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Living With In-Laws

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Living with in-laws can strongly affect your relationship with your spouse, either positively or negatively.

One night Susan* received a Facetime from her younger sister, Lisa. She began to tell Susan about how she wanted a fresh start and didn’t feel like she was able to truly thrive in her current environment. Toward the end of the conversation, Lisa disclosed why she was really calling: “Can I come live with you and Steve?” 

A little taken aback, Susan said she would have to talk to her husband, Steve, about it. After much prayer and discussion, the two decided to give Lisa the go-ahead. 

Two weeks later, the couple welcomed their new, elated roommate into their home. 

There are many reasons a couple may consider living with in-laws. Whether it’s a sister who needs a place to stay while she gets on her feet, a mother with medical issues, a brother who needs financial help or some other situation, there’s a lot to consider. Before letting a family member move in with you, consider what others have to say about living with in-laws and how it has affected their marriages.

What are the negatives?

Bringing a family member into you and your spouse’s home has the possibility of creating issues and causing tension in the house. Your relative may come into your home with different expectations than you or different ideas about how a household should be run. It may even be that your relative has a different belief system than you. 

Bethany and her husband, Jeff, discovered this when Bethany’s brother moved in with them. “When you invite someone into your home who has different values than you, it can cause some tension,” Bethany says. “You don’t want to come home, where it’s supposed to be your safe space, and there’s hostility.” 

While you may be able to deal with hostility or problems in a certain way with a roommate or friend living with you, living with in-laws brings another layer of complexity to the issue. “When you’re not a parent or a landlord, it’s murky,” Bethany says. “With siblings, it’s weird.”

What about leaving and cleaving?

Before blindly allowing a sibling to move into your home, you might want to ask yourself (and your spouse) what that will mean for your relationship. When you get married, your spouse must become your top priority. Rather than your loyalty being to blood relatives, God calls husband and wife to hold fast to each other

Bethany says that she didn’t realize how much her family influenced her until her brother Samuel moved in. She explains that her instinct is to protect Samuel, even when he’s making bad decisions. This can cause issues when Jeff notices a problem and wants to approach him. “My husband can be right to reprimand Samuel,” she says. “It’s just that my first instinct is to be very protective of him.” Bethany says she learned about where her loyalties need to be in her relationships. “It’s been a way for me to see how strong those family ties are and what ‘leave and cleave’ actually means,” she says. 

What ways can expectations be made clear?

One way to make your expectations transparent and find out what your relative’s expectations are is to put it in writing. While you don’t need a legal document and lawyers, having a paper that all parties sign will help you in the long run when living with in-laws. Then, if there are any future issues, you can refer to the signed document to see what was agreed on at the beginning. 

Creating a document where you and your family member can write down boundaries, expectations and other thoughts can be extremely helpful. 

The opposite is also true: Not having a written document may cause more issues later. “We thought we were very clear about what our expectations were. But, because we didn’t have it written down, we’ve had some trouble,” Bethany says. She explains that not having a written set of expectations has caused some arguments about who said what or what the “official rules” are. 

Maybe your relative has already moved in and you have no more time to put it in writing. That doesn’t mean that all is lost. An honest discussion with your family member can happen at any time. During this meeting, everyone can discuss boundaries and what may need to be changed. 

“Communication when your relative is living with you is so important. If you don’t communicate boundaries, you’ll be surprised by things that don’t make you and your spouse pleased,” Susan says. “The sooner you communicate the boundaries, the better it is. Everyone’s on the same page, and there aren’t as many awkward moments.” Ignoring issues that are currently happening will only cause the problems to continue and create more tension. 

What are the positives?

While living with in-laws may sound intimidating, there can be benefits to the experience. “Some siblings can be really easy to live with, and some can be really difficult to live with,” Susan says. Before completely discounting allowing family to live with you and your spouse, think about the positives as well.

Bethany says having Samuel live with her has made her marriage stronger in many ways. She says she’s watched Jeff show her brother consistent grace and patience in situations where it was not deserved. “It makes you realize you made a good choice [in your spouse],” she says. “It’s nice to see someone care about your people.” 

Susan echoes the idea that having a sibling live with her and her husband has benefitted her marriage. “It’s given us an opportunity to love someone together,” Susan says. “Steve didn’t know my sister that well, so he’s gotten to know her a lot more and that’s been really sweet.” 

There are many factors to consider when letting a family member live with you. Before allowing a relative to move in or shutting down the idea, it can be helpful to sit down and consider how this would truly impact your and your spouse’s lives. “Ask yourself what the pros and cons of it all are and pray about it a lot,” Susan suggests. Through prayer and consideration, God will counsel you in the decision you should make in regard to letting a relative move in with you.

* Names have been changed.

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