Spending Too Much Time with the In-Laws?

Question: Are we spending too much time with the in-laws?

My husband’s family demands a lot of our time. My in-laws live a few hours away and expect us to visit every few weeks. We spend all the holidays with my in-laws. I’m not that close with my family, so we haven’t even considered taking turns. We have a child together, and my in-laws really want to be a part of their grandson’s life, which I appreciate. But I’d like to spend a little more time as our own family unit, and I don’t really want to travel back and forth all the time. What should I do?

Answer: Spending time with the in-laws is a touchy subject that most newlyweds—and even veteran married people—face. The key to successfully discussing in-law issues with your spouse is to be diplomatic, yet honest. For example, rather than saying, “Your mom drives me nuts, and I can’t spend another minute hanging out with her,” you should say, “I think it’s great that your mom wants to spend time with me, but I don’t want our time together to become an obligation, nor do I want to stifle one another, so I think we should set some boundaries.”

Your husband will take it personally if you criticize the parents he loves, and he probably can’t see his mom’s flaws. Saying hurtful things about the in-laws to your spouse is just going to cause friction and tension in your marriage, and no one wants that. Choose your words carefully by saying what you’re feeling without being mean or putting anyone down. Frankly, this advice will help to improve communication in your marriage in general, and not just when talking about in-laws.

You should explain to your husband that you want to forge your own family with him. That means creating your own traditions and making memories together that are separate from your families of origin. Propose a compromise that has you visiting with his family less frequently. He should have some alone time with his parents, and perhaps he’ll want to bring your child along for those trips. But you don’t always have to go with them. Also, suggest that you celebrate every other holiday with your in-laws, so you can host some holidays in your own home with just the three of you. You might also consider inviting the in-laws to your turf for some occasions, so you’re not always schlepping to their neck of the woods.

Make sure that you are sensitive to your husband and your in-laws. There are no steadfast rules when it comes to spending time with extended family. Each family has to make up a schedule and set boundaries that work for it. However, once you get married, you and your spouse become a family. Although it’s hard, you both have to break away from your family of origin. This does not mean that you should abandon your parents and in-laws or even other family, such as aunts, uncles, and cousins. But you have to develop a new kind of relationship with them, so you can create this new family unit with your husband and child.