Q & A TOPIC: In-laws
Jeni from Pensacola, Florida:
Q: My husband and I have been married for 6 months now. We have been getting into more fights then ever lately. Actually, we used to never fight. We had little arguments, but we never fought though. It's like all we do is hurt each others feelings. I'm one that is scared to tell someone how I feel because I'm scared it's going to hurt him. He tells me all of the time that he wants to know how I feel about something. Well, I have begun to tell him now. And ever since I have, he yells at me and tells me that I'm being selfish and unfair. I can't help how I feel about some things. Recently, his mother has begun a fight between us. My husband has always wanted a motorcycle. His brother is selling his bike and his mother told him about it. He was really excited about it when he found out, but he told his mother that he wanted to talk to me first before buying it. I told him that I don't want him to buy it because I feel as if they are very unsafe and I don't want him to get hurt and he understood why I didn't want him getting the bike. Well he went back and told his mother that he did not want to buy the bike. And that's when we starting fighting. His mother now says that I control his life and I tell him what he can and can't have. But I don't though. I tell him how I feel about something and that's when he decides what he does and buys. Well, I told my husband that it hurt my feelings when his mother said that I control his life. When I told him that, he said that I was being selfish and inconsiderate. I don't know why he said that, but he did. His mother said that I'm not good enough for her son and that I have an anger control problem, in which case I do not. My husband is a big time mama's boy. He'll admit to that also. I feel as if his mother comes before me. He takes his mom's word before he would even consider mine and does things that only his mother would want him to do. It's like every time I express how I feel about the subject, he just says I'm selfish and unfair and he throws it back in my face. I'm scared that she's going to come between us and we're going to split up because of it. I love my husband with all of my heart and soul, but I just don't know when or what to say to him anymore. I'm scared that if I keep telling him how I feel, he's going to yell at me. He never gets mad at his mom for criticizing me or making me sound like the "bad guy". But it's like when I say his mother is being unfair, he stands up for her and protects her. I want him to do that for me. Everything he does in life is for her. We are moving into a house that is across the street from her. He's not reenlisting into the military because she doesn't want him to, and we put off alone time because he doesn't want to leave her just in case something happens to her. I understand that he doesn't want to leave her alone by herself because she's 82 years old and has bad arthritis in her bones. But there are times that I would like to have my husband's complete and undivided attention. So please, tell me what I should do!! I need help fast, because if I don't do something soon, I'm going to be a heartbroken woman!! I definitely don't want that either. Thank you!! Jenny
A: Jenny. First of all, don't even bother responding to the issue of whether or not you're selfish. Just assume that you are "healthily selfish" and that it's OK. Your husband has to learn to negotiate with you about your "selfish" needs and to avoid invalidating them. Unfortunately, it sounds as if he doesn't understand a lot about relationships. He needs to become clearer about what areas of decision-making and communication are private to your marriage and are beyond the range of Mom. Conversely, you need to let go of any tug of war for his affection. He deserves to love his mother and you don't need to act out any jealousy about that. You should especially avoid derogating his mother to him. Instead, focus on getting him to agree to some rules for what communications and areas of decision should remain private for the two of you. If he can't do that, then you both will badly need a marriage counselor to help you accomplish this task. - Bryce Kaye
Becky from Vidor, Texas:
Q: MY HUSBAND AND I HAVEN'T EXACTLY BEEN THE "HAPPY MARRIED COUPLE" LATELY. WE'VE BEEN MARRIED FOR A YEAR AND 2 MONTHS. WE SOLD OUR HOUSE IN AUSTIN AND RELOCATED TO VIDOR. WE DECIDED TOGETHER TO BUILD A HOME ON THE OTHER SIDE OF HIS PARENTS LAND. WE ARE LIVING WITH THEM NOW AND I BELIEVE IT HAS PUT A MAJOR STRAIN ON OUR MARRIAGE. HE WILL TALK TO ME IN WAYS AS IF I'M A DOG AND I DON'T LIKE IT. EVERY TIME I CONFRONT HIM WITH MY FEELINGS , HE SAYS I CAN LEAVE. BUT I DON'T WANT TO BECAUSE WE HAVE 2 KIDS AND I LOVE HIM WITH ALL MY HEART AND SOUL. WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE IT BETTER?
A: Becky. From what you have said, there is not enough information for me to give you an intelligent direction. The only thing that occurs to me is to try to negotiate a way to live in some other temporary housing. Living in the in-laws house is often a very severe stressor that causes squirrely dynamics in a marriage. It will often put the son or daughter in a more regressed emotional state. - Bryce Kaye
Maggie L from Bridgeton, N.J.:
Q: My husband and I have been married for almost a year now and our marriage seems to be going around in circles. We are constantly fighting because of his family. I talk to him all the time and try to fix things but somehow or another we always end up back to square one (no where). I tell him that he makes me feel as if his family comes before I do. And every time we fight, regardless of who started it, I always end up being the one begging and pleading. I feel so frustrated. Every word I say seems to go in one ear and out the other. I just don't know what else to do. I tried talking to his family rationally as well but they were "offended" since they claim to have every right to interfere in their brother's life. I don't want out (of this marriage). I just want a solution. HELP please. I am willing to try anything.
