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Sheri & Bob Stritof

In-Laws and the Need for Boundaries

By May 29, 2007

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There are so many negative stereotypes when it comes to in-laws, it is great to see this article which shares stories of nice gestures of in-laws.

We think we all need to read more positive images of in-laws. Send us your positive in-law stories and read Jenna D. Barry's article on setting boundaries with in-laws.

Do you have helpful and supportive in-laws? Vote!
Do your in-laws create problems in your marriage? Vote!

Full Article: Growing a Strong Marriage: Tips for Dealing with In-laws by Jenna D. Barry

Related: More Articles & Resources About In-Laws

Growing a Strong Marriage: Tips for Dealing with In-Laws

Last spring I was trying to decide what to do about some green grass that had crept into my flower garden. To pull out the grass or not to pull out the grass…that was the question. I thought to myself, grass isn’t really a weed, but I don’t want it to grow where it is growing. Just then my husband walked up and made the profound statement “A weed is anything that grows where you don’t want it to grow.” I decided that he was a genius and pulled the grass out from around the flowers. Then to prevent the same problem from occurring again, I put in some decorative rocks to serve as a boundary between the flowers and the grass.

When it comes to relationships, a ‘weed’ is anything that gets in the way of maintaining a strong, healthy marriage. That day in my yard I realized that my marriage is like that flower garden and my in-laws are like the grass that had crept into it. Ever since I put in that boundary of rocks to keep the grass out of my flowers, it has been easier to maintain my flower garden. Likewise, ever since I established boundaries (AKA limits) with my in-laws, it has been easier to maintain a strong, healthy marriage.

You may have the most wonderful in-laws on earth but if you have not set any boundaries with them, then they may cross into territory where they don’t belong. Eventually this will take a toll on your marriage, as you may have already figured out. To have a strong marriage and a healthy relationship with your in-laws, you must set and maintain boundaries.

Setting boundaries is a way to protect what is most important to you. It’s a way to stay on alert and tackle problems early so that nothing creeps in and destroys your marriage. You can set boundaries with your in-laws about advice, money, phone calls, visits at their house, visits at your house, holidays, vacations, gossip, raising your kids, etc.

In a perfect world, you and your spouse will unite as a team in order to set effective boundaries with them. However, if you are not living in a perfect world, then you may need to gain your spouse’s loyalty so that he will make you a priority over his parents. (I realize that often the wife is the one who has difficulty transferring her loyalty, but I’m going to use the husband as an example here just to make the sentences easier to read).

It can be extremely difficult for a man to transfer his loyalty from his parents to his wife when he marries, especially if his parents try to make him feel guilty for doing so. He may want to transfer his loyalty to you but just doesn’t know how.

On that day when my husband and I were out in the back yard, he said, “I want to help you pull weeds but I can’t tell which plants are weeds and which ones aren’t.” I could’ve snapped at him saying, “I can’t believe you can’t tell which ones are weeds. If you loved me, you would know which ones were weeds and help me pull them.” Unfortunately when our in-laws cross our boundaries, we tend to snap at our husbands instead of lovingly explaining our needs. Be patient and persistent with your husband. Gently tell him what you would like for him to say and do in specific situations with his parents.

Used With Permission by Jenna D. Barry
Columnist and Author

March 20, 2008 at 11:29 pm
(1) Cindy Jackson says:

Great advice
You should write a book!

June 23, 2008 at 3:25 pm
(2) Gosa says:

Woow! Great, i learned something here…

July 8, 2008 at 2:18 am
(3) heather says:

This is very helpful. Now I will think of my in-laws less as weeds and more as annoying grass!

May 13, 2009 at 1:30 am
(4) Jenna D. Barry says:

Thanks for the positive comments, ladies! You are an encouragement to me. Cindy, I DID write a book! It’s called “A Wife’s Guide to In-laws: How to Gain Your Husband’s Loyalty Without Killing His Parents.” Check out my website at http://www.WifeGuide.org.

March 27, 2010 at 1:46 pm
(5) Olasunkanmi Oluwadara says:

Practical and life-applicable words! Really appreciates your contribution.

April 2, 2010 at 2:38 pm
(6) Laura says:

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June 3, 2010 at 3:49 am
(7) Louise says:

Of all the thousands of things I have read about in-laws, this most eloquently and succintly describes my situation. I have sent this to my husband and asked him to send it to his parents. If he doesn’t, I will. It may be too late for my husband and me, but it might not have been if I’d found this earlier. I am profoundly grateful to the woman who wrote this. It considers this complex situation from all perspectives.

July 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm
(8) SOLO says:

WELL, in my case it is a sister who mixes in, spreads our personal info to third parties and makes our situation generally worse.

what really hurts is that my wife, while admitting that it causes problems, isnt really willing to put her loyalty to our marriage first.

September 21, 2010 at 10:10 am
(9) Mary says:

I literally gasped when I read the title to your book. I’m pretty sure I’ve asked myself how to do that in very similar language. Thank you!

