Question: My husband and I have been married for seven months and we currently rent our home from my mother-in-law who lives within driving distance of us.

The problem is that she comes over all the time without calling first – even though we've asked her to call first. My brother-in-law does the same thing. What should we say to our family about this situation without offending them, yet giving us the space we need?


Ah yes, the old "uninvited relatives dropping by" scenario!

You're in a rather unique situation because you are renting your home from your relatives. If they are giving you a great deal on the rent, that further complicates things.

You didn't mention in your e-mail why they come by. Is it to do maintenance on the house, do yard work, or get tools out of the garage? Because they are the landlords and you are the renters, they certainly have a right to do those things, provided they give you a reasonable amount of advance notice. On the other hand, if they are simply dropping in unexpectedly to chat or hang out, that needs to be addressed differently. And because we're talking about your in-laws, your husband is the one who needs to bring it up.

Hopefully, this can be solved with a good-natured, non-defensive family discussion. I suggest your husband start the conversation by telling his mom and brother how much you love them and appreciate the opportunity to rent their home. But he should explain that as newlyweds, you are trying to establish your new life together, and as such, you need a certain amount of privacy. Let them know that they are always welcome to come by, but that you would prefer it if they would let you know ahead of time.

If they react defensively or in anger, then there are some deeper boundary issues going on that may not be so easy to address. If that's the case, or if they continue to drop by unannounced even after you make your wishes known, then you've got a decision to make. If you're renting a great house at a great price, you may decide that it's worth putting up with their intrusiveness. On the other hand, you may soon decide that living in an apartment on the other side of town is looking better and better.

Dr. Bill Maier was psychologist-in-residence at Focus on the Family in the U.S. at the time of publication and the host of the Weekend Magazine radio program.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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