10 Tips for Dealing with In-Laws and Setting Healthy Boundaries

Updated: May 6, 2022
Don't get along with your mother-in-law or sister-in-law? Here's how to handle toxic in-laws and set boundries with your spouse's family, so you don't go crazy.
Young man settling conflict between mother and wife, family problems, quarrel
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In-law relationships can be a wonderful part of married life but they can also be stressful. Either way, your in-laws are part of your life. It’s important to work on your relationship with your spouse's parents, including setting boundaries when necessary.

Related: Resolving In-Law Power Plays

Building close relationships with your extended family isn’t always easy. But, learning to get along with your mother-in-law or father-in-law is often worth it for your well-being and your mental health.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

1. Put Your Marriage First

When you got married, you signed up to be a husband or wife, and becoming a son-in-law or daughter-in-law came with the territory.

Always focus on maintaining a healthy relationship with your spouse as the number one priority. You two are a team and should act as a united front when addressing issues with each other’s parents.

2. Enforce Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries are what you will and will not do. You and your spouse should decide together what the boundaries are in your own family. For example, if you value your kids’ early bedtimes, you may not attend evening events, even if it’s your sister-in-law’s birthday.

If your mother-in-law comes for an uninvited visit every day and you don’t enjoy her clinginess, tell her that she’s welcome every other Friday for dinner and let her know you won’t be answering the door otherwise.

Are your in-laws toxic to your relationship? Watch the video for the warning signs:

3. Do Not Confront In-Laws

The rule of thumb is that each of you should address your own parents when issues come up. Confronting your mother-in-law or your father-in-law (or even your sister-in-law) sets the stage for drama because it makes you out to be the bad guy.

4. Let Go of Expectations

Most of us have a picture in our minds of what our father-in-law or mother-in-law will do for us and our children. But, that just isn’t always real life. At the end of the day, we cannot control other people.

Try not to focus on what you wish your in-laws would do or be. Even if it’s hard, dropping expectations completely can help you find ways to appreciate the little things. Your in-laws might not babysit every Friday so you can have a date night, but that occasional time that they offer, show your gratitude.

5. Keep Your Cool

Full length young woman smiling and talking with senior mother while sitting on comfortable sofa at home together

In-law relationships can be amazing but they can also be stressful. You may disagree about politics or your in-laws may criticize your parenting. While you have every right to set boundaries and not allow yourself to be belittled, it can be very helpful if you can also exercise good self-control in heated moments.

Taking a deep breath or even stepping out for a few moments can help clear your head so that small conflicts don’t erupt into screaming arguments. Just remember that if something does bother you, bring it up with your spouse later and work together to find a solution.

6. Try to Be Flexible

If you have a good relationship with your in-laws, try to let smaller infractions slide. If Grandma gives your kids too much candy on visits, maybe that is something you can just let go of (and if sweets are a big concern of yours that’s OK too). The point is to try and pick your battles when you can.

If your in-law situation is not so peaceful, this advice also applies. Focus on addressing the issues that matter most while letting less important problems slide.

7. Find a Way to Meet Their Needs

Let’s say your father-in-law wants to be a part of the house-rebuilding you and your spouse are doing together. But, the two of you are enjoying bonding as a couple over this project.

In this situation, consider asking your father-in-law to build a new fence. Now, you have given him a way to participate, but he can’t take over.

8. Avoid Hot Topics

Upset older mother in law and adult daughter sit back to back not talking after fight disagreement

Try to keep topics like politics, religion, or anything else controversial out of your conversations with your in-laws. These people are a part of your life and your children’s lives and it’s honestly best to just avoid heated topics.

9. Look for Common Ground

You might have to be intentional about building a healthy relationship with your in-laws. Try to find things that you can bond over. Maybe your mother-in-law can teach you an old family recipe or you can make it a habit to send your father-in-law videos of your kids.

10. Always Be Kind

happy mother's day! family old grandmother mother-in-law and daughter-in-law daughter congratulate on the holiday, give flowers

Your kids are always watching and listening, so it’s important to value kindness in all your interactions with family members and extended family.

Extend kind greetings to your in-laws and speak in a respectful tone at all times, even if you don’t feel like they do the same to you. No one wins if you try to treat others like they treat you.

Do you only see your in-laws on holidays? Or maybe holidays are just super stressful? Check out our tips for dealing with in-laws on festive occasions.