Boundaries 7 — Couples

Couples often have trouble maintaining their boundaries with their parents. Usually the problem stems from a sense that it is disloyal to exclude one’s mother or father from important decisions.

If parents have done their job well and have prepared their children in each stage of their lives to take on greater and greater responsibility, then it seems logical to conclude that as the child reaches adulthood, the parent can sit back and feel good about the fact that they have raised a fully-functioning individual.

Unfortunately, that happens all too rarely. Many parents think that they are still responsible for their adult children’s decisions and must protect them from making “terrible mistakes.” Parents may fear that their children’s decisions will reflect badly on them or will not reflect their preferences. In short, allowing one’s children to grow into independent adults means being able to release oneself from responsibility for them and to trust that they will know what to do.

The young couple, having grown up in homes where their parents were even moderately successful at creating a decent home life, may feel that their parents possess wisdom that they don’t have. That is true, and that is why parents can be called upon to give information, advice, and to help problem solve, but the ultimate voters on what to do are the husband and wife, and the information that they choose to regard as helpful should be determined by the helpfulness of the information, not by whose parent supplied it.

Some parents are satisfied to intervene in a very minimal way. If their children ask for information, advice, or help, the parents are available and they accept that their input is part of an information-gathering enterprise. Other parents, when asked, will immediately see an open door to take over the decision making process. And some parents, even when not asked, still offer their opinions in heavy-handed ways.

Both husband and wife need to know where the boundaries are. It is not a “mine vs. yours” game. It is simply a challenge to both of them to adapt a strategy to minimize the intrusion into their lives.

Here are some hints:
1. Never discuss with intrusive parents something that you are still very unsure of. The less sure that you are, the more sure they will be.
2. It is not disloyal to “manage the news.” There are lots of things that go on in a home that do not need to be shared with anyone, but least of all with intrusive parents. Preserving your marital boundary is something that shores up your marriage and makes it strong. It is loyalty to your spouse who should be number one!
3. Never mention to one set of in-laws the information or assistance given to you by the other. For intrusive parents, that is a casus belli. People who want to control become enraged when they think that someone else has been more successful than they at influencing their child!
4. Have some ideas about questions you wouldn’t mind them answering like how to prepare a specific sauce or where one might find a specific type of book. The more they feel consulted, the less they will feel the need to intrude.
5. Remember that these people raised your spouse, a person who you love and with whom you are building your future.

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