
Other boundaries you'll want to establish are around your finances. O
nce you're engaged, one or both sets of parents may offer to contribute to the wedding, but what happens after the big day? Will you accept money for student loans, to go on family vacations or for a down payment on a house? Although you may decide a gift or loan is appropriate in certain situations, keep in mind that even the most well-meaning parents might give money with strings attached. Accepting money may inadvertently open the door for certain expectations or unsolicited financial advice. Repeatedly hearing your in-laws' opinions about how you spend money is sure to cause some tension.
Unwelcome visits or financial intrusion can strain family relations, but nothing will turn your in-laws into outlaws faster than if they disrespect your character, your beliefs or the choices you make. It may be hard to believe that your fiancé's parents could be painfully critical, but as psychologist Terri Apter found in researching What Do You Want From Me: Learning to Get Along With In-Laws, parental protectiveness doesn't end when children get married.
Don't Tolerate Disrespect
For your own well-being, try to understand that any negative comments are less about you and more about a parent's fundamental desire to see their child happy. However, that doesn't mean you should accept hurtful criticism. Spouses need to agree not to tolerate either set of in-laws being disrespectful. Each partner should speak to his or her own family members if it becomes necessary to respond to unacceptable behavior. Also, you should both think twice about revealing details to your family (especially parents) when the two of you have an argument. If your fiancé tells his mother you communicated with an ex on social media, she is not likely to forget it even after you two have moved on.
Communication is Key
The key point to remember is that in-law problems are often a sign that a couple hasn't been proactive in figuring out how to manage family relationships. If the two of you determine and communicate your boundaries, it's less likely that you'll have to deal with the fallout from having them crossed. Communication is the key to marital bliss!
Style Me Pretty Contributor - Paula Holt is a writer and marriage educator based in Chicago. She's a self-described podcast junkie who enjoys going to restaurants with her family and singing loudly in her car.