Advice for Couples: Dealing with Boundary Crossing In-Laws

Now that the holiday season is almost here, let’s talk In-laws…

I can’t tell you how many clients come to me with problems related to their parents or parents-in-law.

For instance, one woman felt pressure to go into debt and buy very expensive gifts for her husband’s parents because the parents spent so much money on her children. I told her to stick to her budget and not change her behavior based on someone else’s. I also asked her to have her husband tell his parent’s they didn’t want their children spoiled with such expensive gifts.

Yesterday, I was watching Dr. Phil and there was a woman that had to be the most intrusive and mean person I’ve ever seen on television. I kept thinking it had to be an act. She hated her daughter’s choice of a husband and made sure she told everyone…every 30 seconds.

Dr. Phil threatened to take her off-stage so he could talk to her daughter. He added this great advice:

When there’s trouble in a marriage, it’s your job to handle your people.

In other words, the wife needs to deal with the trouble-makers in her family and set firm boundaries with them, and the husband should to do the same with his family.

Then he told the young woman,

Your people are out of control!

Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project just happened to post on this same subject today. Here’s another article I wrote about managing holiday stress.

What advice would you give newlyweds for dealing with boundary-crossing inlaws? What advice would you offer for dealing with holiday stress? 

Boundaries vs. Walls

Have you ever had a situation where you felt frustrated by another person. Perhaps you told a friend you wouldn’t be able to do something and they got angry or gave you the cold shoulder. The great thing about being a grown-up is that you get to make these decisions about your life.

Some people have a hard time with others who set boundaries. It could be because they themselves never learned how.

Past traumas and violations result in people having no boundaries or putting up walls. Healthy boundaries only exist if people believe they have a right to set limitations with others; if they value themselves enough to set perameters around situations that make them feel bad or unsafe.

But one thing is clear, people tell you a lot about themselves by how they handle the boundary you set. If people don’t respect the boundaries you set, you have the right to instill a consequence. Perhaps you distance yourself from the friendship or disconnect altogether.But let me be clear….

A boundary is not a wall.

It is a line in the sand — a line you draw around yourself that protects the pain and suffering of the past from perpetuating itself.

It is a stance that calls for action on your part if it is not honored.

It is a statement of what you will do, what you have chosen, and what will be the outcome on your part, whether or not the other person gets the help or makes the changes needed.

Walls are used to make demands on the other person, or to nag him about the changes he must make.

This approach merely causes the other person to  build more defenses and do the opposite of what you want.  It is not effective.

A boundary works much more positively. It challenges the other person to drop the defenses and look at what needs to be changed.

-material taken from Walking Into Walls by Stephen Arterburn

When was the last time you had to set a boundary? How did it go? 

Here’s a helpful article that gives more information.