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In-law troubles

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WAYNE A POWELL MA Counselling Psychology, Relationship Counsellor

Monday, October 15, 2012    

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Dear Counsellor

My husband and I have been married for 15 years. We were married when I was 24 and he was 26. The marriage went well for about two years after which my husband's family started causing severe problems in our marriage. His mother in particular treated me very badly. What hurts me most is that my husband does not stand up to them. When I speak with him about this he thinks I'm being unreasonable. In the beginning we agreed that we would not let our parents interfere in our marriage but this has changed as he has now disregarded the boundary lines we had established. I am very unhappy. What can I do as this situation is negatively impacting our marriage?

Some husbands and wives don't understand the biblical instruction, "To leave and cleave". What is meant by that term is that the man and woman exit the parental authority and control of the family of origin and establishes together as a unit their own rules of engagement so that their loyalty and commitment is to each other first. This does not mean that they will both disregard and disrespect their parents, but will instead strike a balance as to the extent to which their parents' involvement and influence will have on the marriage.

Before the couple gets married the question of in-laws must be clearly discussed and articulated in the pre-marital sessions. Once a position is agreed on it is incumbent on both persons to ensure that he/she keeps his/her end of the bargain.

In your case you mention that boundary lines were established but your husband has obliterated them. This is most unfortunate as it gives the impression that he was not committed to the agreement in the first place or he has fallen prey to parental pressure. If it is the former, this has serious implications for other decisions that you will both make as a couple, where you both may agree on a matter and then he may subsequently change the agreement unilaterally. One matter that such behaviour could negatively impact is the making of financial decisions. This will no doubt lead to interpersonal conflicts.

If, on the other hand, he frequently submits to parental pressure, it clearly indicates that he does not know how to, or want to "leave and cleave". Males tend to be close to their mothers and some of them have serious challenges balancing between the demands of their mothers and their wives/girlfriends. This is even more problematic if the women don't like each other.

It would make sense you try and make peace with your in-laws, particularly your mother-in law. It is true that some mothers are controlling and still believe that their 41-year-old sons are still their little boys and treat them accordingly. Call her occasionally and just make conversation. Most times these controlling mothers believe that they have lost their sons to strangers, so reassure her that you will take good care of her little boy.

Although you are upset with your husband for not standing up to his parents, try not to have an argument or belittle him for his failure to take charge of the situation. It is best you try and engage him in a discussion on the matter. Remind him of the undertaking you both made to each other regarding parental involvement and that you want to re-establish the boundary lines.

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