October 8, 2010 at 9:54 am
(10) Monique Hemphill says:

I have the same problem as Solo. It is my husband’s sister who is jealous and attempts to mix in but I have blocked her completely and my husband’s father is the same way. I don’t like to be around them at all. I don’t speak to them and they are not allowed to come to my home and I like it this way. I feel sorry for my husband sometimes but they would make our lives hell if it wasn’t like this.

October 25, 2010 at 6:51 am
(11) liz says:

Hello to all!
My problem is that my husband does EVERYTHING for his parents – grass, leaves, cleans pool, shovels snow, changes oil in cars, general up keep at their house (big house on 1 acre) and also is the handy man when something breaks down.
By now it’s just expected of him.
We have been married for 7 yrs and I can’t even tell you how many times he leaves me & our 3 kids to go over to his parents and work around the house for hours! I have spoken to him numerous times about this and how it makes me feel like our family is second but it does me no good. He continues to do the same things over and over. He says that I don’t understand that his parents are old (mom 67, dad 79)
His parents call to say they are “coming over.” They don’t call to ask if it’s ok to come over – they call to say they are around the corner or on their way. What if I don’t feel like having company? I can’t explain to you how disappointing this situation is.
If they call the house and I don’t answer they will keep calling & calling until I pick up. One day I had 6 missed calls on my cell phone, 4 calls at my home # and 1 text message! This is all within a 3 hr span. If they can’t reach me they drive over the house and ask “why I didn’t answer” or “what” was I doing that I couldn’t pick up the phone.
I hope my husband comes around and understands how I feel and how this is affecting our marriage…otherwise I don’t know what I’ll do.
I don’t want to be rude/nasty to my inlaws but I am truly lost!

October 31, 2011 at 9:54 pm
(12) Patrick says:

I wish there was more advice for husbands who have wives that won’t unite with them. I see a lot of advice for women, which I just can’t relate to :/ I live with my Mother in law because she has MS, but everything she does annoys me. I have tried so hard to ignore it, but I am slowly feeling disgusted by the fact that I basically married her and my wife. I just want to be with my wife and kids everyday. Maybe I’m just too selfish. I eat dinner with my mother in law every single day and I have to listen to her chew her food :( I was raised not to eat like a cow. What do I do? Eat in another room? If I did, my wife would go along with it, but make sure I feel bad about it every day. My mother in law also doesn’t speak very well, because she’s not very educated, and because she spends so much time with my son when I’m at work, he is picking up some of the words that she says like winda, instead of window, warsher, instead of washer, and arra, instead of arrow, and pilla, instead of pillow, and punkin, instead of pumpkin, potota, instead of potato. I’m afraid I’m going to lose my mind. I keep hearing the advice to simply “pray”. I sure do hope it’s God’s will that something gets better, and sooner rather than later. It’s been 2 years so far.

February 2, 2012 at 10:57 am
(13) June says:

This article was very helpful. Thanks so much!

February 29, 2012 at 12:30 am
(14) Just-A says:

@Patrick, I hope your situation has improved by now. I feel your pain!

I’m a newlywed living with inlaws, it was supposed to be a month, but the contract on the house we were getting fell through. 8 months later still here. And, I have been cheerful and welcoming, until she finger wagged in my face how I’m not gonna keep a husband if I don’t want to learn to cook and she has this gift of cooking that she wants to bestow upon me… Anyway, I’ve closed off and been “disrespectful” as my husband puts it by avoiding them everytime they’re here. What’s worse is that they had an idea to save money (why??? both they and we can afford to live on our own, so why???), to buy a house where they have an apartment and we have the main house. They asked my opinion of this permanent living arrangement while walking out the door to sign the papers with the agent without stopping for my response. So, this temporary hell is going to be permanent. My husband thinks if I think positively it will work, and all the cost efficiencies, blah, blah. I believe he is sacrificing our marriage because he is doing what his parents want. Now, I am a Christian woman, and God has spanked me for bad attitudes through this “season”, but I signed up to submit to my husband, not to his parents. I am willing to fall under the wings of my husband’s leadership, but he’s not being a leader. He wants this darn house with them. I have been the dripping rain of a contentious woman to him… not good. So, I have to follow 1 Peter 3 and be meek to win him over. It seems the more I scream, cry, plead, beg, explain, complain, whine… you get the picture, the more he resists. So, new strategy. Be captivating to my husband where he wants to please me. I only have 2 weeks to closing. Pray I can do it!

April 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm
(15) Nadia says:

You provided a great comparison. Thank you! Will share this w/ other people. I run a site on south Asian in-laws do this is great!

July 1, 2012 at 8:27 am
(16) Kelli says:

Makes great sence! What about a ‘defencive husband’, when it comes to his family and setting those boundaries, together…?

November 23, 2012 at 11:23 am
(17) NIkolas says:

Very good article.
My wife and I have had In-law problems for years.
The analogy of weeds is very appropriate. parental relationships and loyalties run very deep.
Patience is key.
Thank you

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