It goes without saying that when you get married you marry the whole family too. No one wants overbearing in-laws, but it’s quite common to experience difficulties at some point in the relationship. Although, occasional conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s how you react to the situation that truly matters. 

Get off on the right foot with your in-laws by setting clear and healthy boundaries. If you don’t establish boundaries with in-laws early on, you may end up with overly intrusive ones and nobody wants that. So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to set healthy boundaries with in-laws. 

Learning how to set healthy boundaries with in-laws

How to Set Healthy Boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries with in-laws should be viewed in a good light. It’s a fantastic way to maintain balance in your relationship by providing peace of mind and honoring your space. All in all, this will help to strengthen your family bond for years to come. 

Set clear expectations early on

It is crucial to discuss and set clear expectations with your spouse early on in the relationship. Especially if you have children, you’ll want to take the initiative to write out what you and your spouse are comfortable with when it comes to the in-laws on both sides. Having this discussion early on will allow you to establish healthy boundaries with your in-laws and properly handle any challenges that may arise in the future. 

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Get on the same page

It’s nearly impossible to establish clear boundaries with in-laws if you and your spouse are not in sync. If one of you starts being more accommodating than the other or letting things slide from what you previously discussed, find a way to get back onto the same page. You and your spouse must be united on the decisions you make and stand firm on those decisions. No matter what. 

Be optimistic 

Movies and entertainment have primed us to believe all in-laws are toxic and overbearing. Well, that’s just not the case. Many people expect their new in-laws to be too controlling, opinionated, or disrespectful. However, having this negative mindset going into the relationship can be detrimental. Instead, be mindful, remain optimistic, and plan for the best. 

Keep an open line of communication

When issues arise it’s important to communicate with your spouse. Take time to listen and hear their position on the situation. You may be able to compromise or find another solution to the problem. The same goes for keeping boundaries with in-laws. If you find them breaking a rule or boundary, be assertive and communicate this with them. It may take time, but you will find a level of mutual respect as time goes on. 

Don’t take things personally

We’re all allowed to have our thoughts and opinions, so take each moment with a grain of salt. If your in-laws are being critical of your parenting or your spouse, respectfully acknowledge their thoughts and feelings on the matter. But, also know that you don’t have to do what they say. 

Find common ground 

Our parents grew up in a different generation. They are different people and they have different ways and methods of doing things. Try to be open and empathetic to what they need. Find common ground and shared interests so you can get to know them on a deeper level. You can be thoughtful and compassionate while still maintaining boundaries with in-laws. 

Have your spouse speak with their parents. 

If you’re constantly having issues, it’s probably time for your spouse to have a chat with their parents. Sometimes it’s easier to discuss these things with your child. Especially if tensions are high. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page before the discussion takes place. You’ll want to remain united on your decisions to avoid future confrontations. 

Now that we’ve outlined how to set boundaries, let’s talk about the specific list of boundaries for in-laws. 

Setting a specific list of boundaries with in-laws

List of Boundaries for In-Laws

Laying the groundwork at the start of your marriage and when children arrive is a great way to help you manage overbearing in-laws. The last thing you want is to be setting rules during or after an incident that you’re not comfortable with. This will cause more tension between you and your in-laws and potentially your spouse. Here are some helpful tips to get you started. 

Encourage an open line of communication

Communication is always key. By encouraging an open line of communication between you and your spouse and between you and your in-laws, you can help keep the peace long term. If a situation arises that you don’t like or find uncomfortable, take a moment to speak with your in-laws to acknowledge the situation and tell them why it makes you uncomfortable. Every relationship needs respect and honesty. By communicating your thoughts and needs regularly you are setting the foundation for a healthy and loving family dynamic. 

Shut down negativity and criticism immediately

No one likes to be spoken down to or criticized. If you start to notice negative or toxic behaviors about your relationship or spouse, shut it down. Do not let them disrespect you and walk all over you or this behavior will continue. Be assertive and stick up for your spouse! 

Establish guidelines of Rules for your children

Grandparents are known to shower their grandchildren with lots of love and spoil them rotten. They will adore your children and want to spend as much time with them as possible. And that’s ok! However, it’s essential to establish a set of rules and guidelines to respect concerning your children. This does not mean controlling your children in front of your in-laws. You don’t want to look like the bad guy. However, find time to pull your in-laws aside to have a discussion for future visits if necessary. 

Don’t be competitive

It’s only natural to be protective of your children and the relationship with your spouse, but don’t let your emotions get in the way. There’s absolutely no reason to be competitive with your in-laws. Instead, allow your spouse to spend quality time with their parents individually from time to time. This will help to remove or diffuse any competitive attitudes immediately. 

Don’t allow for manipulative or abusive behavior 

Not all in-laws have toxic behaviors, so it’s important to give them a chance first. However, if you begin to notice manipulative behavior from your in-laws take a step back to observe the situation before taking action. Maybe someone is trying to force you, your spouse, or your kids to choose sides. Do NOT entertain this kind of behavior. Set clear boundaries and encourage unconditional love instead. 

A large family enjoying a holiday vacation from setting healthy boundaries with in-laws

Set a visiting schedule and holiday expectations

Establishing a healthy pattern of visits and holiday gatherings can go a long way! If you promise to host a holiday meal or birthday one year, stick to it, and don’t let others attempt to change plans last minute. The same is true for unexpected visits. Your in-laws shouldn’t expect to show up unannounced and be greeted and welcomed in. We all have busy lives, so be sure to set the expectations early on to avoid future headaches and confrontations. 

Don’t accept favors with strings attached 

A simple favor or kind gesture may come with strings attached. While it’s fine for them to offer support now and then, pay close attention to what’s being offered before you accept. That all-inclusive paid vacation may sound great to you right now, but at what cost? 

Your house, your rules! 

This rule should go without saying, but sometimes others need a reminder. Start setting clear boundaries with overbearing in-laws the first time they visit your home. They wouldn’t expect you to control things in their household! Make it clear from the beginning what you will and won’t allow to take place in your home. Period. 

No interfering with personal matters

Some matters should remain private between you and your spouse. If you ask for an opinion, now that’s a different story. If not, they need to respect your boundaries and not interfere unless asked to. Be proactive in speaking with your spouse about whether or not you’re comfortable with certain information being shared with the extended family. 

Don’t project your anger toward your spouse

It’s not your spouse’s fault that their Mother is annoying you. The last thing you want to do is cause tension and harm within your relationship. If you’re upset, take a moment to walk away and cool down. When you’re calmer, talk to your partner about what upset you and how you can address it if the situation persists. Getting angry and projecting this anger onto your spouse won’t solve the problem. 

Let them spend alone time with the kids

When you start having kids, especially the first one, let them spend quality alone time with them. Not only does this give you some quality time alone or with your spouse, but it creates a beautiful bond between your kids and their grandparents. 

Maintaining A Healthy Relationship With Your In-Laws

The relationship you create with your Mother and Father-in-law is crucial to building a healthy environment for your family. It’s up to you to put in the effort and give them a real chance to show their true colors. No matter if they are delightful to be around or have toxic behaviors, make sure to set healthy boundaries with your in-laws early on. 

You can’t force people to get along so having boundaries with in-laws will help you garner respect and space when needed. If toxic patterns do persist, it may be crucial to distance yourself even further. Talk with your partner to discuss and maintain these boundaries on a regular basis. 

If you’re interested in learning more check out our workshop: How to Protect Your Marriage From Toxic In-Laws & Other Outside Influences


About the author 


Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

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