We all have heard or know the story of young couples that after renting for a few years they decide to make one of the most important investments of their lives: buying a house to make it their forever home. When you have all the money you need for your downpayment sitting in your savings account, good credit, and multiple mortgage loan options, you pretty much have what you need to become a first-time homebuyer.
But when you don’t have the downpayment the smartest thing to do is to move with your in-laws to save some money — right?
Well, the answer is yes and no. Bear with me. Economically it is a smart move since all you and your spouse want is to reduce some expenses to put that money into your down payment savings account, but emotionally, although you moved to make a dream come true, living with your in-laws can affect your mood, thinking, or behavior. The privacy, intimacy, and the right to do anything you want is pretty much nonexistent. After a while restrictions become a physical feeling, a pain. You start feeling it in your body. Your shoulders are heavy, your heart feels tight, your stomach feels empty.
Every couple’s experience of living with in-laws is different. Some of them are loving, understanding, patient, discreet, and constantly encourage the match to keep pushing forward — while others lack empathy and with their comments or actions let you know that you are not 100 percent welcome in their territory.
Recently, one of my good friends from school broke the news that she and her husband are divorcing. Since I knew the backstory and that they were living at her parent’s house to save some money, I immediately asked: “Do you think living with your parents was the reason for this divorce?” Her answer: “That influenced it.”
Contrary to my friend’s experience, I also know of people that were able to save and buy their property after living for months with in-laws without any mishap. Convinced that there’s much more to unearth, I asked Ricardo Pichardo Viñas, an experienced Clinical Psychologist with a Masters Degree in Family and Couples Therapy to explain if we can apply the term: “It’s not you, it’s them.”
How does having to live with in-laws affect the relationship?
There is a very popular saying among Latinos that reads: “El que se casa, casa quiere.” Whoever marries, wants a home. This means that the new family that is created when two people decide to unite their lives need their space. We must take into account that this results in the couple having to face the new challenges that come from leaving their family of origin, where they have customs, routines, and patterns of behavior that must be accommodated to create new ways of living.
Each member of the couple carries values and expectations, both conscious and unconscious, so that life in common is possible; it is necessary that both sets of values are reconciled over time. If we add to this that they must live with the in-laws, it does not matter if they are on the side of the man or the woman, or of a homosexual couple: Without a doubt, new challenges are added over what to deal with, especially because the new couple must make their own rules, and it is very likely that the presence of the in-laws will make this process difficult.
It is important to note that in-laws do not necessarily have bad intentions; throughout history, they have had a very bad reputation, but their negative influence on the couple is not always conscious. In many cases, they want the best for the new couple.
Is it possible to suffer from depression while living with in-laws? What do you recommend to deal with the emotions of sadness and hopelessness?
We have to take into account what is discomfort, what we would like to happen, and why we cannot afford to live alone as we would have liked. And we also have to talk about depression.
Depression is an illness that develops for various reasons and needs medication. The feeling of frustration because I have to live with my in-laws, we cannot call depression. If the couple experiences discomfort, desires to have their own home, if they feel that they cannot get along with their in-laws, it is time to make a plan and see the best way to get out of there in a certain time.
The Spanish writer José Ortega y Gasset said: “El hombre es él y su circunstancia.” The man is himself and his circumstance. Which means that we must adapt to the moment in which we are living if we have not had the opportunity to choose what we really want. Before making the decision to live with the parents-in-law, the couple must be aware that they will have to adapt to rules, schedules, and customs which they may not agree with, but they must understand that they are somehow invading a space and a home that someone else built, and therefore does not belong to them.
If you take this into account, when the frictions come, you will have the opportunity to take a deep breath and try to find new alternatives to make coexistence more bearable. If both members of the couple work, they can allocate a percentage to their savings with the purpose of one day being able to build their own home with their guidelines. If it is inevitable that they must live together, clear limits must be set and the situation must be turned around. Do not anticipate events, do not go with the label that in-laws are bad, each family is different, they must give themselves the opportunity to meet the person, not be prejudiced: Not everything has to be bad. There can be guidelines, positive dynamics. It will all depend on how willing the members of that family are.
Should the husband or wife express their emotions to their partner? What would be the best way?
The saying goes that with wine, the older the better… that only works for the drink; for relationships, no. So it is not only necessary but essential to be able to express our feelings and emotions to our partners in a flat, adequate way, with respect and love. Here more than ever you need to be assertive. This means having the ability to say what you have to say without harming or hurting the other. This is the best way, looking for the right moment, the right space, and starting to talk about the feelings that this or that situation generates for you.
It has been shown that when you talk about what you feel, the other is more receptive to listening to you if, on the contrary, you start your speech attacking the other or saying what the other should do or change, you immediately build a wall — which, even if you [are justified], the other no longer listens to you because he or she will be searching within how to defend themselves and counterattack. It is not recommended to let a lot of time pass or accumulate, because one day you can “blow up” for any triviality, and that explosion is the accumulation of saved feelings that have not come out.
What do I do if my partner does not understand or cannot empathize?
If you follow the steps that we have recommended on this page and still feel that your partner does not understand you or does not empathize with your feelings, they should seek professional help so that a couples’ therapist evaluates the dynamics and can make therapeutic interventions that contribute to the relationship moving forward.