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Yours, Mine, Ours: Balancing Personal Needs and Marriage

Trouble with In-Laws

Conflict zone: Even if you genuinely like each other's families, you may disagree about what makes for a cozy relationship versus one that's stifling. Maybe you blab to your mom about disagreements over disciplining the kids, and he feels betrayed. Or he invites his parents over for dinner -- putting you in the kitchen -- every Sunday.

Keeping the peace: Priority goes to your spouse, not your parents. "It's fine for you to be emotionally close, but you must keep parents outside your marital relationship -- and that can be tricky," says Jane Adams, PhD, a social psychologist in Seattle, and author of Boundary Issues (John Wiley & Sons). To prevent arguments and hurt feelings, she advises, don't criticize your spouse when talking to your parents or in-laws, and don't let them criticize him, either. When raising in-law problems with your spouse, do it tactfully. ("I love having your parents here, but it's hard to do things with the kids and prepare a big meal. How about cutting back to twice a month?") "That way it won't sound like you're blaming anyone," says Janet Taylor, MD, a Family Circle Advisory Board member and clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harlem Hospital-Columbia University in New York City. And play fair. If he cuts back his parents' visits for you, do the same for him by, for example, agreeing that your folks can't stop by without calling first.