Did I Marry My Spouse’s Family?

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:

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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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Filed under: Dealing with In Laws & Parents

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10 responses to “Did I Marry My Spouse’s Family?

  1. (USA)  Just recently married I have been dealing with this very thing. My wife ignores nearly every thing I say in favor of suggestions from her family, even though in the long run those suggestions (more times than not) prove faulty, and because of this simple problems turn into big problems that could have been fix quickly if it hadn’t been for their involvement. She sees me not as a secondary person in her life, but rather as a thirtieth. Cousins whom she barely knows, holds more sway in her life than I do.

    Her own pastor told her when we were preparing to marry that the family created from this union came first and before seeking external help every attempt should be made to fix any problems within the marriage.

    If we make plans to do something and later on she discovers her family has planned something for the same time she’ll drop our plans, without consulting me, for whatever her family is doing… many a argument has erupted from this.

    I understand she wants to remain connected with her family, but to blatantly disregard OUR family and the union blessed by God bothers me and makes me wonder.

  2. (UNITED STATES)  I am suffering this exact situation against my in-laws. My in-laws are exuberant retirees with a zest for life, and a generous bank account with which they bribe their struggling children and grandchildren. My husband is one of three children. One of three children, who all past the age of 40, still open-handedly receive handouts from his parents, in the form of lavish vacations, weekly parties, ski trips, cruises, mortgage payments, you name it. None of their children adhere to “Leave and cleave”.

    Prior to marriage with my husband, I was able to beautifully juggle an ascending career with all of their time demands. I was able to attend all birthday parties, weekly time demands, etc. After the marriage, it became challenging. After the birth of our first baby, a dauntingly impossible task. Nevertheless, I faithfully and still tried to attend 1 or 2 family functions every month.

    When I respectfully opt out of these family functions, I get a stern phone call from his father, who says to me, “You married not just your husband but his FAMILY. You have to stop being selfish and attend to what your husband needs.”

    They refuse to give our marriage room to grow as individuals. They continue to haunt us. We need guidance.

  3. (USA)  My situation has been even more difficult. I have been married for almost two years now and absolutely have no peace in my marriage. My family lives in a different country whereas my husband’s family lives just thirty minutes away. Needless to say that they expect us to be a part of their “unit”. I tried to explain to them that “the unit” is my husband and I and they are extended family, which we are happy to see once in a while, that the marriage is just two people and Christ.

    Sadly, they still think it is all about them -our marriage is just an extension of their family. My mother in law confessed that she doesn’t want to be jealous over me and my father-in-law until recently has ignored all my polite requests not to do certain things that are bad for our marriage. In situations when I was offended by another family member no loyalty was shown and my husband runs back and forth from our house to theirs, seeks refuge over there each time things go difficult between us and leans on his mother and father for pretty much everything. All my dreams about a happy family for two have been totally ruined, my husband refuses to leave and cleave.

    Recently, after a big fight we had, my husband left and has been staying with his relatives ever since. Its been two months now and I am living totally alone. My husband shows up at the house when it is convenient for him and tells me he has to go “home” to his mom and dad. I have absolutely no idea how my husband lives his life. I receive news about it over the phone from his parents. He doesn’t care how I am doing and how I am getting along. My husband and his parents are Christian, know the truth but choose to ignore it. Please help.

  4. (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) In marriage all issues and conflicts should only be dealt with between the husband and wife, a spouse’s family should never get involved because then it defeats the purpose of being married. The Bible says”that a man will leave his mother and father to be with his wife and they will become ONE “flesh.”

  5. (USA) I find it interesting how the wife says “you married my family”. The author of the article is correct in stating that in Gen it says to leave and the two will become one. However, you do marry INTO the others family, so keeping both families involved and respecting both families will save a lot of heartache as well.

  6. (USA) My now ex-wife used to justify almost everything with regard to this conflict (which ended our marriage) by saying “The Bible says that the MAN is supposed to leave and cleave, not the woman.” Her family was very matriarchal (if momma wasn’t happy, nobody was happy), and they treated me like an extension of their dysfunctional genealogy, even going so far as to pick out the burial plots where their daughter and I would be laid, telling me what an undeserved honor it was for me to receive that “gift” from their descendents.

    This nightmare ruined me on marriage forever, but I would like to know how to refute this misinterpretation of Gen. 2:24, Eph. 5:31 with Scripture, so I can challenge those who would use it to justify this type of destructive co-dependency. Can anyone help? Thank you.

  7. Been dealing with my wife’s family since we met! They’re very controlling and influence her very much. This has caused many differences and arguments between us. She doesn’t stand up for me but runs to everything pretty much that they ask her to go to! Doesn’t much matter where or when she feels pulled. But says that’s how she has fun and I should do the same. I will also say I too have 4 grown kids and 8 grandkids as well. They need some grandpa time too. I have a close relationship with all my kids. I do however put my wife’s interest and wants ahead of all others. I don’t think she know what my “CHAIRS” are. Help please! Thanks so much. Chris

    1. Sorry dude, we inherit each others family. My wife’s family has been crazy at best, multiple divorces, drinking, drugs, fighting, always mad at each other; then all their children have picked up all the traits. Same thing, fighting, jail, drug rehab, OK for 1 week, and then in jail the next week; lose good jobs, etc. It’s like a soap opra.

  8. What excellent advice! It can be a bit tricky blending families and traditions even when you are an older couple and starting on a new marriage! But with love and counseling from the Holy Spirit it can be navigated with grace.