How to Live and Thrive With In-Laws

Living with In-Laws
  Christian Vierig / Getty Images

If you've ever lived with extended family, you've probably learned that it has its pros and cons. There are quite a few reasons why you might end up living with your in-laws. Perhaps you're saving money, and it makes financial sense for you and your partner; maybe someone is sick and requires special care, or it might be part of your culture for the family to share a home.

Whatever the reason, this living situation can come with its own challenges. It's easy to get on each other's nerves when living in tight quarters. Disagreements aren't uncommon, and there may be adjustments to a new lack of privacy and independence—but don't worry. There are plenty of solutions to get along peacefully with your partner's parents.

Living with your in-laws can also bring heaps of benefits. Both parties can help each other in a variety of ways. For instance, there are more people to potentially pitch in by cooking dinner, picking the kids up from school, and helping out with chores or daily responsibilities. Of course, the greatest silver lining is the opportunity to get to know each other better and bond as a family.

No matter what your specific situation may be, adjusting to sharing your space will be much more seamless if you put in the effort and prepare properly. So how do you survive the transition together? Keep reading for five ways to master the art of living with in-laws.

Set Boundaries

You might wonder at first if it's a good idea to live with your partner's family. Before making the decision, talk to your spouse about what life will be like when you move in together. "Chances are, in-laws' values will differ to a larger or smaller extent, depending on the family," says expert Elizabeth Dorrance Hall, Ph.D. "Respect for one another's values can be shown by asking about certain issues, actually listening, and responding in calm, respectful ways."

It's helpful to come up with some ground rules around the house. If you take turns with household chores like taking out the garbage or making meals, you can avoid one person feeling like all the responsibilities land on their shoulders. Maybe one family member would rather commit to doing the dishes than folding laundry (or even mowing the lawn). Few of us enjoy every single chore, but it's possible to share them together in a beneficial way.

By communicating with each other about daily life, everyone gets to have a voice, and you'll be able to find a system you're satisfied with as a whole. It may be uncomfortable, but you should also discuss living costs to know which expenses you'll need to cover. Another rule might be that you and your spouse must have at least one night a week to yourselves. The important part is to create some guidelines that will help you get along and feel at ease, regardless of who you're living with.

Find Privacy

One thing married couples need—especially newlyweds—is privacy. It’s the only way to have intimacy, get to know each other better, and build your own family. Although it may be more difficult to find privacy when living with extended family, there are a few ways to ensure you'll have your own space. Even if you're in a small home or apartment, try designating certain areas that are off-limits to you or your in-laws, like the bedroom.

It's all the better if you can set up a separate living space within the same complex or house. This way, you don't have to be around each other 24/7, and you'll be able to maintain your independence while still relying on one another from time to time. If you're not getting enough time alone with your spouse, it might be helpful to plan regular date nights or do household errands together to find a few hours for yourselves every week.

Stay Out of Family Arguments

Living with parents can bring up a lot of old memories and habits, so don't be surprised if there are problems with your in-laws. Your spouse may be tempted to fall into patterns from childhood when they're spending so much time with the people who raised them.

"It is an open secret amongst psychotherapists that if we want to test how far our clients have progressed, we send them home to spend Thanksgiving with their own families. It is amazing how quickly we become our worst selves when we return to the house in which we made our first acquaintance with love and power," says expert Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D.

It's understandable for your spouse to feel trapped, or even resentful, about the situation; however, this could lead to arguments. When your partner gets into a disagreement with their parent, you might want to stay out of it. Let them ride it out together.

Your spouse may also let their parents take over their personal responsibilities once you move in together. When your in-laws are doing your partner's chores, you might be understandably concerned that you'll end up taking over when you're on your own again one day. That weight should be distributed evenly—so don't be afraid to have a conversation with your partner about what you expect from them in the household. Eventually, everyone will find their own rhythm and be able to live together harmoniously.

Pick Your Battles

Besides staying out of arguments your spouse might have with their immediate family, you may want to avoid getting into arguments with your in-laws yourself (which might be easier said than done). "You might not be good enough in their eyes. This never feels good," says Polard. "Because trying to disprove a fantasy is as futile as it is exhausting, the best you can do is to be okay with the verdict."

That's not to say, however, that you shouldn't speak up for yourself if you feel some boundaries have been crossed. For instance, if your mother-in-law keeps walking into your bedroom unannounced, you can ask her to knock in the future. Or, if your brother-in-law makes a habit of eating breakfast in his underwear every morning, it's alright to ask him to get dressed first. It might take some time to create a comfortable living situation for everyone; remember that your spouse's family is adjusting to you, too.

On the other hand, if someone makes one fleeting comment, you might consider letting it go rather than picking a fight. It’s consistent behavior and comments that you'll want to focus on addressing. If you feel your in-laws are being too controlling at home, approach the situation delicately, and identify some specific ways you can live better together.

Ask for Help When You Need It

Dealing with your in-laws can bring on different types of stress and emotions for everyone in the household. "Casual, non-committed relationships just don’t go where it hurts. Quite frankly, not that many people care as deeply about what you do and do not do as your in-laws," says Polard. If the situation becomes overwhelming or you're feeling depressed, you might consider seeing a family therapist or counselor. An objective party could be just what you need to work things out and avoid conflict.

There's no shame in asking for help when you need it—especially if your in-laws are hurting your marriage. It might be nice to save money or help out family, but if it could lead you toward divorce, it's time to think about your options. You might think about seeing a marriage counselor, or if it's necessary, finding a way to change your living situation. While relationships with family are an important priority, your marriage and happiness should be, too.

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