Does it appear that you married your spouse’s family when you married your spouse? That is the situation being questioned here. Gary and Carrie Oliver address this situation:
Question Concerning Spouse’s Family:
My wife and I have had fifteen years of struggle over how much loyalty we should hold toward each other’s family. For example, during a recent discussion over a family problem, my wife said, “Why should we cater to you?” This alarms me because my wife explained her comment by saying, “You didn’t just marry me; you married my family.” I don’t know what to do. I don’t think I can compete with her family much longer. She sees my attempts at getting us to be one as an attempt to take her totally away from her family. Can you help me with some answers?
This sounds like a very lonely and discouraging situation. Your question is a painful example of the need for quality pre-marital counseling. You have run head-first into core issues that could have been addressed by a competent counselor.
The good news is that there are some steps you can take that might make a positive difference.
It is true to say that you marry into your spouse’s family. It is flat-out wrong to say that you “marry” your spouse’s family. Genesis 2:24 tells us that marriage involves leaving your mother and father and cleaving to each other, not each other’s mother and father. The Bible never says that six people become one flesh. Only two people become one flesh.
It seems obvious that what you’ve done so far hasn’t helped. It’s a waste of time to obsess and ruminate on what you can’t change, what should be, what isn’t fair, or what she does or doesn’t deserve. Our question for you is what can you change? If she sees your attempts at “getting us to be one as an attempt to take her totally away from her family,” then it’s probable that you’ve been over-reacting.
Don’t try to compete with her family. Don’t tell her how wrong she is. Stop being problem-focused. It hasn’t helped. It won’t help. When what you’re doing doesn’t work, do something different.
Don’t Compete with Spouse’s Family
Turn to I Corinthians 13 and read it from 3 or 4 different translations. Then write your own paraphrase of it and ask God for one thing you can take from that passage and apply to your relationship with your wife. Turn to Ephesians 5 and read what Paul tells us husbands to do.
Ask yourself, “What does it mean for me to nourish and cherish my wife?” Look at the many passages in the New Testament that address how we’re to treat one another,and pick one a week that you’ll apply to your marriage.
You have an unparalleled opportunity to show your wife what real love looks like. The kind of love she can trust in and rest on. With some prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit, the encouragement of friends and family, the support of your church community, and perhaps the wisdom of a professional counselor, you are free to choose to move from being controlled by the hopelessness of what you can’t change to the solution-based perspective of what, with God’s help, you can do.
This article is one of the Q&A’s that was featured in “Couple Counsel” with Gary and Carrie Oliver in the April 2001 issue of Marriage Partnership Magazine. Unfortunately, this magazine is no longer being printed.
Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D. is the author of numerous books and is executive director of the Center for Marriage and Family Studies and Professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Sadly, Carrie Oliver died in July of 2007 from Cancer. She was a clinical therapist at the PeopleCARE Clinics, specializing in marriage and family and women’s issues, She was also a seminar leader and co-author, with Gary.
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