The Bible, in 1 Corinthians 7:1-40, says: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” But what should you do when your partner hasn’t managed to leave and cleave?
Not all in-laws are interfering, but some are, and their over-involvement can undermine even the strongest of relationships. Relationship Coach John Kenny shares his advice on what to do when your in-laws get too involved, and when it’s a red flag.
Here are the most common signs of a parent that is becoming too involved and the ways to deal with it, without further risking your relationship.
When they don’t respect your boundaries
If your partner’s parents often turn up unannounced, insist on spending lots of time with you or even go through your things it can be hard to live with as a couple as you lack the privacy or security to truly live your life - this includes being able to be intimate!
How to deal: Set down some ground rules. Sit down with your partner and decide where you want your boundaries to lie, such as times they can visit, which rooms they cannot go in, and whether they’re allowed a spare key (I suggest only for holidays). Once you agree, sit down with their parents and let them know that, while you love and respect them, they need to meet these guidelines or risk ruining your relationship.
When it’s a red flag: You need privacy and boundaries to function as a healthy couple, but if your partner lets their parents keep flouting the rules, or doesn’t see the issue with their parents letting themselves into your home with no notice you need to consider whether the relationship is worth it as they are not putting your needs first. Bear in mind that even if you set these boundaries, some people will still cross them. In this case, you need to be firm and consistent to keep them in place.
When they expect you to go where they want
While your partner may share genes with their parents that doesn’t mean they have to do everything their way, but sometimes your in-laws will expect or push you to do certain things and be annoyed when you don’t, such as always spending the holidays with them, or buying a home close to where they live.
How to deal: While helpful input is fine, and it’s great to partake in family traditions, sometimes you have to go your own way as a couple and not be bullied into decisions you are not comfortable making - let their parents know that, while you appreciate their input and love spending time with them you want to do your own thing.
When it’s a red flag: Being close to your parents as an adult can be healthy, and their experience can come in handy when it comes to making certain decisions, but if your partner can never say no to their family, or rely on their approval for everything they are overly reliant and likely scared to stand up for themselves or maybe even want/need them to be involved all of the time.
When they try to do everything for you
While doting parents are great, it can quickly become too much and feel like you have extra people in the marriage - plus that helpful cash injection to buy your home or fund your honeymoon may end up having strings attached, with an expectation to do their bidding due to their generosity.
How to deal: If things are becoming too much, and you feel like these gifts come with increasing intrusive strings attached you will need to rebalance the power in your relationship. Make it clear to your in-laws that, while you appreciate the offer you will not be accepting any more gifts - it may make buying your home that little bit harder but doing it on your own terms will be healthier and more rewarding. Or, refer to the boundaries above. Even if they do help, it doesn’t mean they have the right to force an opinion or make you feel guilty.
When it’s a red flag: If your partner sees nothing wrong with the strings attached, such as helping you with a home deposit with an expectation to move in or have a say in how you outfit your home, they may be co-dependent and not see this as an intrusion.
When they try to undermine your relationship
It’s not uncommon to talk to your parents when you’re having troubles, but some parents will use this (or fabricate some issue) to drive a wedge between you and your partner, creating marital friction through snide comments, bringing up the past or over-exaggerating small things to jeopardise your relationship.
How to deal: Whether your in-laws are deliberately trying to create arguments between you and your partner, or are harsh to you in order to spark a response that allows them to play ‘victim’ this situation can be tricky to deal with. Speak to your partner and let them know how hurtful this is, and establish that you will only speak about your issues with a professional. You also need to make it clear to your in-laws that you won’t tolerate certain behaviour and will leave/ask them to leave the house if it continues.
When it’s a red flag: If your partner doesn’t defend you, sees no issue with some of the comments that are being made or worse, joins in, they put their parents’ opinion and feelings above your own. If they are unwilling to work on these issues it may be worth considering if they are the right person for you to move forward with.