The Dos and Don’ts of Living with Your In-Laws as a Newlywed Couple
By Marissa Gooch
I spent months planning my wedding, sampling lemon frosted cake, building out my guest list, and choosing the perfect band to play at my reception. When my big day arrived, there were a few bumps here and there (the wrong flowers were delivered, and I almost passed out from heat exhaustion), but nevertheless, the day went on, and it was magical.
Then came my honeymoon. My husband and I spent a week hiking in the jungle, visiting ancient ruins, and lying on the beaches of Cancun, Mexico. Life became unlimited piña coladas and sunkissed skin—pure bliss.
But the contrast between the honeymoon and the real life we were starting together couldn’t have been starker.
You see, my husband and I moved to Los Angeles right after our wedding. My previous rent was about a tenth of what California apartment complexes were asking for. I was finishing school, and my husband was at the bottom of the food chain at his new big-boy job. We just couldn’t afford to pay three grand per month. To save money, we decided to sacrifice some of our privacy and move in with his family.
Turns out we weren’t the only ones. In fact, many of our friends who had recently gotten married were also living with their families. Some of them had better experiences than others, but all of them have said that they were grateful for the help. So for those of you who are doing exactly what we did, here are some dos and don’ts of living with your in-laws as a newlywed couple.
DO set boundaries
Just because you are living with your spouse’s parents doesn’t mean you have to do everything they say.
For example, my husband and I love the weekends because it is the only time we really get to spend together. When we were living with his family, his mother came to me and said, “I RSVPd to this wedding but can’t make it anymore, so I told them you and Michael would go instead.”
I remember I was so caught off guard that I spent a couple seconds trying to figure out how to respond. I did NOT want to spend my Saturday night celebrating a couple I didn’t know and forcing small talk with middle-aged guests. However, all I could manage was, “Sure . . . we’d love to.”
Looking back, I realized that I had failed to set boundaries early on with my in-laws. I wish I would have explained that Saturdays are our date nights. I could have responded with “I’m so sorry, but that won’t work for us,” or “I apologize, but we hardly get to spend time together alone,” or even a flat out “No.” From that point on, I made sure to stand up for myself in a nice and respectful way.
Social psychologist Susan Newman, PhD, says it’s important to set up time protection options so that no one ends up monopolizing another’s time: “For those who would monopolize you, these time-protection options help reaffirm that you are not abandoning the home front, and will allow the other person to adjust his or her level of neediness and dependency to your availability.”
Moral of the story: just because your in-law asks you to do something, doesn’t mean you have to do it, and explaining yourself to your in-laws can do wonders for you and your marriage.
DON’T act like you own the house
Your spouse may act like your in-laws’ house is his or her house because, well, chances are your spouse grew up in it. It’s important to remember that your spouse’s relationship with your in-laws is different than your relationship with them.
Don’t walk around acting like you own everything. Don’t dominate the TV, don’t hog the couch, and don’t take over the computer.
If you make a mess, clean it up. If you want to take advantage of your in-laws’ nice pool and home theater by throwing a party, run it by them first. Failing to do these things could make for really uncomfortable situations.
Remember that your in-laws are doing you and your spouse a favor by letting you live with them. Offer to help out every once and awhile. Tell them you will help cook dinner, take out the trash, or mow the lawn. The more willing you are to do simple tasks for them, the more willing they will be to let you stay, and the more comfortable you will be to accept their hospitality.
DO discuss expectations
This is something my husband and I did well. The day we moved into my in-laws’ house, we asked them what they expected of us. On top of that, I asked my husband about his family’s customs, traditions, and way of life so that I could get a better idea of what to expect.
Before you move in with your in-laws, make sure you all are on the same page. You can do this by sitting at the table to have a discussion, calling them on the phone, or asking them questions in an informal setting. Ask things such as “What do you expect of us?” or “How can we make you feel more comfortable in your own home?” Having this conversation will prevent future arguments that could occur if your in-laws’ expectations aren’t being met.
DON’T overdo your stay
For your marriage’s sake and for your in-laws’ sake, get the heck out of there as fast as you can.
As a newlywed couple, you need to grow together; doing so could be hard if your spouse’s parents are always present. Living with them could even cause your spouse to revert back to his or her teenage ways, which could be very frustrating for you.
It is understandable that money is tight and that you may not be able to afford a house or an apartment for the first few months of your marriage. This doesn’t mean that you sit back and enjoy the free ride. As a newlywed couple, there are unique budgetary situations that should be addressed, such as adjusting tax withholdings, what finances should be combined, health insurance options, etc. But be sure to set aside a little amount each month that you can put towards future housing. Be on the lookout for cheap basement apartments you can rent. In other words, show your in-laws that you aren’t trying to take advantage of them.
The best thing you could do is to set a timeframe of how long you expect to live with your in-laws early on and share that timeframe with them. Then, try to stick to that plan. Doing this will help prevent them from regretting the moment they agreed to let you live in their home.
The responsibilities of marriage can be stressful. Your expenses double and you may both struggle to pay your bills and debts. If life is giving you no choice but to move in with your spouse’s family, it is OK. Just be aware that everyone’s family is unique: your spouse’s family’s views may differ from yours. To keep the peace, set boundaries, help around the house, discuss expectations, and set a timeframe in the very beginning. Doing these things will help you and your in-laws enjoy the time you live with them. In fact, it is possible that they’ll invite you back.
Marisa is a writer and editor who lives in sunny Southern California. Her favorite hobbies include listening to podcasts, hiking in the hills behind her house, and attempting to surf alongside her husband who has years of experience.