After intimacy and money, in-laws are the #1 issue couples argue about. Are you in the “sandwich generation” caring for your own kids and your elderly parents or in-laws…under one roof? This doesn’t mean your marital relationship needs to feel like it’s been put in a pressure cooker. Read on to learn five key tips for keeping sane — and staying happily married — when parents move in.
Make your marriage a priority. Your primary allegiance is to your spouse. If you’re spending most of the time with parents, or if you allow them to meddle, your marriage will suffer. Nurture your relationship by going out together – just the two of you. Don’t feel that you have to stay up till bedtime entertaining in-laws. Plan vacations that don’t include them. If you’re worried that prioritizing your marriage will hurt parents’ feelings, remember: if your marriage is on the rocks, no one in the house will feel secure.
Run interference with your own parents. No matter how much your spouse likes your parents, it’s inevitable that tensions will arise. If your wife is frustrated that your mother rushes to strike up a conversation the minute she walks into the house, or insists on being sous chef at dinner time, you must be the one to set limits. She’s your mother, after all, and not respecting your wife’s feelings will cause her to resent your mom – and you. Take Mom aside and tell her, gently, that your wife doesn’t always have time for a long conversation, or prefers to prepare meals without assistance. This will assure your wife that she comes first, and lessen opportunities for conflict between her and your mother.
Don’t triangulate. Triangulation occurs when two people form an allegiance and leave the other person out or override them. If you’re frustrated by your husband, it may be tempting to vent to his mother – especially if she’s frustrated with him too – but don’t do this! Aligning with an in-law against a spouse is a surefire way to rock your household. If you have children, they may take sides as well (and maybe not yours). Before you know it, your home turns into a battleground. The only third party that should be invited to solve problems between you and your spouse is a therapist.
Be clear about expectations and family rules. Tell parents what your house rules are. Providing a written list will eliminate confusion and help enforce your expectations. Include items such as: children’s bedtime, chores, and meal options; lights off when you leave the house; unless there’s an emergency, you and your spouse are not to be disturbed after 10 p.m. If you have kids, be sure in-laws understand their role in discipline, and if they are allowed to discipline, what methods are used.
Hold weekly family meetings. Having regular family meetings is a great way to keep the lines of communication open, air grievances, and solve problems. You and your spouse are in charge of leading the meeting. Begin with positive comments – you appreciate your in-laws’ babysitting; you’re grateful that your mother made dinner last week when you were ill; your father-in-law’s jokes crack you up. Invite your parents (and kids, if you have them) to share their sparkling moments as well. Then move on to issues that need to be resolved. Problem-solving together will help your parents feel that they’re part of the family. Ask for their suggestions, but be sure they know that you and your spouse have the final say.
When parents and adult children combine households, it can also create certain legal issues. Should your parents pay you rent? What will happen if your parents require medical care? Can your parents become guardians to your children should something happen to you? What about the sharing of household expenses, like taxes or a new roof? Informal agreements may be in place about who takes out the garbage or who washes the dishes. But for these other issues, talk to your attorney about what legal agreements might be appropriate for your situation. A little pre-planning now can go a long way to keep the peace in the future.
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