Heather Gray doesn't think your marriage has to resemble a sitcom scene. You really can get along.
So, what happens when…
- Your mother-in-law babysits the kids for the day and you realize she re-organized your kids' closets without asking you first?
- You are getting settled on the couch for some TV time and your spouse’s sister calls, interrupting your couple time for the third night in a row?
- Your father-in-law comes over for a visit and makes sly comments about home improvement projects you've done?
- You want to host Thanksgiving dinner but you can’t get the families to agree because it’s always been done a different way?
Relationships can be tricky enough to manage when it's just the two of you! Once you have to start navigating around the needs and behaviors of those around you, it's easy for tension to erupt in your relationship despite the fact that neither one of you are the problem!
The most important thing to remember as you deal with this is that it isn't your partner who is disrespecting your boundaries! Too often, we start the interaction by lumping our spouse with the offending family member: "Do you know what your mother did?" "What does your sister want now? You two didn't run out of things to talk about yet?" Sound familiar?
1. Remember that staying on the same team with your spouse will make everything easier. If you put yourselves on opposite sides, you now have conflict with two people — your spouse and the offending person. Join with your spouse on the issue.
2. Rather than starting with an accusation, start with your upset and why it bothers you. Don't assume at the outset that your spouse agrees with whatever the mother-in-law did. "Hon, I've got to talk to you about something. While we were out, your mom apparently re-arranged the kids' clothes. I had them organized by outfits so they could just pull out whole outfits from the closet and she just went ahead and put all the shirts together and all the bottoms together."
3. Remember that when you marry, you marry into someone else's family. I know. Stating the obvious. However, what this means is, like it or not, you are in some kind of relationship with your in-laws. It may be as close as one in your own family or it might be distant and cordial. Regardless, if it's possible to manage your disagreement with just the offending party and not involve your spouse, that is usually best, at least to start. The more people involved in a conflict, the bigger deal it becomes and the more drama gets added. Keep Reading ...
4. Let your spouse know your intent and plan for managing the situation. Call your mother-in-law. Explain that you noticed the change in closet organization and why it bothered you. Using clear language, set the boundary. Explain that you appreciate her help with the kids but that you need her to respect that you will organize your home as you see fit.
5. It won't always seem appropriate or make sense for you to manage the conflict personally. In the case of repeated phone calls interrupting couple time, you're upset with the sister for calling but your spouse is also answering the phone and having the conversation.
6. Work it out with your spouse first. "I don't know if you've realized it or not but this is the third night in the row your sister has called right as we were starting to spend time together. I'm feeling frustrated that I keep losing time with you. Can we work something out about this?" The two of you might decide that calls go to voicemail during couple time. You might decide to just let the sister know that calling after 9 pm isn’t really a good idea.
7. You can disagree about the solution. You can't disagree about the hurt. When our spouses accuse our loved ones of something, it's easy to become defensive. Sometimes, we know our family's good intent and we feel compelled to protect them because the upset feels like an accusation. Sometimes we also know that our family is difficult to work with and get along with. It's tempting to want to plead with our spouses to just let something go so it "doesn’t have to become a big deal." In either scenario, we are risking deeper hurt if we don't validate the feelings and hurt.
Telling your spouse that a re-arranged closet is "not worth fighting about." or that the two of you "are only watching TV so what does it matter if a phone rings" is a sure-fire way to marital conflict. You may not understand why your spouse is bothered but disregarding the hurt is disrespectful. Validate the hurt and work toward a solution.
8. Boundaries are like rules. For some, they are made to be broken. Life never happens by text book and contrary to what click-bait tells you, relationship issues can rarely be solved in "just a few steps". Repeat offenders can quickly get between you and your spouse unless you decide ahead of time what the boundary is and how you'll both respond if it’s broken again. Keep Reading ...
9. Make a plan that protects the relationship. If the mother-in-law continues to intervene where she isn't wanted, have a plans for how you will address this as a couple. It may involve a conversation between your spouse and his/her mother. It may mean you both stop relying on her for babysitting if she can’t respect your boundaries. Come together on a plan that meets both of your needs. Listen to the feelings and how each of you are experiencing this and then decide on a plan.
10. Remaining on opposite sides of the fence makes it easier for others to cut through your yard. Stay united and manage things as a couple. Family and friends will start to see this and understand this about you. They'll either respect the boundary or they won't. Either way, your marriage will be just fine.
By Heather Gray
More from Good Men Project:
- 11 Things Happy Couples Avoid
- Be The Greatest Lover She's Ever Known
10 'Ifs' For a Happy, Loving Relationship