One of the most frequent issues that many spouses face is problems with intrusive parents. Do you experience parents who call daily, come over uninvited, tell you how to parent your children, judge the decisions you make or disrespect your spouse? These type of encounters are problematic to marriages because they violate the trust, protection and loyalty each partner expects and deserves.
Whether it is your own parents or your in-laws, these intrusions can have a negative impact on your marriage if you don’t “parent proof” your marriage.
Below is a list of healthy strategies that you and your partner can practice to help you “parent proof” your marriage.
- Communicate Early – It is tempting to tolerate intrusive behaviors early on to show your appreciation for your partner’s parents, to try and fit in and not seem like a trouble maker. This withholding strategy typically backfires and results in a blow up with your spouse. This in turn will lead to your partner not hearing your genuine concerns through anger. Gently talk with your partner about your upbringing and the role you want your parents to play in your marriage and with your children BEFORE you get married. Be open and negotiate what works best for you both.
- Clarify Parent’s Motives – This is helpful in avoiding jumping to conclusions about your parents or in-law’s behaviors. Maybe it’s not about power and control. Maybe this is their way of showing love, helping your family and staying connected. I recommend the golden rule that spouses communicate with their parents along blood lines when there is a problem. Be curious and less confrontational about their motives underlying these intrusive behaviors. This will create an opportunity to request that they show their love in other ways that are less problematic for the marriage.
- Pick Your Battle – When marrying into a new family, there is a degree of differences to be expected and thus tolerated. Discuss with your spouse what you each feel are the intolerable behaviors that have a significant negative impact on your marriage. Keep this list to a minimum (if you can) to help parents feel they are not doing everything wrong.
- Enforce Boundaries – Your parents may or may not respond to healthy boundaries in a healthy way. If they continue intrusive behaviors that negatively impact your marriage, it is important to enforce boundaries. Boundaries may include limiting contact with you and your children. With more severe violations, you may need to temporarily stop all communication until a promise is made to not violate your boundaries any longer. I recommend family counseling with your pastor or a licensed professional to help you enforce these boundaries in a safe setting.
Porsha Jones, LMFT
Pjones @ GROWcounseling.com