“My wife and My Mother Can’t Stand Each Other” by Linda Lipshutz, M.S., LCSW

Rob W. writes: ”My wife and I have been arguing incessantly and I am beside myself. Stacy and I have been married for five years and the problem seems to be getting worse, not better. I’ve always been very close to my family, so I don’t understand why my parents are so stubborn and negative and why they just won’t accept Stacy.

Things fell apart soon after we announced our engagement. Our two families met at a restaurant to discuss wedding plans. Mom seemed so excited and was quite vocal, as she can be, with ideas and suggestions for the wedding. Her mood quickly darkened when she concluded that Stacy’s mother was not welcoming enough or receptive to her input. Dad kept his mouth shut, but I could tell that he agreed fully with Mom’s position.

Stacy vociferously defended her mother and complained that Mom over-reacted and was too sensitive. As the wedding plans progressed, the tensions between both of our families heated up, ostensibly over finances and the guest list. I happen to think that Stacy’s parents were not considerate at all, and excluded us during some important decisions. Having said that, I begged my parents to let things go and not make such an issue, but when Mom gets worked up, WATCH OUT!

Our wedding turned out to be beautiful, even though the two families barely spoke to each other. Since the wedding, though, things between Stacy and my family have deteriorated. My mother complains that Stacy is self-centered and disrespectful and that we spend too much time with Stacy’s family. I happen to make a point of giving both families equal time and consideration. I continually ask Stacy to take the high road and to overlook when Mom is being difficult. Stacy complains that she’s hurt that I don’t notice the efforts that she makes to reach out to my parents and only pay attention to the problems.

I love my wife, but I hate sneaking phone calls to my parents from the office, or stopping by to visit them when she’s out with her girlfriends. We’re expecting our first child in April and I dread the thought of trying to please everyone. This should be the most wonderful time in our lives and the two of us are miserable!!!

Linda Lipshutz, M.S., LCSW responds: When a couple announces their engagement, both families enter a critical phase that dramatically sets the stage for the quality and cohesiveness of their future relationships.

Although most young adults feel an important loyalty to their families of origin, when they marry it is critically important to transfer their first allegiance to the new spouse. A clear message must be conveyed to one’s parents that although
they remain so very important, from now on, the spouse’s needs must take precedence. And, just as important, is for the newly married couple to communicate to one another that they are truly committed, and that they will be supportive and respectful to each other in the challenges that come up, even if they disagree. This shift in priorities should promote an atmosphere of improved trust, mutual respect, and ultimately a deeper intimacy.

Mature, loving parents recognize that they must make a key adjustment to allow their child to comfortably integrate into their new extended family. Most families are able to understand the importance of this and make this transition after a period of time.

In some families, though, this becomes a major sticking point. In these situations, the sense of family loyalty is so strong that they are unable or unwilling to compromise their unity to be receptive to a completely different set of values and opinions. They are extremely uncomfortable to be put in a position to have their own interests challenged or to be pushed to be hospitable to people they disagree with. They will resist accepting their child’s spouse and the extended family system.

In this case, the challenge is to give each family a clear message that the couple is a unit. Each must resist the urge to bad-mouth the other’s family, and to create a climate where there can be an open discussion about the conflict.
If either senses that the other is working against them, or behind their back, the relationship will be compromised.

In this case, Rob must speak to his parents in a heartfelt way, reiterating how much they mean to him, and acknowledging that he knows how difficult this conflict has been. He should show sensitivity to the fact that his parents might feel threatened by his relationship with Stacy’s parents and reassure them that there is room in his heart for both sets of parents. He should make it clear that he very much wants them to have an important place in his new life.

If he has been able to give Stacy an unambiguous message that she is his priority, there is a good chance that she might feel more secure in her position, and possibly more open to creating a more solid relationship with Rob’s parents. Rob should give Stacy the room to reach out to his parents in her own way, at her own pace. Acknowledging her efforts, and re-iterating how much these steps mean to him should go a long way in mending a lot of fences.

Linda Lipshutz, M.S., LCSW is a psychotherapist serving individuals, couples and families. A Palm Beach Gardens resident, she holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia. She can be reached at her Gardens office at 561 630 2827 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              561 630 2827      end_of_the_skype_highlighting, or online at www.palmbeachfamilytherapy.com.

Author's Bio: 

Linda Lipshutz MS,LCSW,ACSW is an individual, marriage and family therapist practicing in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
She can be reached in her office at 561 630 2827, or online at www.palmbeachfamilytherapy.com.