Q: My husband and I are newly married, and my in-laws are always making unannounced visits. We've subtly suggested that they call first, but so far nothing has changed. What should we do?
Jim: In-law relations can be especially sensitive and difficult to manage. Because this involves your husband's parents, it's best if he addresses this problem with his mom and dad. That's assuming that the two of you are on the same page. If this isn't the case, then you'll need to resolve this issue before tackling the in-law problem.
For a marriage to thrive, a couple needs to view and recognize themselves as a family unit that is separate and distinct from their families of origin. It's critical that they grant their new family unit precedence over the old and give priority to building and strengthening their relationship. Once you and your husband have agreed on this, you can then explain your position to your in-laws.
Hopefully this can be accomplished by means of a good-natured, non-defensive family discussion. I'd suggest your husband begin by telling his parents how much you both love them, and that you desire their involvement in your lives. Then he should explain that, as newlyweds, you're trying to establish a new life together, and that this requires a certain amount of privacy. Assure them that they are welcome to come by, but that you'd prefer to know ahead of time.
If they react defensively or in anger, or continue to drop by unannounced, there are probably some boundary issues below the surface that you may need to guard against. If that's the case, I'd encourage you to get a copy of the book "Boundaries," by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend (Zondervan, 1992). Or feel free to call one of our Focus counselors for help.
Q. My wife and I are newly married with adult children from previous marriages. Her son recently moved in with us because his wife left him for another man. We're trying to support him, but I'm concerned he's taking advantage of his mother. She does everything for him and it bothers me. How should I approach my wife about this without harming our relationship?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: You're wise to take a thoughtful approach here. My advice to anyone who's confronting another person is to first sort out what's really the troubling issue. For you, it could be that you're being protective of your wife. Or perhaps the attention she's redirecting toward him has caused you to feel neglected by your new bride, whose company you'd like to be enjoying. Both can be legitimate concerns, but it's critical you determine what it is that truly needs to be discussed.
When you do sit down with your wife, take your cue from St. Francis and seek to understand, before being understood. Listen first to learn why she's indulging her son. She may be feeling guilt over the breakup of her family, or pain for her son because of his own divorce. Whatever the case, empathize with her feelings and how this has impacted her. Only then should you begin to share your feelings.
Finally, work together to come up with a solution that's a "win-win" for your marriage. Remember you're a team, and anything resembling a "win-lose" is a loss for both of you. Devise a plan for how her son can contribute (cleaning, laundry, rent, etc.) and for how long he can stay. Then support your wife as she communicates these boundaries to her son with you by her side. Although this is a challenge you'd prefer to avoid, it could make your marriage even stronger in the end.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.