It’s a mistake that many newlyweds make, and it can chip away at their marriage. Thankfully, it’s a mistake that couples can avoid and fix.
Many couples confuse their loyalties and don’t set boundaries with their family and friends, according to Nicole Massey-Hastings, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Hinsdale, Ill.
However, boundaries are essential because once you’re married your partner becomes your priority. “You are each other’s refuge from the storm and primary attachment figure. Your allegiance is to your spouse.”
Your loyalty and priorities shift because you’re building a life with your spouse – not your friends or family.
“You are going from one nuclear family — you, parents, siblings — and forming a new nuclear family — you and your spouse. In order for that to work healthfully, you must pull away a bit from the old nuclear family to have energy to create the new one.”
You and your spouse will likely share a bed, a home, finances, pets, possibly kids, a schedule and your secrets, Massey-Hastings said, “Marriage is a deeply intimate thing.”
And it requires commitment.
We convey this commitment with our daily actions and decisions. “We can either give the message that ‘I’m completely committed to you’ or ‘I’m sort of committed to you.’ These messages profoundly influence the sense of safety in the marriage.”
So how do you avoid or fix this common mistake?
The key lies in setting or strengthening boundaries with your family and friends. For instance, before you got married, you might have been more than willing to meet your family and friends’ requests. After getting married, however, you check with your spouse first and prioritize their perspective, according to Massey-Hastings.
Similarly, you might’ve structured your leisure time around your loved ones; now you structure it around the “needs of the marriage.”
Before getting married, you might have discussed the progression of your relationship with your parents, including sharing any conflict between you and your partner. However, after getting married, you don’t call your mom to discuss your fight, “unless of course there is concern about the relationship being abusive.”
Before getting married, you and your family also might have upheld the same traditions year after year. However, after getting married, you focus on your and your spouse’s needs and develop your own traditions. Of course, you take your family’s needs into account — but, again, that’s after you consider your relationship.
According to Massey-Hastings, you might need to have uncomfortable — but essential — conversations with your parents and friends about what parts of your relationship you’re willing to discuss and which parts you won’t discuss, along with what is appropriate to say about your spouse.
When setting boundaries with your family and friends, she also suggested these tips:
- Be honest, firm and empathetic.
- Say something like: “I know it’s hard that our relationship has changed in _____ way, but I’m sure you can understand that my responsibilities have also changed.”
- When you’re trying to make a point, instead of using your spouse’s name, “use language like ‘my wife’ or ‘my husband.’”
- Set boundaries with your own family. For instance, “[T]he husband should have conversations with his mother and father about vacation plans, not the wife.”
- Portray boundaries as “ours” rather than your spouse’s. For instance, don’t say, “Well, my wife thinks it should be this way…” “Each spouse must take ownership for their shared boundaries.”
The challenge of loyalties and boundaries can come up throughout your relationship.
“Talk before the wedding and at length afterwards about the ways that loyalties and boundaries will need to shift in order to protect the marriage,” Massey-Hastings said.