The scary way your in-laws affect your marriageYou must draw healthy boundaries between yourself and his folks. Your marriage depends on it.
Not exactly besties with your mother-in-law?
It might be a good thing. Keeping your husband's parents at arm's length could be good for your marriage, according to an article scheduled to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Family Relations.
Researchers followed 373 couples since they were first wed in 1986. In each couple, both the husband and wife rated how close they felt to their in-laws on a scale of one to four. Researchers tracked the couples over time and collected data, including whether or not the couples stayed together. Marriages in which the wife reported having a close relationship with her in-laws had a 20 percent higher risk of divorce than couples where the wife didn't report a close relationship. Conversely, marriages where the husband reported being close with his in-laws had a 20 percent lower probability of separation than couples where the husband reported a relationship that wasn't as close. (Pre-wedding jitters can also predict divorce rates. Find out How Much Relationship Doubt is Healthy.)
Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., lead researcher and author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship, says the discrepancies in gender come down to how men and women view relationships differently. "When a wife sees that her husband is really trying to bond with her family, she interprets it as a sign of love--he's trying to be close with them because it's important to her," says Orbuch.
But when wives devote time to their husbands' parents, it doesn't always have the same result. "If a woman is spending lots of time improving the relationship with her in-laws, she may have a difficult time setting emotional boundaries," says Orbuch. "And often, when you get too close, you might interpret whatever your in-laws say as interference or meddling."
Want to give your marriage a fighting chance? The key is to create healthy boundaries. These guidelines will help you lay the right foundation:
Draw the Lines (with Your Spouse) Beforehand
Everyone has a different idea of what's normal in terms of the parent-child relationship, says Andrea Syrtash, author of Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband). So make sure to discuss with your spouse what makes you uncomfortable and how much interaction with his folks you would prefer. And the rules may be different for each set of parents, Syrtash points out. Your husband may want to give his dad a spare key to your house so he can drop by to "help out" with chores. But you may prefer to live three states away from your parents and only see them on special occasions. Chances are you probably won't be on the same page when it comes to the role you want your parents to play, but at least you'll know where the other person stands. Also, when he knows what you're comfortable with, he'll be better able to help you police those lines. (Are you shacking up with your partner's family over the holidays? Learn How to Survive Your In-Laws.)
Let Him Do the Dirty Work
If there's an issue with his parents, ask your husband to handle it first. This strategy has a dual benefit: It guarantees that he's the primary guardian of the relationship with them, rather than you; and also, it helps avoid unnecessary additional conflict due to misunderstandings--he knows them best, after all, Syrtash says. To get him on board, try to position your complaint in a way where you are asking for his help without necessarily blaming his folks (for instance: "I want to be close with your parents, but sometimes I feel like they don't understand me.") "As long as your spouse knows that you want the relationship to improve, he'll be more receptive to helping get things on track," she says.
Avoid talking about your marriage with your in-laws, Orbuch says. Especially avoid talking about troubles between you and their son, because it can open up a line of communication (either critical or "helpful") that isn't appropriate. If one of them baits you, make a joke to deflect the comment, Syrtash advises. Say his dad mentions something about how your husband doesn't know how to raise kids--you can come back with a lighthearted response like, "One reason I love him is because he's a big kid himself! We're all learning." Vent to your friends if you have to get something off your chest. (Navigating the relationship with your in-laws is one challenge spouses face. Here's How to Solve 5 Common Marriage Problems.)
Prepare Your Responses
If your in-laws frequently say offensive things, or make you feel as if they're meddling or judging your lifestyle, prepare responses to their common quips in advance of seeing them. "Instead of being defensive, respond with a simple answer and move on to another topic, or shift focus to someone else at the table," Syrtash says. "If that's not easy to do, politely excuse yourself." Understand that some people will just push your buttons, and it's up to you whether you choose to rise to the bait. The more you respond, the more enmeshed you might get--and sometimes, it's best to simply refuse to engage.
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