How to Set Boundaries with Parents and In-Laws
Boundaries can be uncomfortable things for those on both sides of the boundary. It is not easy to put boundaries up, and it is hard to accept boundaries others put up.
Why do we need boundaries anyways? Boundaries are similar to limits. We all have limitations, and it is essential to know what our limitations are and not let others take advantage of that.
When it comes to limits, we are only in control of ourselves. We can change our actions and perspectives, but we can't change others.
If someone we are in relationship with is acting poorly, it is not our responsibility to change them, nor can we.
To the same point, we can't control how others respond to boundaries we place in our lives for our own protection and health.
When setting boundaries, you may receive responses of anger, resentment, denial, or guilt trips. These responses are common and don't mean you're doing something wrong.
We can love with limits, and limits should be in place so that we don't enable inappropriate or destructive behavior.
Boundaries with family are some of the hardest to put up. It gets even harder as you become an adult and get married.
Your relationship with your parents' change and now you have in-laws to balance a relationship with as well.
The difference between friends and family is that you choose your friends, you don't choose your family. It is much easier to discard a friendship that is unhealthy or damaging than it is a family member.
You can't easily do that with family, nor am I saying you should, which is why boundaries with family members are so important.
Say, for example, one of your in-laws doesn't like your spouse. They say hurtful things, haven't accepted them as part of the family, and cause strife between you and your spouse.
Maybe one of your parents has a hard time letting go of you or your spouse as an adult child. So, they make you feel guilty for living your own life and having your own family aside from them.
Or your mom or mother-in-law provides a lot of unwanted advice that makes you feel like you don't measure up as a wife or mom. (Word from the Bird Blog has a great post about having a peaceful relationship with your mother-in-law, here)
In addition to the above examples, many different scenarios may necessitate boundaries with parents/in-laws. Boundaries are crucial for these situations, and the sooner you implement them, the better for everyone.
Here are some ideas of boundaries that may be necessary for you and your family to set with your parents/in-laws.
- Limiting one-on-one time
- Limiting the frequency/length of visit time
- Closed lines of communication for the time being
- Not staying in the same house during vacations
- Not always answering the phone
- Decreasing the frequency of communication
- Not allowing them to say things that are hurtful or inappropriate
When you are dealing with situations like these, you and your spouse must be on the same page. If you can't get there, I recommend seeking counsel; it will help your marriage so much.
Learning the importance of boundaries with parents/in-laws have made an enormous difference for my husband and I's marriage. Being on the same page was essential for us, and has made the process, at least on our end, a lot smoother.
Once you and your spouse are on the same page, the spouse whose parents are causing the strife needs to be the one to set the boundaries with their parent(s).
You and your spouse should talk through what you each think is best. I recommend having the spouse who is setting the boundary, make the final say in what the boundary is.
It is their parent(s), and if it is not something they view as beneficial or ok, it could create more tension or bitterness in your marriage.
Once you implement appropriate and healthy boundaries that you and your spouse agree on, you should experience a sense of freedom.
One of the best books I've read on boundaries is called "Boundaries" (go figure) by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
Reading "Boundaries" has been helpful for my husband and I as we've had to implement limitations with parents/in-laws and try to do so respectfully and biblically.
One thing that is hard with boundaries is knowing when you can ease up on the boundaries.
Cloud and Townsend point out that we should always forgive those who wrong us, but forgiving doesn't always mean that you'll achieve reconciliation.
Cloud and Townsend provide excellent advice in that:
"We [shouldn't] open ourselves up to the other party until we have seen that she has truly owned her part of the problem… Scripture talks about keeping boundaries with someone until she owns what she has done and produces "fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matt. 3:8). True repentance is much more than saying "I'm sorry"; it is changing direction…Do not think that because you have forgiven that you have to reconcile. You can offer reconciliation, but it must be contingent on the other person owning her behavior and bringing forth trustworthy fruits" (pg. 281).
I would highly recommend reading this book!
In all scenarios, it is important to forgive, but forgiving doesn't always mean it is safe to reengage relationship, especially as it was before.
If you have to put up boundaries in the first place, it means there is some level of unhealth in that relationship.
Unhealth can vary greatly. So, the length and extent of boundaries will depend on the person you are dealing with.
The person's ability to take ownership of their actions and their willingness to put in the hard work to change will contribute to the length and severity of the boundaries.
Boundaries can be hard to accept. The person on the receiving end of the boundaries may express anger, or make you feel guilty. Your boundaries might feel harsh, but in reality, they probably aren't.
The best thing you can do is stick to the boundaries you set.
The point of boundaries is not to control, avenge, hurt, or attack others.
Boundaries can allow you to love yourself and others better even when they feel hard and uncomfortable. Love isn't letting someone walk all over you, say hurtful things, or disrespect you and your family.
With boundaries, you will protect yourself, your marriage, and your family. By doing so, you are still loving those on the other side of the boundaries, and you are opening the door for growth, forgiveness, and reconciliation.