Surviving Living with the In-Laws
Public speaking, dentists, taxes … just a few things that can make us squirm. For many, the word “in-laws” is equally laden with negative associations. Even more frightening for them is the idea of actually living with the in-laws.
But in a struggling economy, many couples find themselves faced with the prospect of moving in with the in-laws. Common factors prompting such a decision include:
- Job loss
- Home remodel
- Paying off debt
- Medical crisis
- Assistance with child care
Regardless of the reason behind the move, living with the in-laws can feel like living in an alternate universe. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world, and it doesn’t have to diminish your marital satisfaction. Here are some tips to help you adapt to your new environment and make the best of the situation …
Preserve Your Love Life
Cramped quarters can cramp your sex life as well. You may not feel the same freedom of expression in your new abode. Even casual displays of physical affection between you and your spouse — hugs, kisses, snuggling, etc. — may seem taboo in your in-laws’ home. And few things are creepier than knowing her parents might overhear your most intimate moments through the wall.
Maintaining your sex life, though, is an important part of maintaining your marriage. Just because you are in an awkward situation doesn’t mean you have to forego fulfilling sexual experiences. Try to work past your inhibitions, or adapt to them. Still not sure you can be intimate in your in-laws’ home? You can always revert to old teenage tricks — sneaking out and finding creative spots to be together.
Manage Conflict Appropriately
Some conflict between you, your spouse, and your in-laws is inevitable. Your spouse and his or her parents lived a separate existence together before you ever came into the picture. Likewise, you and your spouse have a created a new life together, a life to which your in-laws are not privy. When these two worlds come together, some tension is bound to erupt. If your spouse is clashing with his or her parents, try to stay out of the conflict. If you are clashing with your in-laws, be sure you express your frustrations respectfully.
You don’t necessarily need to use your spouse as a “go-between” to mediate conflicts with your in-laws, but deferring to his or her insights may be advisable. Your spouse likely understands his or her own parents much better and can help you know how best to communicate with them.
Be Considerate in Your Criticism
It is natural to want to vent to your spouse, but be sensitive as to how you express criticism about his/her family. Regardless of whether or not he/she agrees with you, your spouse is likely to respond defensively. By criticizing your spouse’s family, you are indirectly criticizing your spouse (or at least, the environment in which he/she was raised).
Be sure to contribute to household responsibilities, especially if you are not contributing financially. This will help reduce any potential resentment on the part of your in-laws.
Know Your Place
Yes, you are part of your spouse’s family now. But you are not a blood relation nor do you have the same depth of history with your spouse’s family. Each family is a complex — albeit small — culture unto itself, with distinct practices and preferences. We all bring a certain biases into our marriages that prejudice how we see the world. Even seemingly trivial matters, like the best way to load a dishwasher, can create tension.
Know the Rules
Respect the rules of your in-laws’ house — even if they don’t make sense to you — so long as those rules do not infringe upon the core aspects of your marriage or parenting.
Married with Children … And In-Laws
While in your in-laws’ house, you should generally abide by their rules — this is their house, and you are guests in it. However, a couple should continue to maintain their own authority as to how best to raise, manage and discipline their own children. This is your right as a parent. If your in-laws overstep their bounds, you and your spouse should both respectfully assert your right to make decisions governing your children.
Have an Exit Strategy
Out of respect for your in-laws and your marriage, establish a clear plan for getting back on your feet and out of your in-laws’ home. Set a clear timeline for when you will move out and then work diligently to achieve the financial milestones needed to make the move possible.
Be Grateful—And Show It
Write your in-laws a short note expressing your appreciation or leave a small gift for them when they are least expecting it. Regardless of your in-laws’ imperfections, they are doing you a favor by opening their home to you.
Don’t Be a Momma’s Boy … Or a Daddy’s Girl
Hopefully, you sincerely love your parents and enjoy being with them. But if you have an unhealthy dependency on your parents or idolize them disproportionately, it is likely to wear on your spouse.
Defend Your Marriage Above All Else
If the situation becomes truly unbearable for you or your spouse, remember that your ultimate allegiance is to your spouse. It is not worth it to destroy your marriage for free or reduced rent.