When you marry someone, you marry their family too.
You’ve probably heard this at some point in your life before you decided to tether yourself to your spouse forever, and it’s true. Saying “I do” is agreeing to accept your partner and everyone attached to them. While marrying into a close family has its perks, like spending holidays together, going on trips, and having support at the drop of a dime, sometimes in-laws can overstep their boundaries. When it becomes a pattern, you’re left wondering how to tell your in-laws you need space.
Some people get a glimpse of the in-laws being overly involved from the moment wedding planning starts. Whether your mother-in-law wanted a major say in the guest list or your father-in-law offered money but wanted to dictate how you spend it, you can see the beginnings of needing to create some hard boundaries.
“Boundaries are important, but it can be scary to set them,” says licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Amy Marschall, Psy.D. And oftentimes, in-laws don’t even realize they are overstepping.
“Some in-laws may seem to be invasive, but it potentially comes from a place of love and protection of the couple’s well-being,” says licensed clinical professional counselor Dr. Leslie Davis, Ph.D. “On the other hand, some in-laws simply want to be nosy if they lack trust in your decision regarding the partner you chose.”
How some in-laws typically overstep
You may have experienced your in-laws doing these nagging things:
- Calling too frequently
- Trying to discipline your children their way
- Challenging your parenting choices
- Giving your children things you don’t want them to have
- Questioning your decisions as a couple
- Inviting themselves over
Dealing with agitation from in-laws overstepping may just be the boost you need to take charge and tell them to back off a bit. Here’s how the experts recommend you do it.
How to tell your in-laws you need space
“We all need space sometimes, so it’s important to voice when this is needed,” Davis tells Romper. Silent frustration will only make things worse and may lead to a blow-up later. So take these steps to communicate how you’re feeling and what you need.
- First, talk with your partner about the boundaries you need. “It’s important for you and your partner to be on the same page about whatever boundaries are set,” Marschall says. Dealing with someone’s family is a sensitive space. “If one partner is requesting a boundary and the other thinks it is unnecessary, the message won't get through with a clear, united front.”
- Open the conversation with positivity. Begin by expressing appreciation for their help and support.
- Be specific about behaviors you aren’t comfortable with. Marschall says to be clear on if your in-laws are calling too often, stopping by unannounced, trying to control a choice, etc.
- Communicate your expectations. “Have a conversation with your in-laws about your household expectations,” Davis says. Tell them when it’s too late to call, or set boundaries for grandparents with not giving the kids too many sweets.
- End with an affirming statement. One example is to say, “We know you will respect our boundary because you love and support us.”
Having extended family to share life with is a great. But maintaining boundaries help you to keep a healthy relationship with your spouse and their family. “It’s not always easy, but it’s important to protect your space and your peace,” says Davis.
Dr. Amy Marschall, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist
Dr. Leslie Davis, Ph.D., licensed clinical professional counselor