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How to Establish Healthy Boundaries with Your In-Laws

How to Establish Healthy Boundaries with Your In-Laws

In order to have healthy, life-giving relationships with in-laws (or anyone), we have to continually pay attention to boundaries. 

David tells us in Psalm 16:6 that the Lord (the Father) has established his boundary lines, (space, territory) in pleasant or beautiful places. In other words, God intends for the places He gives us to dwell to be beautiful and pleasant. 

Our homes are one of these sacred places. They are the places set apart for us to establish and develop family. When couples get married, they are establishing a new family and they must determine what their sacred space looks and feels like. They must be willing to “leave and cleave” to one another. Boundary lines must be established with friends and family. Unfortunately, healthy relationships with family can be the most challenging to establish and form. If the in-laws are causing a disruption in this pleasantness, perhaps the boundary lines need to be evaluated or even established. 

Determine Boundaries Ahead of Time

Without a clear understanding by both spouses of the boundaries, it’s hard to communicate them to others. Oftentimes we don’t take the time to define our boundaries; then suddenly we realize that someone has overstepped them and we respond in anger. We withdraw and isolate from the relationship, or worse, cut it off altogether. Determining what the boundary lines are together is an important first step. Ask questions like:

  • How often will we visit your parents and my parents?
  • What holidays we will spend with whom?
  • What is the expectation of the parents? Will we choose to live according to their expectations or will we establish our own perimeters? 

These are just a launching pad, come up with your own exploratory questions to help you determine the boundary lines. 

Discuss Boundaries with Your Spouse

Discuss with your spouse before marriage what the boundaries are for in-laws. What are you comfortable with in visiting, what will be topics of discussion, etc. 

My daughter and I had to learn the hard way what some unproductive topics were to discuss. Having had a close relationship, I became her confidant when marital issues developed. I began to develop unforgiveness toward my son-in-law. Fortunately, my courageous daughter shared that she felt it wasn’t best for her marital relationship to share these things with me. I could remain a fan of their marriage, support her in her role as wife and mother, and honor my excellent son-in-law.  

Declare Boundaries to Your In-Laws

Communicate these boundaries with the in-laws if possible. Parents (I speak from experience) will often have expectations about holidays, visits, etc. Be sure to inform parents what your choices are to avoid problems down the road. 

My youngest daughter informed me before she was married that she and her new husband would not be joining either family on major holidays. It was important for them to be together, possibly travel, or establish their own family traditions. While this was very painful, it was their choice and I was so thankful to know this on the forefront so I could prepare myself for the upcoming holidays. 

I believe as a couple works together to establish these boundary lines, they should feel pleasant. The home is the space that should feel pleasant, safe, and beautiful. Without a couple agreeing and presenting a unified front, these boundaries will be difficult to establish and impossible to maintain. 

What happens when the in-laws don’t honor the boundaries?

Once again, we can look to David for counsel. His father-in-law tried to kill him. I can’t imagine it getting much worse than that. However, 

  • David never stopped honoring Saul. Time and time again, David had opportunities to kill, speak against, and usurp Saul, but David waited for God. 
  • David didn’t demand something from Saul. 
  • David also never backed down from who he was called to be. An uncooperative in-law does not change who you are as husband or wife. 
  • Michal supported and even saved David. This is important to note: Michal defended her husband, she protected him from her father. Sure, she lied to save her skin later, but we must recognize that she went the extra mile on behalf of her husband. I believe we cannot dismiss the importance of a couple walking in unity. 

Both of my daughters as needed presented a unified front with their husbands, protecting their marriage and oneness. The gift we can give to our children is the freedom for them to establish beautiful boundaries.

A Prayer to Establish Healthy Boundaries

Lord, thank you that Your desire is to establish our boundary lines as a family in pleasant places. We want what you have for us so speak to us about these boundaries with family and friends. Let us be one even as You God and the Son are one (John 17:26). In the midst of establishing these healthy boundaries, give us the grace and wisdom to walk this out honoring our fathers and mothers. Thank you for their leadership in our lives, we want to honor them and bless them in the midst of this. Teach us your ways, Lord. Give us eyes to see and a heart to discern what you are saying in regards to healthy boundaries, and give us grace to walk it out well. Amen.

Misty Honnold is the Founder and Director of the non-profit organization The Single MOM KC.  Misty equips, trains and empowers women to discover the source of their strength in Christ. She publishes a weekly blog on the website The Single MOM KC as well as freelances for other publications. She is working on her first book to be published in 2016; an autobiographical teaching of the Song of Solomon.

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