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Health & Sex

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The 7 Steps to Happily Ever After

Step 3: Choose each other as your first family.

For years, you were primarily a member of one family: the one in which you grew up. Then you got married, and suddenly you became the foundation of a new family, one in which husband and wife are the A-team. It can be tough to shift your identity like this, but it's also an important part of building your self-image as a duo (and maybe, eventually, as three or four or...).

For me, making this transition meant stopping the incessant bitching to my mom when I was mad at my husband — my behavior was disloyal, and I had to learn to talk to Jonathan, not about him. My friend Lynn tells the story of her mother's reaction to a trip to the Middle East she and her then-boyfriend (now husband) had planned. Her mother hit the roof, calling incessantly to urge Lynn not to go. Eventually, Lynn's boyfriend got on the phone with Mom and explained why they were excited to share this experience. "It was clear then that we were the team," Lynn says now. "Not teaming up against my mother, but teaming up together to deal with her issues."

Whatever your challenges — an overprotective mom? an overly critical father-in-law? — you have to outline together the boundaries between you and all of the families connected to you. Not only will you feel stronger as a united front but when you stick to your shared rules, all that family baggage will weigh on you a lot less.

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