Spouses and their parents. How to set boundaries?

Many have heard of personal boundaries. But not everyone knows that it is also important to protect the borders of your family, as if it were a small independent state. The normal way of your family life can be disturbed not only by strangers, but also by your parents: your wife or husband.

“Mom knows best!”

A difficult situation has developed in the family of my friends. A loving couple is on the verge of divorce: the husband cannot make a single decision on his own.

When it comes to buying a kitchen, clothes for children, or even detergent for a bath, he listens to his wife’s suggestions and invariably answers: “Good. You just need to consult with your mother “… At the same time, my mother lives separately, but the last word is always hers.

At first, the young wife was surprised at such a reaction, then she tried to discuss it with her husband, laughed it off, took offense, finally, got angry in earnest and cursed with him.

Now she just turns green with anger when she hears again: “I have to ask my mom …”

How did they come to this life? The couple allowed a rough invasion of their personal territory. In fact, they no longer run their family.

But they would never allow strangers to SO interfere in their lives. But this is my mother, the closest person. Or not?

Adult children

Parents are the most important people in a child’s life.

But children grow up, create families and have babies of their own. The relationship between parents and adult children does not end, but they must gradually change in accordance with the new situation.

The main role in the life of an adult should be played by the partner, not the parents. The Bible said: “A man will leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife. And there will be two one flesh “

But often parents and their grown children do not understand this. Then everyone suffers.

Signs of violation of family boundaries

A young family has no territory of its own

For example, your family lives separately, but your parents have the keys to your apartment. And they regularly use them, coming without a preliminary call. Or they periodically come to live without an invitation, just as a mom and dad.

Least favorable situation: living together with the parents of the husband or wife. In this situation, the young family remains in the position of children.

If you live together, it will be a violation of boundaries to enter your room without knocking. Or placing your parents’ belongings in closets in your corner. Then they can come to you at any time to pick up their property. And at the same time, and see why you sat there for so long in your room?

Building boundaries while living in someone else’s territory is the hardest part. It is difficult for a wife to become a real mistress of the house, and for a husband to become a master. Children can get confused about who is the main authority for them, dad or grandfather, mom or grandmother.

Parents have plans for your family

Important decisions, which should only be discussed by the spouses themselves, are made for them by the parents. For example, the older generation decides in which area it is better for the young to rent an apartment. Where can they buy real estate: in the city or outside the city. What kind of work should a husband get and how long should a wife sit on maternity leave.

“Mom and Dad cannot be denied!”

Parents’ requests are expressed in such a way that rejection is simply not expected. Of course, this is most often not said out loud, but everyone understands that if you refuse to meet your mother at the station or not allow your nephew to stay with you for a couple of weeks while he enters the university, it will be a mortal offense. And how can you say that to your mother, “she gave birth to you,” “she didn’t sleep at night,” “she gave up her whole life,” and so on!

Your family is constantly being judged.

Are you a worthy husband or “no hands at all.” Are you a good mother and wife … No one except yourself has the right to judge how well your family is! Even if the closest relatives who wish you well are complaining about this, do not let them do this, do not leave the borders of your family unprotected, this can destroy it.

How to protect borders

Be firm in setting boundaries

Having determined for yourself what you allow your relatives in relation to your family, and what not, firmly stand on your own.

You can use the “worn-out record” rule. If you decide that you will not come to celebrate the New Year at your mother, but will spend it together, tell your mother so. And then on any arguments and persuasion, as well as tears, accusations and threats (that your mother will “bring you to a heart attack”, that she “Deprive of inheritance” – yes, what kind of manipulations parents do not use!) Answer each time: “Mom, I love you and dad very much, but we have already decided to spend this holiday alone”… If necessary, you can calmly and firmly repeat this phrase many times, without going into excuses and explanations.

Parental approval – optional

Young children need confirmation of the correctness of their actions, this is normal. But when you’ve grown up, although this approval is nice, you can do without it. Let your parents have their own opinion, and you have yours. Especially when it comes to your family and children.

If, for example, your mother-in-law considers you a bad housewife or your mother does not like your spouse, this is only their private opinion. Don’t let someone judge your partner.

This is disrespect for the person you have chosen and for you: it seems that relatives still doubt your ability to reasonably judge life and people.

You don’t need to be understood

Of course, I want complete understanding with my family. It helps you feel comfortable and instills confidence. But we are all different.

Parents simply cannot fully understand your situation. Only you have all the information about it.

Allowing yourself to act on your own – whether your parents support you or not – can greatly improve the relationship within your family. And by the way, the relationship with the parents too!

Family boundaries should be flexible enough for the system to receive and transmit information: to adopt the experience of generations and share new trends in raising grandchildren with parents. And at the same time, they are firm enough for your family to be reliably protected from destructive influences from the outside – criticism and control of relatives.

Lyudmila Ivanovskaya,

psychologist, trainer, specialist in the field of relations

and family constellations

About breaking boundaries in pairs

Many problems in a pair can be avoided if the boundaries are right. To do this, you must clearly define how you can not be dealt with under any circumstances.

