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Setting boundaries with in-laws key to happy marriage, study says

Setting boundaries with in-laws key to happy marriage, study says

By Celeste Tholen Rosenlof | Posted - Dec. 14, 2012 at 11:59 a.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — Developing a close relationship with your son-in-law may be a good investment in your daughter's marriage, researchers say.

Dr. Terri Orbuch, a professor at University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research told the Wall Street Journal that close relations with in-laws can decrease the chance of divorce for men by 20 percent. Meantime, it can increase the chance of divorce by 20 percent for women with close relations to in-laws.

Family relationships are central to a woman's identity, the study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Family Relations, found. Women are more likely to see their in-laws as meddlers in their marriage and family life.

For men, their identity — and value — is wrapped up in being the breadwinner. In-laws' frequent interactions aren't seen as imposing or meddling.

Developing a good relationship with in-laws
  • Set boundaries early, reevaluate as necessary.
  • Use endearing phrases before turning down an invitation.
  • Listen to advice respectfully and take action independently.
  • Stay financially independent.
  • Allow children to parent on their own.

So with the holidays in full swing, how does one go about handling a spouse's family? Steven R. Jones, LMFT, says that setting boundaries is the first and most important thing to do. He recommends establishing boundaries early in the marriage, but acknowledges that circumstances will arise throughout a marriage.

Kindness will go a long way in addressing those issues, too, he said.

"If you have to approach them on something, a sensitive matter, you have to say endearing-type statements," Jones said.

He recommends saying phrases like, "We're really trying to develop our relationship right now," and "I really appreciate the offer... you've been helpful," to ease the blow when turning down an offer or asking for space.

Jones said developing "comfortable relationships" where in-laws can hold meaningful conversations and joke with one another can make hard discussions easier as well.

When in-laws offer advice, Jones says, tread carefully.

"It's wonderful to listen to advice, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to do it. You can be respectful in listening to them," Jones said.

Something else that will help the relationship, he says, is to keep finances and parents separate.


It's wonderful to listen to advice, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to do it. You can be respectful in listening to them.

–Steven R. Jones, LMFT


"Don't get involved with finances. Be as independent as possible," Jones said. "It just makes the relationship so much easier."

He recommends parents keep this in mind, too.

"You have to take a look and say, ‘what's healthy here? am I the kind of person who's going to be enabling my children?' " he said. "...If you have a child who is continually having financial troubles, you don't want to bail them out all the time.

He says sometimes it is more important to give your children tough love: Direct them and stay relatively uninvolved financially.

The payoff, Jones says, is a healthy relationship with children and their children.

"The nice part about being a parent is being a grandparent. And the thing is, if you're overly involved, enmeshed with your children, it makes it difficult to have a great relationship with your grandchildren," Jones said.

"When you take a look at the long-term family bond, it's extremely important to have a strong bond between grandchildren and grandparents," Jones said. "…It should be an unencumbered relationship."

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Celeste Tholen Rosenlof

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