Cutting the Cord: Breaking Unhealthy Dependencies That Impact Your Partner
Apron strings. Umbilical cord.
Whatever the ties that bind you to your parents, these same ties may bind your future spouse as well. And he or she may not appreciate it.
Perhaps you like talking to your mom several times a day. There is no guarantee your fiancé won’t find it annoying. Maybe your dad is in the habit of popping by unannounced—your future spouse may fail to see the charm. Or perhaps you are totally comfortable discussing the most intimate aspects of your love life with your mom or dad. But this practice may make your partner cringe.
Marriage means starting a new family together. That doesn’t mean you leave your parents by the wayside, but some adjustments to your old family dynamic are inevitable, even essential, to the health of your marriage. So how do you "cut the cord" without cutting off a lifeline? And how do you respect your partner’s wishes for boundaries in your relationship with your parents without disrespecting the people who raised you?
Dealing with Co-Dependency Issues
Accept that your fiancé may never be as fond of your parents as you are.
Hopefully, your fiancé will grow to love and respect your parents, or at least get along with them. But expecting your fiancé to share the same measure of enthusiasm for your parents is not realistic.
Respect your partner’s need for privacy.
If you need to process private details of your relationship with someone other than your partner, he or she may prefer this be with a friend, rather than a family member. Because for some of us, having our parents-in-law know our intimate business is just plain icky.
Set good boundaries and set them early.
Defining boundaries with parents early on can spare you grief later in your marriage. Determine how much time you will spend with your parents, where you will spend it and how much you will share about your marriage with them. Deciding how you will handle competing holiday demands is especially critical.
Shield your future spouse.
Maybe you still like having brunch every weekend with your parents, but your fiancé is less than enthused. Strike a compromise—maybe brunch once or twice a month is enough. Or tell your parents you might like to keep the tradition limited to just the three of you—they might secretly like the extra time alone with you. When it comes to in-laws, a little absence can indeed make the heart grow fonder.
Help your fiancé understand your special bond.
Maybe you adore your parents. Maybe you aren’t even all that close to them. Either way, it can hurt when your partner criticizes your parents. It is one thing for you to critique your family; it is another thing for someone else to do the same. We feel a natural protectiveness towards our blood relations, even when they have wounded us. Help your partner understand that while you may need to vent about your parents’ flaws, an overly enthusiastic agreement from them may not be what you are looking for in their response.
Establish appropriate domains.
When you are in your mother’s house, you play by her rules. When she is in your house, though, she needs to respect yours. When it comes to managing your house or managing your children, your parents need to respect the autonomy of you and your spouse. If your parents overstep their authority in either of these realms, you need to respectively assert your independence in these two critical domains.
Don’t gang up on your spouse.
It’s nice to have an ally when you encounter marital tensions. But don’t gang up on your partner by enlisting your parents against your spouse. You are an adult and you need to fight your own fights. Your parents are likely highly protective of you and sharing even minor offenses committed by your fiancé may be remembered by your parents for years to come. As much as you’d like your future spouse to like your parents, you probably want your parents to like your spouse too. Recounting all the petty dirt on your partner can quickly and unfairly deteriorate your parents’ opinion of your future spouse.
We are all bound to our parents in complex ways that can be beautiful, confounding, and infuriating. But the ties that bind us to our parents should never be used to oppress our spouses. As you plan for a new life with your partner, be sure you establish healthy boundaries with parents—boundaries that allow your new marriage to thrive.