A: Maggie. You probably need to back up and go at this more systematically. You need to recognize that your husband has a right to have a relationship with his family that is not subject to your approval. At the same time, your husband must recognize that there are topics and decisions that need to remain private between you and he. You should not get into a black vs. white tug of war for your husband's loyalty. Don't set it up as such. Instead, see if he will sit down with you at length and map out decision areas and other topics that will remain shared only between he and you. Also, try to get him to map out activities and communications with his (other) family that you are to respect. In other words, negotiate it out. I'm assuming that he can be consistent if it's clearly mapped out. However, if you and he already have commitments that he's actually breaking because he's afraid of his family's disapproval, then you will need to confront him very very strongly. In the latter case, a mediator (such as a counselor) might be necessary. Good luck. - Bryce Kaye
Jane from Dallas, Tx:
Q: I have read most of the letters written to you but have not seen too much on in-laws. What is your advice on mother-in-laws/daughter-in-law relationship when the two do not get along? I feel like my husband is a "mama's boy" - and can't understand that the mother/son relationship changes when a son gets married. For example, my husband and I decided to attend a church of a different religion (than what my husband grew up in) when we got married. Every time my in-laws come in town, they can't go to our church. They have to go to one within their same religion (catholic). My mother in law has left books and other general information about the catholic religion on our coffee table when they leave. It seems like she tries to upset me every time we are together. For example, she has brought her own towels with her when she visited one time. After asking my husband why she did this, he stated that he didn't know but maybe she thinks ours are dirty! She also makes snide comments about my cats (knowing very well that I love them dearly). One other big thing (that I am worried sick about) is her behavior around her grandchildren (my husband's nephews. We do not have any children yet). When she is around them, she takes over. She disciplines them (right in front of the parents), feeds them, does their laundry, gives them their baths, puts them in bed, etc. One time, after one of them was punished by the mother, my mother-in-law went to the grandson's bedroom, pacified him, and let him out of his room! She seems obsessed of these kids and it worries me because I don't want her to treat my kids the same way she is treating her other grandchildren. I want her to be a grandparent but leave the parenting to us! My husband doesn't see it and tends to not stick up for me. What do I do?
A: Jane. You don't describe a situation where you absolutely have to do anything. You don't have to like them. Ever! But because they're your husband's only parents, you will need to make some accomodation so that they can have a relationship. Focus on being polite and let them be jerks if they must. However, when you do have your own children, it will be very important that you and your husband have lengthy negotiations about the ground-rules: what will you tolerate and what will you and he not accept when it comes to your in-laws interactions with your child(ren). You don't have to work that out now and it probably will be better to postpone those negotiations until a baby is on the way. But then hang tough and don't let your husband avoid the issue. It can be deadly if avoided and if you don't have a common boundary with regard to the children. When it comes to towels, other people's kids, religious zealousness, etc. you can probably afford to have a thicker skin without having to confront them. Good luck. - Bryce Kaye
Chris from Ohio:
Q: My mother is still furious that I divorced my first wife, even though she fought with her when we were married. Now, 5 years later I am remarried and extremely happy. My mother refuses to accept my divorce and remarriage and constantly finds fault with my wife. She makes constant reference to my ex in front of my current wife and my 8 yr old daughter. Recently she got the entire family in an uproar because I disposed of my first wedding album for personal reasons. I feel this is an invasion of my privacy and she is again looking for a reason to punish myself and new wife. She also is angry that I won't override my wife's decision to not allow anyone to smoke in our home because of her allergies. My mother thinks that she should be allowed and refuses to come to our house. She has basically "denounced" us over the wedding album incident and said she does not want to talk to us or see us again. What is your advice?
A: Chris. My advice would be to do nothing. You no longer live in your mother's house. It's your life now - and your wife. If your mother implodes, that's her own doing. - Bryce Kaye
Walter from Shreveport, Louisiana:
Q: My wife and I are separated right now due to her attitude, her taking her anger out on me and blaming me for things that I never even heard of, and the fact that her and my mother don't get along at all and I'm stuck in the middle. My mother tries to run my life and I'm trying to live my own life. Now I've got a two way conflict here. My mother says I'm not using head and my wife is angry at me for the way my mother is. My wife is currently getting some help. How can I patch up my marriage and get my mother to back off?
A: Walter. Triangles are always messy! One suggestion I have is to prioritize focusing on your marriage over your mother. You may need to sit down with your wife and discuss what aspects of your relationship you will no longer reveal to your mother. Accept the fact that your mother's approval is dispensable. She may not be capable of respecting you until long after you've enforced firm boundaries with her. If you can't accept her disapproval, then get some therapy. You sound as if you are allowing too much intrusion of your mother into your private life. You're grown up now. You have the right to establish privacy around your marital relationship. Your mother is now a guest when invited into that relationship. If you keep clean boundaries around your marriage, then you will be less "caught in the middle" and more able to confront your wife when she gets hysterical about your mother. - Bryce Kaye
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