When Parents Hurt your Marriage

Mother-in-law © Ruediger Baun | Dreamstime.com
“That’s wrong, you should …”

Most of us have had some problem with our in-laws, and most of our brides have had some problems with our family of origin. A certain amount of friction is to be expected – and to be tolerated. However, when the problems are significant, it can harm your marriage.

First, let me suggest you not downplay your bride’s complaints about your family – especially your parents. Unless you know she is negative by nature about the vast majority of people, assume her perspective is valid. Also assume her hurt feelings are not hyped up. Realise you have a couple of decades of dealing with your family, and she does not. You understand them better, and if they are difficult you have learned to cope and ignore because you had no choice. Even if your dad was abusive, or your mom was controlling, as a child you had to find a way to get along as best you could. Now, however, you are an adult, as is your bride, and it is wrong to expect her to put up with bad behaviour from anyone, including your family.

If it was so horrible you had to leave your family or your bride, which would you choose? Easy choice, right? What’s difficult is seeing how bad it is, and how close it is to where you should make that choice. It’s easier to downplay, excuse, ignore, and try to get your wife to do the same than to stand up for your bride like a man. Yes, there is a challenge in there – or an insult. A real man does not allow his family to abuse his wife. What’s more, every woman understands this, and if her husband won’t stand up to his family on her behalf it substantially hurts his image in her eyes.

It’s rare for a conflict between bride and family to be horrible at first. Both are trying to make it work, and both are willing to ignore certain things at first. Usually it grows worse bit-by-bit, slowing going from uncomfortable to horrible one inch at a time. The wife often does not say anything to her husband for too long, and he is usually turning a blind eye. Sometimes when a man does realise there is a problem, his decision is to hold the line where things stand when he sees the problem. This is rarely enough, because by the time he admits it things are usually worse than he should have allowed in the first place. The only right thing  is to reclaim some of the ground already been given up.

Dealing with this is never fun, and usually heart wrenching. It’s not easy, accept the challenge and do what needs to be done. If you catch it early enough you might be able to change things with a few well-chosen comments, and by coming to your bride’s defence quickly and strongly when you should. If it’s gone too far, or you have a family member who is stubborn, you will have to confront them. DO NOT drag your bride into this; this is not about her and your family, this is about how your family treats her. Including her makes it look like her actions are up for discussion, which should not be the case. You need to make it clear you are with her, and if forced to choose, she wins. Be ready to follow up by limiting contact as necessary. Do not solve this by spending time with your family apart without your wife – this is still choosing them over her.

I know this is difficult – I had to go through it with my mother after my father died. She did not dislike my bride, but she did not treat her as I felt she should. I was unwilling for either of us to put up with some of the things I had put up with when I was younger. Fortunately, mom was smart enough to catch on before I had to spell it out for her. She figured out where the line was and stayed just the other side of it for much of the rest of her life.

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3 Comments on “When Parents Hurt your Marriage

  1. Thanks for this posting. I really struggled with this early inmy marriage. I let it go too long unnoticed and when my father was terminally ill my wife became the enemy of my family. We had our first child so my time was divided between my wife and baby, my dad’ terminal illness, and work. My family felt like she was keeping me away, but I was making all the choices not her. Since my dad’s death I have had a very distant relationship with my family and it hurts for everyone. I told them if I had to choose I would choose my wife and I kept my word. I do not regret it, but i do mourn the loss of family relationshps. I encourage everyone to defend their wife from day one and do not let anything build up beyond controll.

  2. I love my husband’s family, but I’m not Mormon and this causes quite a few problems. I have pointed this out to my husband, but it is usually dismissed with a we know what we believe, but it is challenging. However, God knew how to help me, and put me in a fantastic Sunday school class that taught me about evangelizing and the Bible. I learned how to respectfully point what the Bible says that I choose to believe and leave it at that. My mother-in-law recently told me she just didn’t know how to respond because I was sure I was right. I just laughed and said it was not me being right, but the Bible. Our relationship has been strained, but the conversion attempts have stopped. I don’t know if you have anything else to add to the different denomination/religion conflicts that come up, but they would be helpful.

  3. Let me assure you it doesn’t just hurt your bride. It devastes her. My father never stood up to the horrible way his mother and sisters treated her. As a 3 year old, I stood up to my grandmother more than he ever did. I told her she was a horrible lady and I didn’t like her. Apparently she thought my mom put me up to it. She didn’t have the self insight to realize that her behavior was so bad that a 3 year old girl could see the way she treated my mom and sister and call her out on it. Both my grandparents are dead now. Only after she died did my dad wake up to the favoritism that she showed my cousins.

    My parents marriage is very strained and my dad’s behavior decreased his daughters’ respect for him and made us doubt his love for us. I can only imagine how my mom feels.

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