10 Ways to Build Better Boundaries with Your In-Laws
Setting boundaries with our families and in-laws seems like a new concept, but it is not. Throughout Scripture, God gives us boundaries. He shows us how far we can go and how we should live. If you are having trouble setting limits, whether as newlyweds or celebrating years of marriage, here are 10 ways to build better boundaries with your family and in-laws:
In the book, Boundaries: How to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend describe relationship boundaries: “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins...” In other words, boundaries help us live together peacefully, and in marriages, boundaries show where family and in-law borders end and where a couple begins.
Setting boundaries with our families and in-laws seems like a new concept, but it is not. Throughout Scripture, God gives us boundaries. He shows us how far we can go and how we should live. The Ten Commandments are God’s boundaries for our relationship with Him and with others. Staying within those godly boundaries keeps us safely in the confines of what is best, and we can model this design as an example for setting our personal boundaries.
For some couples, though, setting boundaries can be difficult. Change is never easy. The worst part of building boundaries is the time of readjustment, and sometimes hurt feelings result. But if a husband and wife can lovingly and firmly place limitations around their relationship, unity and peace will prevail. Building better boundaries says to our relatives, “My spouse and our relationship is important to me.”
If you are having trouble setting limits, whether as newlyweds or celebrating years of marriage, here are 10 ways to build better boundaries with your family and in-laws:
Look to God’s Design for Boundaries
The best instructions for setting appropriate boundaries are always found in God’s word, and a husband and wife are the first to learn about boundaries. “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In marriage, a husband and wife step over the boundaries set by their parents and enter into a relationship as one to build a new family.
The word “leaves” in this passage is a strong Hebrew word that means to forsake or abandon and “united” or “join” means to bond together or hold fast to. The husband and wife are to abandon the parental relationship and bond together as one in the marriage relationship. From that point, husbands and wives work together to build better boundaries with their in-laws and family.
Determine the Boundary Problem
To set appropriate boundaries, decide if boundaries are a problem for you and your spouse. Start with prayer, asking God for wisdom and guidance. Be sensitive to the needs of your spouse. Is he or she irritable when your parents or family drop in unexpectedly? Are you uncomfortable when your spouse provides your in-laws with too much information? Openly and honestly discuss without judgment where the lines need to be drawn to maintain harmony in your relationship.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)
Agree on the Boundaries
Once you determine there is an issue, as a couple, you work to agree on the appropriate boundaries. What is uncomfortable to one may be comfortable for the other. If in-laws dropping in unannounced is acceptable to one but not the other, try to find mutuality. You may not agree on what works and does not, but try to be open to compromise. Deciding on the boundaries together avoids future disagreements and frustration. In the end, setting appropriate family boundaries should help everyone live in harmony.
“Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.”(Proverbs 17:14)
Sitting down to dinner with his and her parents then dispensing a list of relationship commandments and rock-solid boundaries is hard to digest. Start small and add changes as the new in-law relationship grows. Keep in mind that by setting one limit, others may arise that need attention and adjustment. Like drops in a bucket, these small changes add up to a healthy, mutually respectful relationship.
“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16.3)
Find Common Ground
There may be times when setting boundaries requires everyone to participate. After determining the issue then agreeing on what is best as a couple, you may need to invite those on the other side of the fence to sit at the table. When building better boundaries, the strongest borders are those protected on both sides.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
Be Patient and Flexible
Changes are complicated, and no one gets it right immediately. Once borders to the relationship are established, expect “boundary-busting” to happen. As lovingly and gently as possible reiterate your boundary lines. If the “boundary-busting” continues, stand firm and try a different approach, but be prepared to apply consequences if necessary.
“The end of the matter is better than the beginning, and patience is better than pride.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
Prepare for Push Back
As in most relationships, not everyone agrees on the borderlines. Some in-laws and family members will not be receptive to changing the rules. Remain united and support each other when push-back starts. It can be easy to give in to parents, but the fallout in your marriage may be hard to mend. Be ready to hold fast to your decision for what is best for you and your spouse. If push-back and “boundary-busting” continues, do not be afraid to provide for consequences. It’s alright to say, “no.”
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Share the Love
Setting boundaries with in-laws and family does not mean cutting all ties. It means putting your marriage above all relationships except God. Attending family gatherings and occasional outings does not erase all of the work you have done in maintaining separate lives. Instead, your families see that you and your spouse want to include them in your life while you remain in control of your boundaries. In some situations, sharing your time and love with some in-laws is difficult but when possible, try to share your time.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
Be Direct but Kind
Scripture teaches that our words can do harm or good.“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). When explaining essential changes to your relationship to in-laws and family, choose kind words, but be direct and clear. Ensure everyone understands the need for and the benefit of having appropriate boundaries. You are not cutting family out. Instead, you are building better relationships.
“The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.” (Proverbs 17:27)
Reevaluate and Reaffirm Your Boundaries
Situations may arise where you must reevaluate or reaffirm your boundaries. The arrival of children requires discussing childrearing and assuring in-laws and family adhere to your parenting choices. And sometimes we all need a refresher on the details. Reaffirming your boundaries shows they remain important because you desire a healthy, happy relationship between you and your spouse and your in-laws and family.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
Growing as a family has enough challenges for both newlyweds and those in a well-lived marriage. Starting where you are and working to build better boundaries with in-laws and family, allows you to focus on what matters instead of on what makes matters worse.
Tamela Turbeville has a desire for every woman with a difficult past to know God loves them. She is wife to Richard, and mother to three grown sons and two beautiful daughter-in-law. When doing what she loves most-- studying God’s Word, reading and writing--she is surrounded by her six rescue dogs in her small office in south Arkansas. She began Living One Word to write and share how God redeems the unlovable and you can read more about Tamela, her journey, and her family at www.livingoneword.com, on Facebook, and Instagram.
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