It is important to set boundaries at the very beginning of communication. And then make sure that they are strictly observed. What kind of partner’s behavior can be safely called unacceptable?

Unsolicited criticism

Veronica could change several outfits before getting her husband’s approval. The husband criticized everything. The skirt is too short (“I don’t want my wife to be like a prostitute”), then too long (“Are you going to the porch?”). The varnish chosen by the girl turned out to be “Vulgar”and the bag is “Cheap”… As a result, Veronica stopped buying clothes herself. Having come to a psychologist, the girl complained of self-doubt.

Unsolicited negative judgments about figure, clothing, or image are boundary violations. The partner should also not be allowed to call names or devalue you (“You drive like a chicken!”, “Who will take you to work like that!”). The critic puts himself in the position of an adult. He allows himself disapproving remarks, automatically assigning another person the place of an unintelligent child who needs constant control and guidance. But for a harmonious and healthy relationship in a couple, communication should take place on an equal footing. Remember that you and your partner are both adults.


Cyril was constantly late. At a friendly party, an important business meeting or his sister’s anniversary – everywhere he invariably came later than everyone else. True, his wife Alina was always to blame. After all, it was she “his shoes were doing somewhere”, “she did not let him go to bed on time,” “she did not warn that the clock was being set.” When Alina went on a week-long business trip, Kirill was late, because Alina “called him at the wrong time.”

If a person is not able to take responsibility for his own actions, he has a great temptation to shift responsibility to another. This is how the mechanism that psychologists call projection works. A person sees his negative qualities or mistakes in his partner. If this happens in your relationship, it is a sign of blurry personal boundaries.

The control

Alla and Nikolay seem to be a wonderful prosperous family. Nikolay works a lot and with enthusiasm, and Alla runs the household, providing her husband with the “rear”. But behind this facade, Nikolai is gasping for breath. Nikolai’s salary card is with Alla, and his wife gives her husband money for gasoline and lunches in the office. Alla took over the family shopping and makes almost all important decisions: where and when to go to rest, whether you need a loan for a new car. Even in those areas where Nikolai could choose himself, he acts at the behest of his wife. Alla advises Nikolai to ask for a salary increase or offers to fire his secretary. Nikolai is grateful to his wife for her care. But at times he feels that he is living “some kind of a life that is not his.

This stifling concern is a controlling behavior. Often the one for whom decisions are made does not himself notice how his boundaries are violated more and more. Such distortions do not lead to family happiness. Indeed, in a healthy couple, each partner should bear his part of the responsibility for the relationship, without pulling the blanket over himself.


Katya had long wanted a fur coat, but she understood that her husband would not approve of the purchase. Victor is thrifty, and Katya already has a solid winter coat and a sheepskin coat. Then the woman convinced her husband that it was high time for him to update his wardrobe. Victor’s winter jacket is frayed, and he deserves much better. Victor protested, but Katya bought him several expensive things with assurances that she did not feel sorry for anything for her beloved. When soon Katya raised the issue of a mink coat, Victor had no choice but to agree to a purchase. Otherwise, he would look callous and ungrateful in relation to a caring and loving wife.

By communicating, we constantly influence others, and they influence us, whether we like it or not. But when one person quietly and deftly achieves his own benefit at the expense of a partner, regardless of his interests and desires, this is already a real manipulation. The victim does not realize that she is being manipulated, so she cannot fight back.

Threats and coercion

Alexander has been living with his unloved wife for many years and is burdened by this. But he cannot part with his wife. Lyudmila has a weak heart. If Alexander is not caring enough, his wife turns pale, suffocates and asks to urgently bring medicine. Lyudmila often tells her husband that she will not survive the divorce. And if she ends up in the hospital, she will tell everyone she knows who brought her to this state.

Unlike stifling control and unsolicited advice, threats and coercion are most often perceived by the participants in the relationship as pressure. However, having got used to living with blurred boundaries for years, people no longer know how to change the situation for the better.

If you realize that your boundaries in a couple are being violated, then it’s time to start rebuilding your personal space. The good news is that you are the person who has to show your partner where your boundaries lie. This means that the ball is on your side.

To build boundaries, you yourself need to clearly understand what is acceptable to you and what is not (for example, you cannot be beaten or you cannot be deceived). You need to rigorously require others to respect your boundaries. Always, and not from time to time, otherwise these are not boundaries, but whims that no one will take seriously.

For your boundaries to be strong, you yourself must not do what you consider unacceptable to others. For example, if you can’t stand yelling, never yell at your partner.

When you try to establish tighter personal boundaries after breaking them for years, those around you are likely to be very surprised. Indeed, everything was fine before, but now you are changing the rules. Be calm, firm, and consistent. Then your loved ones will receive a clear signal and will accept new rules for interacting with you.

It’s never too late to start building boundaries.

Good personal boundaries are the key to harmonious relationships and good mental health.

Lyudmila Ivanovskaya,
psychologist, trainer, specialist in the field of relations
and family constellations