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Setting Healthy Boundaries With Your In-Laws

Two faces talking and exchanging thoughts
3 min read

Aparna Sagaram and Payal Patel

If you’ve ever struggled in your relationship with your in-laws, you might have wondered about how to navigate setting healthy boundaries with them and build stronger relationships. Is it even possible to have a good relationship with your in-laws? The answer is yes. 

People say first comes love, then comes marriage; and for most South Asians, so do the in-laws. In South Asian culture, this relationship comes with lofty expectations and pressure to fit the traditional expectations of being a son- or daughter-in-law. Although it’s normal to feel the pressure of maintaining a healthy relationship with your in-laws,  it’s also normal (in fact, even healthy) to maintain, develop and create expectations and boundaries in the relationship. If we continue to fulfill societal expectations in relation to in-laws, we can risk building resentment, anger and frustration because we are not authentic with ourselves or our in-laws. 

Let’s take a step back: What are these expectations? 

  • Being expected to prioritize your in-laws over your spouse
  • Being expected to take care of your in-laws as they get older
  • Being expected to obey all requests when it comes to tradition, religion and roles in the family, even if that is different from your own practices
  • Being expected to financially support your in-laws 

[Read Related: Tug of war: Brown Women and the Feat of Marriage]

How to navigate setting healthy boundaries with your in-laws and build stronger relationships:

  1. Identify types of boundaries being crossed. Do they come over unannounced? Do they expect you to help them at a moment’s notice? This will help you decide if physical, emotional or time boundaries are needed.
  2. Brainstorm with your spouse about broaching topics such as boundary violations and family roles. Set intentional time and talk about what you expect from each other and how you both want the relationship with your in-laws to look like. When you and your spouse are mutually supportive, it is easier to express your needs. 
  3. Pay attention to tone and word choice when expressing your boundary concerns. State your needs in a calm manner with the expectation of mutual respect. Use “I” statements to prevent the other person from becoming defensive. 

Tips to make sure your relationship with your partner is not impacted: 

  1. Stay consistent with your boundaries. The more consistent you are, the more your in-laws will respect your boundaries. If your in-laws don’t respect your boundaries, it does not mean you shouldn’t set them. Talk to your spouse about the uncomfortable feeling or guilt that comes up and recognize that your boundaries don’t require the approval of others. 
  2. Use phrases such as  “We” instead of “I” when stating boundaries and expressing needs. Example: “We have decided that the best time for you to come over is 6 p.m.” 
  3. Provide support to your partner whose parents you are setting boundaries with. This will be difficult for them to do in the beginning, so show support and empathy. Empathy allows for a deeper understanding and connection of what your spouse is experiencing. 
  4. Set similar boundaries for both sets of parents. 
  5. Setting boundaries takes practice, patience and consistency. 
  6. Consult with a mental health professional if you need more support around boundary setting. There are many Marriage and Family Therapists from South Asian backgrounds who can help you navigate this relationship. Aparna Sagaram and Payal Patel, licensed marriage and family therapists, work with individuals and couples and help them find this crucial balance of independence and community. You can also find therapists using South Asian Therapists

[Read Related: Effective Arguments and how They Saved my Marriage]

While this list might feel scary to read and implement, remember that these changes will happen over time, not all at once. When you are struggling or feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself that setting healthy boundaries will allow you to experience the benefits of having a healthy relationship with your in-laws.