Parents and in-laws can play a big role in marital satisfaction. The boundaries you set, or don’t set, will impact your relationship in many ways. A lack of boundaries can certainly cause a lot of marital strife and sadly, can lead to divorce.
There are lots of reasons why people don’t set boundaries with their parents. Sometimes it is a lack of understanding of healthy boundaries. Someone who grew up in a really enmeshed family may not think it’s intrusive for his parents to want to be involved in the major decisions in the marriage. However, if his spouse has different ideas, it can lead to a lot of conflict.
Sometimes people don’t set boundaries out of guilt. For example, “I don’t want to tell my mother she can’t come over every day because she’s lonely and I’d feel bad.” In other cases it is out of fear. For example, “I don’t want to tell my Dad he can’t go with us to the bank because he’ll be mad.”
Although allowing your parents to cross boundaries may help you try to keep the peace in the short-term, it’s likely to have long-term consequences. A couple can’t truly be a couple if there are other people involved in their decisions. A healthy marriage requires privacy and intimacy, which aren’t possible when there aren’t healthy family boundaries.
1. Financial Boundaries
Allowing your parents to be involved in your finances once you’re married can be disastrous. Although it often starts with the best of intentions, it can turn sour quickly. For example, if your parents loan you a few thousand dollars to help you get a new car, pretty soon they may want to know how you can afford to go to the movies if you haven’t paid them back yet.
How much you make, the type of debt you have and your personal budget doesn’t need to be anyone else’s business. If you and your spouse agree to talk to a parent in confidence to ask for advice or to get a little help with your taxes, make sure you are both on board with what that might mean.
If your parents are constantly trying to convince you that you can’t afford that apartment or that you don’t really need that new vacuum cleaner, it’s going to lead to conflict in the marriage. As a couple, you need to be able to make financial decisions together without pressure or outside influence that isn’t welcome.
2. Emotional Boundaries
Once you get married, your spouse should be your major confidante and source of emotional support. However, some people still turn to their parents to be their main source of support when there’s a problem or when they need advice. This will certainly prevent you and your spouse from having a truly intimate relationship.
For example, if you are worried about your job, talk to your spouse, not your mom. Or if you’re excited you just got offered a raise, make sure your first call is to your spouse and not your parents. These sorts of things truly help separate your relationship with your spouse from your other relationships.
Your partner needs to be the person who gives you the most support. There should certainly be other fans in your life who cheer you on and help you out, but your spouse should be your go-to person. If your parents are used to fulfilling those needs for you, it can be tricky at first to change the focus to your spouse but if you keep setting limits, over time, it gets easier.
3. Physical Boundaries
Physical boundaries include things like your physical space, which may be your home or your apartment and your time. Families with poor boundaries may have parents who camp out at their house for extended periods of time while uninvited or who take up a lot of your spare time.
Obviously, there may be reasons why these boundaries need to be changed at times. If you’ve fallen on hard times and need to move into your parents’ basement for a bit, you may find those physical boundaries a bit blurred. Or if you have elderly parents who need a lot of help, it’s likely that they’ll take up a lot of your time.
However, it’s important to set limits that you and your spouse are comfortable with. If you don’t want your mother-in-law doing your laundry, speak up and talk about it with your spouse. Or if you don’t want your parents showing up at your house every night, set some boundaries that will help you to have some private time together with your spouse.