Hi Carolyn, As a newlywed, what is a good way to start establishing some boundaries with my mother-in-law that don’t come across as trying to change the status quo of her relationship with my husband? Right now she is accustomed to telling him/us what to do and having her opinion respected and deferred to. She also has a key to our house. I would like to reach a place where she assumes we have our lives under control, and also where she doesn’t come over unless invited. Thanks.
The good way to start with these boundaries is as a girl/boyfriend, not as a spouse. I’m sorry. I know it’s a giant woulda coulda, but it’s worth exploring, I think, to help you understand your options now.
That’s because you gave away much of your leverage at the altar. As a mere GF/BF or even fiance/e, you were surrounded by possible exits. Including the big fat open door marked, “This isn’t working.” With that behind you, you could have said, “I am really uncomfortable with the amount of say your mother has in your daily life. What’s up with that?” And if you didn’t like his answer, you could have broken up, talked about it some more, waited and seen. Painful, potentially, but with a lot of room for good outcomes.
Now when you say the married version of that: “I am really uncomfortable with the amount of say your mother has in our daily life”–which you do need to say, by the way, ASAP–you’ve basically got the one door out if you don’t like his answer: divorce.
It’s drastic, it’s upsetting, it’s scary. And the draconian feel of that option often works to suppress our will to get in there and say what we need and do the hard work to get it.
So, now my advice is to recognize that pressure solely so you don’t let it intimidate you into backing down on what you need. If you don’t want your MIL to have a key to your home and if you want her to come only when invited, then insist on these things, because you have a right to them. And if your husband responds in a way you don’t like, then be ready for that, with your now-more-limited options already thought through and chosen.
I’m saying this all in forceful terms, but that doesn’t mean your conversations with your husband can’t be gentle, even when you’ve resolved not to budge. This is the other reason it’s so important to have this stuff out pre-vows: He married you thinking you were okay with his relationship with his mother. Now you’re changing the terms on him.
You still have standing to do that–you know what you know when you know it, and you’re apparently just knowing now where your limits are–but you do need to be mindful that he’s getting this out of the blue. Tell him you support his being close to his mom, you just want privacy in your home.
One of those limited options, btw, is marriage counseling; if he really thinks his mom gets to tell you what to do, then I imagine you two will need an objective referee, soon.