Establishing Boundaries With In-Laws – Here’s Everything You Need To Know

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With changing social circumstances, especially given numerous lockdowns during this past year, personal relations could potentially be strained for many people. This is especially the case with in-laws because one small decision can topple a carefully established balance, particularly when you’re a new recruit in the family. Therefore, we asked Shahrukh Malik – a renowned therapist from Karachi – and our readers to comment on creating and respecting boundaries with one’s in-laws. Here’s everything we learnt:

What Does ‘Boundaries’ With In-Laws Even Mean?

When it comes to relations with in-laws, Shahrukh says the definition can depend on several factors, where one of the most important factors is whether you’re living with your in-laws. Boundaries can vary from person to person – for some it might be something as simple as having their in-laws knock before entering their room, for others it may be letting them know that you might not be available for a gathering or a dinner, or even telling them that they can’t reprimand your kids by hitting or yelling at them. Brought down to the basic level, a boundary separates you from others and can often be challenging to establish. However, in Shahrukh’s words, “the bottom line is that in-laws are not an exception to boundaries.”

How Important Is It To Establish Boundaries?

Since in most cases boundaries are there to protect your personal space, it’s very important to know where they lie on day one. As Shahrukh mentions, what ends up happening is that the more your boundaries are invaded, the more your needs and well-being is impacted. What also happens is that the person who is invading your boundaries believes that they have the license to do this time and time again, which could lead to you feeling resentful towards them. Hence, boundaries can help set realistic expectations of you as a person – they help you look out for your own needs and essentially, allow you to be authentic. 

How Can You Set Respectful Boundaries?

Communicate

One thing we have learnt from our conversations with married women is that communication is key. If you feel like your personal space or privacy is being violated in any way, the first thing you need to do is talk about it – either with the in-laws, or with your spouse. If the communication barrier with the former is too significant, your spouse should be your confidante. By sharing your concerns with them, you can expect to resolve your issues as a unit, rather than having to do so independently. This builds further trust with your spouse and sets boundaries without disrespecting the other party, especially since your spouse can put themselves in your shoes and fully understand your perspective on things. Shahrukh seconds this by mentioning the vital role your spouse plays in this relationship.

Find The Middle Ground

Households have different structures – both in terms of how interactions take place, and how responsibilities are divided. However, despite these differences, if there is anything common in establishing boundaries, it is finding the middle ground. The most common advice we found is the idea of compromise. As a person who marries into a new family, one cannot expect the in-laws to completely change their ways. Nor can the in-laws expect a new member of the family to immediately take to their customs. What’s important is finding the right balance between two differing traditions and ideas, which in some cases would mean making compromises. However, each strong relation is built on the basis of give and take, and the end result makes it worthwhile.

The most efficient thing to do is to have a clear understanding of what your in-laws expect from you, and what you expect from them. This could mean having clearly defined responsibilities when it comes to household tasks or set times where you can relax with your spouse without any disturbances. Some of our readers mentioned that they distributed cooking and cleaning days between themselves and their in-laws to avoid arguments. Small steps like this can make all the difference.

Privacy Is Important – On Both Ends

For both you and your in-laws, it is important to treat the other party as deserving of their own privacy. Whether it’s asking questions about where someone went for dinner, or what their plans for the day are, there is a fine line between respectful and invasive questioning. It’s important for both parties to realise that too many questions can act as a wedge in smooth relations, because they annoy the other person by invading their personal space. One of our readers mentioned how her in-laws made it a rule that no married couple had to involve others when they were making plans for themselves. This small decision could result in far greater privacy than before.

However, it is essential to realise that while keeping a distance in some situations is recommended, it does not mean shutting your in-laws out completely. Spending time with them and showing that you take interest in their lives is bound to set a loving tone for the relationship and the same can be expected from them in reciprocity.

How Is It Different From Setting Boundaries In Other Relationships?

With in-laws, the dynamics of the relationship are always very different. This also means that setting boundaries with them is not as straightforward. Shahrukh tells us that the main difference comes because your spouse is also a party to the relationship. She mentions that in other cases they might not be directly involved, so the best way to approach boundaries is to speak to your spouse about them first and work as a team. Communicate what you’re feeling and work together in a way where you can approach this subject with the in-laws.

Advice For The Newly Married Ladies

Although society has stereotyped most relations like mothers-in-law, understand that most of the time they’re just that: stereotypes. Relations with in-laws can get very complicated, but the advice we have for you is to remember three things: communication, boundaries, and respect. All relations built on these three tenets are bound to have a strong foundation. Realising how to establish these boundaries while respecting your in-laws from day one can help you maintain your privacy with ease. Compromises and understanding can pave the path to a healthy relationship, as long as you remember to stay strong in the face of challenges.

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