Setting boundaries when your in-laws are toxic

All Woman

“HIS mother came to our house to babysit and while we were at work she searched through our safe, found my birth certificate, saw that I was born in Clarendon, and when my husband got home she told him that she knew I had 'tied' him because people from Clarendon deal in obeah,” Francine, a new mother shared.

“If that wasn't bad enough, he told me that his uncle, a preacher, prophesied over him in church where he'd gone for another family member's baptism, and said he envisioned him dying, and if he didn't leave me, he would surely perish.

“And still, if those weren't enough, while I was travelling the entire clan held a family meeting where they surrounded my husband and told him that he had been looking unhappy lately, and if his marriage was so unhappy he should leave! While he laughed these things off, I'm still livid!”

Why do her in-laws hate Francine?

“Because I didn't invite all of them to the wedding as we couldn't afford to, and worst, I'm one of Jehovah's Witnesses and I'm trying to convert him!”

When you marry someone you automatically inherit their family. For some men and women, this addition to their family is a blessing – for others though, not so much.

This is because in-laws can be meddling, pushy, over-involved and downright toxic, which can be a source of unnecessary strain especially for new couples. To push back against this kind of negative, unhealthy influence on your relationship, marriage and family therapist Wayne Powell says boundaries are important.

“Couples must establish and maintain boundaries with in-laws, especially when the relationship between them and the couple is toxic. As a matter of fact, the behaviour of some in-laws should be outlawed. Boundaries are like invisible walls or more like guidelines that will guide how the couple interacts with you, the level of interaction that you will have with them, or the amount of influence you will have in their nuclear family,” Powell explained.

If your in-laws have toxic tendencies and you are over them, Powell says that it is time to have a serious talk with them. Below, he shares how you should go about this:

Have a grown-up conversation with your in-laws

In-laws can be very disrespectful – some may be verbally abusive, disrespect your space, gossip about you, intentionally try to make you feel bad, or deliberately ignore you. You and your spouse should never tolerate this and this must be made clear. The best approach may be to have your spouse approach his parent(s), however, if following their discussions the mistreatment continues, you should have a conversation with your in-law(s). If they refuse to see reason or continue to treat you the same way, make it clear that you will no longer tolerate that kind of treatment and as such will stay away from any family gatherings that they are a part of. Also, until they get their act together, they should not be welcomed in your home.

Make it clear that while you may consider their input, all parental decisions will be made by you and your partner.

Many grandparents are usually ready to take on parenting the moment a grandchildren come into the picture. Some of them will disregard your instructions simply because they have done it before. Powell says that this is toxic and young couples must guard against in-laws who want to impose their parenting styles on rearing the grandchildren. He explains that parenting is a trial and error process that the young couple will learn how to raise kids in the 21st century and should be allowed to make mistakes and not be imposed on by in-laws.

Make it clear that you want to deal with things on your own

For some reason, in-law think that they have it all figured out and they know what is right because you promised their son “for better or worse”. But there is no place for parents who interfere in the lives of couples and try to impose their will and ideas on the couple. Couples must take a stand against such intrusion from the first attempt so that the parents know what will be tolerated or will not be.

“For example, the man who allows his mother to dictate how his wife should cook his food or clean the house is not allowing his partner the opportunity to establish herself in the role of wife and determine her operating procedures,” Powell reasoned.

Be firm, but respectful

If you are going to have a conversation with your in-laws, you always want to maintain a firm but respectful tone. This way you can get your point across without any hostility, or at least none from your end. So, for example, even if your father is retired and is just naturally helpful, ask him to stand down so that your husband can fix the pipes in his home or address the security system that you have in place because that is his job unless he says it's okay to get your father's assistance. Don't just allow your dad to take charge of the manly duties in your household; it may cause your husband to feel that you don't think he is a competent man.

Stand by decisions made by you and your spouse

The moment your in-law begin to carry stories to and from your partner, it's time to nip it in the bud, otherwise you will find yourselves constantly arguing. So if it's a subject you have not yet discussed, say, 'I cannot comment on that now allow me to speak to my husband'. Also, once you decide on something, both parties should stay true to the decision.

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