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How to Establish Family Boundaries
The Problem, Submitted by D.J.:
My wife and I are employed by her family’s farm business. Our jobs require long hours and a lot of daily interaction with family members. On Sunday, we attend the same church, sit in the assigned family pew, and then are expected to join my in-laws at their home for a meal and afternoon of family activities.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my in-laws and am grateful they welcomed me to the family and farm. Is it so wrong to wish for a time when it can just be my wife and me or the two of us with our friends? I find I’m becoming resentful of – even dreading – some of the family gatherings. My wife and I have talked about this. She agrees we need some separation, but how do we do this without appearing ungrateful or selfish?
Thanks, D.J., for sharing your story. The reality is, there has been the addition of a new family unit (yours), yet you joined longtime family habits. Without expressing your desire for respected boundaries of time and personal space, the routine of expectations continues, resulting in your growing resentment and frustration.
There is good news! You and your wife agree on a different direction, and it appears all family members have caring hearts with good intentions. Here are three steps you can take.
First, gain clarity on what you and your spouse would prefer to do. Perhaps you could agree to one family Sunday dinner a month, and you could write on a master calendar when you would be gone or not available. Commit to outings with friends, visit your family, plan a couple’s date, and anticipate an annual vacation.
Second, make time for an intentional conversation between the four of you. This conversation should be led by your wife. Express sincere appreciation for their love, and let them know you enjoy the times you spend together. Make sure they know you don’t want to hurt their feelings; you just need time to see your friends and to have one-on-one time with each other.
Third, share your ideas to create some space away from the family. Ask your in-laws to share their thoughts. I expect you’ll be surprised at their respect for your wishes and gratitude that you spoke up.
Will their feelings be hurt? Perhaps, but I sense they would rather have the two of you in a growing, happy marriage than attending another Sunday dinner with them.
Will you appear ungrateful? I doubt it, because you will wrap your needs in the true respect and appreciation you have for them. Just remember to continue to follow through with your boundary behaviors.
Don’t forget that boundaries go both ways. Here’s what a parent of adult, married children once shared with me: “I can’t tell you how many times my adult children walk into my home, open the refrigerator, and eat or take whatever they want, change the TV channel, and borrow without asking. Yes, I may offer all of those things to them, but couldn’t they just ask?”
D.J., you’ve reminded us how important communication is and how important it is to speak up early in the beginning of new family relationships. It becomes much harder to create change if a habit or tradition is well-established.
Jolene Brown is a popular professional speaker, author,
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