The Benefits of Boundaries

by Katie Faulkner

The in-law relationship is unlike any other. Consequently, it doesn’t come with established standards.  Needless to say, deciphering the best ways to approach this relationship can be tricky. But most experts agree, one key to maintaining a healthy relationship with in-laws is establishing boundaries. Here, Dr. Brandon Santan with Lighthouse Counseling Center offers his expert insight into this unique relationship and the natural steps to creating boundaries.

Dr. Brandon Santan Licensed Professional Counselor Lighthouse Counseling Center chattanooga

Dr. Brandon Santan Licensed Professional Counselor Lighthouse Counseling Center

The Healthy Role In-laws Play in Your Life:

In-laws can be a beneficial addition to any family unit. There is ample evidence that in-laws offer a strong source of support, can influence the quality of the romantic relationship, and greatly benefit the lives of their grandchildren with their presence. So maintaining a respectful and friendly relationship is advantageous for everyone.

Unfortunately, that isn’t always easy. Dr. Santan confirms, “The most common concerns I hear are typically related to in-laws who are overinvolved and/or a spouse who has difficulty individuating from his or her family of origin.” So how can boundaries help maintain this beneficial relationship?

The Importance of Establishing Boundaries:

These boundaries – around privacy, finances, parenting choices, or something else – are to serve as a protection to your newly established family unit, never a punishment to your in-laws. Dr. Santan advises to be proactive and to remember that setting boundaries won’t be just a onetime occurrence.

“In-laws that are overinvolved can actually harm the relationship, because the relationship needs to be able to function as a separate unit,” Dr. Santan explains. “When you recognize the need to protect something within the relationship (goals, money, self, time, relationships, etc.), it’s time to consider establishing a boundary.”

Supporting Spouses:

“Ultimately, each spouse should take the lead with his or her own parents, but a collaborative approach works best when establishing boundaries,” Dr. Santan explains.

He also emphasizes that keeping communication open and kind between spouses is vital. “Most people are attached to their family of origin, so an attack on our parents feels like an attack on us. We often take it personally.” When voicing concerns about in-laws, it’s helpful to start with positives and ask questions rather than making accusations. “One should work to reassure their spouse that he or she is the priority,” he says.

Boundaries to In-Laws:

Next, you and your partner should agree on a plan to establish boundaries with your parents and in-laws. Presenting a united front makes a stronger impression and diminishes friction.

Ultimately, no matter how you decide to handle these situations, some basic guiding principles should always be present in your approach:

Be respectful.

Regardless of the emotion of the situation, Dr. Santan reminds us that interactions with in-laws should always be grounded in respect for them as parents of your spouse, and respect for them as people. Always make requests, not demands. Maintain kindness and honesty.

Respond rather than react.

Reacting from emotion often backfires and weakens your position. Take time to defuse and consider all perspectives as you form a more thoughtful response.

Be clear and assertive.

State your needs and preferences clearly, without qualifiers and excuses. Be kind, but leave no room for misinterpretation.

Practice patience and understanding.

“In-laws have to accept new information and integrate it before they can be willing to make a change,” Dr. Santan reminds us.

Keep the lines of communication open.

Everyone involved should feel safe and free to speak their mind respectfully.

Refrain from blaming.

When in doubt, ask questions. Pointing fingers immediately puts the other party on the defensive.

Take ownership of your perspective.

Clarity comes from owning your perspective. You don’t have to justify it – take ownership by using “I” statements, such as, “I prefer for you to let the baby sleep rather than disturb
her nap.”

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