If your adult children still live with you, you’ll want to heed this marriage advice so you can keep a healthy relationship with your spouse.
Couples often believe that their children will automatically leave home when they become adults. Though many do just that, there are some who will choose to stay living “at home” for an indefinite period of time.
That time may end up being a lot longer than you had anticipated. You may find yourselves doing for them the same way you did when they were little and growing up in your house. You may continue to fix food for them, do their laundry, make their beds, and shop for clothes for them whether they are with you or not.
They will continue to let you do that and more if you seem willing to do it. You may find that you are continually fixing their cars, letting them live for “free” in your house, giving them money when they ask for it, etc. The list can go on and on.
You both may feel like prisoners in your own home. You may have had plans to travel but feel you just cannot while the “children” are in your house or possibly will need you to rescue them from situations they’ve created.
You and your spouse may have different opinions about how to deal with the situation. You may find that you are at odds with one another more often than not! You feel doomed to live out your lives as “slaves” to someone else’s needs and wants.
Life can be different for you if you learn to take a stand and do what you want and need to do.
Here are 7 steps you should take in order to have a happy, more fulfilling marriage even if your adult children still live at home with you:
1. Decide, together, what you want life to be for both of you
Discuss what you want to do as a couple from here on out. Discuss how you will make things happen for you. What are your expectations for your marriage now that you have worked all of your adult years and raised your children and are ready to take the next steps in life?
What activities do you want to be involved in by yourself and with your spouse? How much do you believe you need to work and what kind of job do you want to have? How many days a week do you want to devote to working, and how many days do you want to be free to play or just be?
These are just a few of the questions that might be raised in your discussion with each other. You may think of others which is great. The main goal is that you have these discussions and make some decisions for yourselves related to how you want your life to look now and in the future.
2. Communicate openly with one another
It is so important to spend time talking with each other and not airing your dislikes or concerns to your adult children. If you have an issue with your spouse, it is a must to talk to your spouse about it.
If you have an issue with your adult children, you need to bring it to the attention of your spouse and address it with them. Communicate with your spouse about what is bothering you and how you feel about it.
Then the two of you can come up with a plan for how to fix the problem. It may be very difficult to have a conversation with your adult children, but the two of you have talked and are able to present your plan together.
Remember, your adult children do not have to like the plan, but it is important for you to have one so that you don’t feel abused or taken advantage of by your adult children.
3. Always stand with your spouse
When you have discussions about your life together, be united. When your adult children are living in your house and/or are making demands of you, the two of you need to talk and express to them that you are united in your decisions.
Even if your children have been used to playing one against the other and it worked for them in the past, now is the time to decide you will be united in your decisions.
Being united includes your thoughts and actions you take when it comes to your adult children and what they seemingly need. It may be that your decision is to let them know that you will rescue them only one time.
The rest of the time you may need to let them know that it is their responsibility to figure out how to overcome a certain issue or situation. If they ask for your input, you can give it if you want to or you can say that you trust they will figure it out.
If they do not ask for your input, resist the temptation to give it, even if you think they could benefit from hearing it. Look to each other for help with these types of situations.
4. Pay attention to one another and to one another’s needs.
It is so easy to get caught up in being a parent to your adult children that you forget to pay attention to your spouse and to that spouse’s needs.
Again, you need to talk and to listen to what your spouse is expressing to you.
If your spouse is upset because you have adult children living in your house who live for free, continually trash the house, expect someone to do their laundry, fix their food, fix their car when it breaks down, give them money when they feel they need it: Listen and don’t interrupt. Your spouse may just need to vent. Then talk about how you might, together, work to fix the problems.
Pay attention to the needs that are there and work toward finding a solution that works for the two of you. Remember, the adult children don’t have to like what you decide. It is your decision to make.
It is no longer your responsibility to provide for all their needs. You are free to pick and choose if, what, and how you are willing to help them.
5. Always show love, respect, support, and encouragement to your spouse
Whatever you may think about a situation with your adult children, make sure that you spend time listening and showing your spouse that you truly love and respect his/her opinion.
Be as supportive and encouraging as you can be. Again, show that support and encouragement, even if you may have a differing thought or opinion about the situation.
If your spouse is having difficulty, it is important for you to be there and work together as a team to do what is best for you as a couple. Don’t ignore the fact that you are a couple and don’t ignore what will make your marriage really good!
Your adult children will get the message loud and clear that your marriage is worth everything to you. They will understand you truly care about one another. You will not allow them or anyone else to damage or destroy your relationship.
6. Remember to do fun things together
Make your relationship a priority. Spend time together doing various activities. Make plans to go to favorite restaurants or try new ones, but just the two of you. Take walks together, or ride bikes.
Go shopping together. Go to a movie or a play or to a park, etc. Make plans to do things around the house together. Make plans to take trips together. Those trips could be day trips or overnight trips or weeks-long trips.
Make plans to volunteer together. Make plans to meet up with friends. The list can be whatever you want it to be, but make a list and do the things on the list.
Remember, all of the things you are planning to do are for the two of you. They do not include asking your adult children if they would like to go or if it’s all right for you to be gone for a while.
There may be activities where you can include them, but it is most important to guard your time together. They need to know and understand that your relationship is important to you and that you are going to plan things to do as a couple. You don’t have to seek their approval or get their OK for any activities that you choose to do.
7. Set firm boundaries with your children
Finally, you need to set specific boundaries with your adult children so that resentments do not become a part of your marriage and a part of your relationship with your adult children.
Your home is your home. If the two of you have decided that they can live in your house, you can and should have certain rules that are part of living in your house.
Examples of those boundaries might be that they clean up after themselves; they pay a reasonable amount of rent to live there; they are in charge of their laundry; they are in charge of their meals; they need to let you know whether they will be home to sleep or if they are staying at someone else’s place; etc. It is also reasonable to expect that they are quiet when they come in after hours.
It’s important for you to not make it so comfortable for them to be there that they stay “forever.”
Maybe, one of your “rules” would be that if either you or they are uncomfortable with the living arrangements, they will be asked to leave and find another place to live. Give them a time frame so they know what is expected.
One thing to let your adult children know is that you will always love them and care about them and want their lives to be good. They don’t have to live with you for that to happen. You will love them no matter where they choose to live.
Be excited for them and supportive of them and let them know.
Doctors David and Debbie McFadden are a husband-and-wife team of marriage counselors who help struggling couples have a smoother, more fulfilling relationship. For more information on how they can help you in a tense or argumentative relationship, contact them through their website for a 15- to 20-minute phone or Skype conversation.