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Q. How do I set realistic expectations for my parents about boundaries for my first child? My brother has two kids and they steamroll him — they tell him and his wife how to parent all the time, they purposely buy gifts my brother is against, they ask intrusive questions and say somewhat manipulative things to their kids about being the “favorite” grandparents. It pains me to see the stress and self-doubt it causes my brother, and though he won’t stand up to them (I’ve tried to get him to!), I am determined that they are not going to do this with us. —Frustrated

The main components of boundary-setting are establishment and reinforcement. When establishing boundaries, be matter-of-fact, specific and kind but firm (magical alchemy for even the most difficult of interpersonal situations). Make your “rules” feel in step with your general parenting philosophy rather than a knee-jerk reaction to their prior offenses. Effective: “We have a no-X rule for the baby, as I’ve mentioned. Thank you so much for buying this — it’s so generous! — but we can’t have it in the house. Would you like to return it, or should we?” Not so effective: “Why can’t you listen? I told you so many times we don’t let Baby play with X. This is just like what you do to Joe.” The sooner you start, the better — and prepping for the child/grandchild provides plenty of practice in both establishment and reinforcement.

My wife is the boss of me

Q. My wife of five years is controlling. I changed my cellphone number because I’m sick of telemarketing; she argued, complained and wouldn’t let it go — just one example of my inability to make a decision on my own without being challenged, even the most trivial things. I am 55 and don’t need “Mommy” micromanaging my decisions, which is what it feels like. I don’t believe leaving the relationship is a solution, and I’m looking for tools to use that don’t escalate the issue into an argument. This type of behavior is pushing my buttons, but if I lose my temper reinforcing a boundary, then I am the bad guy, giving her something to use against me. —Micromanaged

You’re absolutely right: Losing your temper will make things worse. If she has a tendency to control, and presumably has for decades, this will take some professional work and follow-up. Main areas to focus on would be for her to see how her behavior undermines your marriage, for you to express your feelings without escalation, and for you both to establish reasonable versus unreasonable decisions for her to be involved with, as well as how to communicate with each other more empathetically. But I worry that if her behavior is escalating, this is less about couples counseling and more about whether she is even capable of doing the work to look at herself and make changes. People who cling to power aren’t usually the best at seeing other people’s perspectives, but your marriage depends on it.

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