New Couples: Setting Boundaries with Extended Family

In our community, marriage is not considered simply a union between the man and wife, but rather a union between two families, and the extended family is involved with a couple both before and after they marry. Also in our community, couples frequently argue over the actions of each other’s extended family.

A newly-married couple may have little to no opportunity to spend time together just as a couple – usually after they are married, their family wants to “show” them off to others – meaning they are brought along to every family event imaginable. Given such family interconnectedness, the key to managing relationships with extended family is ensuring that you are setting appropriate boundaries with them. Boundaries should generally be not overly rigid (so that there is some flexibility, depending on the situation) nor weak (which means there really are no boundaries) – strong yet flexible boundaries are therefore ideal. So how can new couples establish boundaries right away, so that they are able to maintain a good balance between spending time with family events and spending time together as a couple?

Well, you have sit down with your spouse and ask yourselves: do we have to go to every family event on both sides? Chances are if you think you do, every weekend will be spent going to either his or her relative’s functions, and that leaves little time for you as a couple. You need to decide which events are most important, and maybe identify a handful of relatives whose events you definitely should attend. To ensure it is fair, there should be an even number of events on both sides that you go to as a couple – if you don’t, then chances are that one of you is going to resent having to go to so many of their spouse’s events when their spouse doesn’t have to do the same.

Now if you have those kinds of relatives that will take offence if you don’t show up, then decide if you even care whether that relative is upset or not. After all, there are some relatives out there who will find some reason to be offended, no matter what you do.

If you do care, and do have a relative that will be offended, then you need to be creative. Maybe you need to involve your immediate family – and between you and them you can figure out which events they can attend and which ones you can – that way there will be at least some family representation at each event.

If that doesn’t work – that you have certain relatives who expect you and your spouse to be there, and they won’t be satisfied with just some family representation – and you actually care about how they feel – then perhaps you need to plan more vacations – as the perfect excuse to not attend a family event is not being in town! Even mini-vacations for a night will do. The added bonus of that plan: it gives you and your spouse a chance to spend some important quality time together.