What can a young couple do about parents who often stop in for a visit unexpectedly? My husband and I are newly married, and my in-laws have a habit of making unannounced visits. We've asked them to call first, but so far nothing has changed. Is there a way to let them know that we need our space and privacy without offending them?
In-law relations are notoriously sensitive and difficult to manage. Because we're talking here about your husband's parents, it makes sense that he should be the one to bring this problem up with his mom and dad. That's assuming, of course, that the two of you are on the same page.
If this is not the case, then there are marital issues you'll need to address before tackling the in-law problem. Genesis 2:24 says that "a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife." Jesus repeats this command in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-8. In this context, the word "cleave" refers to the "one-flesh" union between husband and wife. It implies that when a couple marries, they are given the task of founding a new family unit. That unit should be distinct and separate from their families of origin. They are further required to grant this new family unit precedence over the old. If they cannot do this, their marriage will not be successful. You and your husband need to decide together that you're going to give priority to the building and strengthening this new relationship. Once you're clear about this, you can proceed to explain your position to your in-laws.
Hopefully this can be accomplished by means of a good-natured, non-defensive family discussion. We'd suggest that your husband start the conversation by telling his mom and dad how much you love them. He should make it clear that you appreciate their interest and involvement in your lives. Then he should explain that, as newlyweds, you're trying to establish a new life together. Point out that this requires a certain amount of privacy. Assure them that they are always welcome to come by. But tell them that you'd prefer to know ahead of time.
If they react defensively or in anger, there are probably some boundary issues below the surface that may not be so easy to address. If that's the case, or if they continue to drop by unannounced even after you've made your wishes known, you may want to think about moving to the other side of town or some other less accessible location. It might also be worthwhile to talk about your situation with a qualified family therapist. Call our Counseling department to get started. After discussing your concerns with you over the phone, our counselors will be happy to provide you with referrals to licensed family counselors in your area.
Drawing Healthy Boundaries With In-Laws: Gary and Barb Rosberg discuss the cultivation of positive in-law relationships and the importance of healthy boundaries.