Perhaps you’re familiar with the saying, “Friends are the family you choose for yourself.” Many of us have found this sentiment to ring true, especially when selecting a spouse — one who hopefully becomes and remains our best friend for life.
On that beautiful fall day when Jared and I said, “I do,” we became a family unit of two. He became my family, and I became his. While our relational statuses changed in an instant, we’ve found that navigating this new family dynamic takes a great deal of time and effort. Case in point, we married in September of 2008 and decided to spend our first Christmas as a family of two. A holiday change of this magnitude required intentional communication — between us as a couple and with our extended families — as we wanted to show honor and love to them while staying committed to our plans.
If you’re engaged or newly married, here are some tips for preparing yourselves and your loved ones for your new priority relationship and caring for all those involved along the way.
Your extended family and close friends remain important relationships to invest in. They’re simply next in line of importance after your spouse and immediate family unit. For some, this will be a hard change as other relationships began years before your spouse was in the picture. Ephesians 5:31 tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” In marriage, you’re joined as one before God. You act on this commitment by showing the foremost preference and consideration to your spouse and marriage relationship through daily life choices. Consider this: if you gave a third party access to your calendar, phone logs and bank statements, what would these records reflect about your priority relationships?
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In light of your new family, what boundaries do you need to set? Some new limits you’ll know right away, and others you’ll determine as circumstances present themselves. A few boundaries Jared and I set include:
- We only discuss our disagreements with those we trust to give unbiased counsel. Your parents will want what’s best for you. If they automatically take your side in any disagreement, their involvement will do more harm than good — even to the point of damaging their relationship with your spouse.
- We are not the punchlines of each other’s jokes. What this looks like will vary based on your unique relationship and personalities. For us, we cultivated safety in our relationship by not laughing about each other’s latest shortcomings with our friends. Some friend groups use this banter to commiserate and connect, so be diligent to hold your boundary and not enter conversations that leave your spouse feeling uncovered or disrespected.
- We are each other’s secret-keepers. Cultivating a relationship where it’s safe to share secrets builds relational intimacy, and our most intimate relationship gets to be the one we build with our spouse. For us, this boundary means that I won’t share secrets with someone else that I wouldn’t tell my husband, and I don’t share things with others that I wouldn’t be comfortable with him knowing I share. I also don’t keep secrets from my husband, so the minute I think to myself I’d be embarrassed if Jared knew that, I know I need to tell him immediately — even if it’s something silly. I’m not willing to break the level of trust we have in our relationship.
- We are each other’s greatest advocates. Marriage provides unlimited opportunities to advocate for your spouse. One recurring opportunity is in how you advocate for their preferences and reputation in your side of extended family and friends. Your relational equity gives you space to make suggestions on your spouse’s behalf so they feel included in the group. This can be especially helpful if your spouse has preferences that differ from pre-existing family traditions. Your voice also gets to be loudest in commending your beloved to the people you love. You don’t need to sugarcoat things or fake positivity; simply embrace the opportunities to share about the things you love and appreciate most about your spouse. This clears the path for others to appreciate them too.
Communicate with care and respect
Marriage is an adjustment for everyone, including your family of two. As you establish priorities and set boundaries as a couple, work to communicate these with care and respect to the loved ones in your lives.
- Prepare to explain and lovingly defend these choices for a season. These decisions are yours to make for your new family unit. Your extended family may need time and gentle reminders to acclimate to a new line they can’t cross with you, but don’t let them move your boundaries to places easier for them. You can show kindness while still staying firm.
- Communicate with as much notice as possible if you’re making a big change, so families can prepare their hearts and minds. The one with the closest relationship is the best person to convey hard news.
- Commit to your decisions. As tempting as it may be, don’t throw your spouse under the bus if your choices aren’t well received. They may be the one getting the job promotion in another state, but together you’ve decided to accept the offer and move. Nothing will undermine your new family unit quicker than siding with your extended family instead of your life partner.
- Empathize with how they’re feeling and share how you’re feeling. When applicable, take extra steps to show specific love and care.
Three months into our marriage, Jared and I chose to spend our first Christmas as a family of two and begin establishing new traditions as a family. We did our best to implement the steps above as we showed care for our families while still holding to our decision. We shared our decision weeks in advance and scheduled times to celebrate with various groups earlier in the month. We each communicated to our respective families and shared what was important to us about this new tradition. We also had the freedom to acknowledge things we’d miss about the traditional celebrations and took an effort to show love and consideration to them throughout the holiday season. It became a great model for how we wanted to continue growing as a family in the years to come.