Help! My Inlaws are Ruining My Marriage! Advice from a Counselor

I often talk to young couples about the importance of "leaving and cleaving"--in other words, leaving home and joining to your new partner. Leaving and cleaving is how the Bible describes leaving home and getting married.

Making a clean break and building a separate space for the two of you is the main protection from intrusive or manipulative in-laws (especially parents).

If problems have already developed, the principles for dealing with any controlling people apply--namely, dropping resentment, speaking up calmly, and not getting into no-win arguments. However, I also need to add some extra help for the issue of nosy and manipulative in-laws.

Let's suppose, for example, that you are the fiancee who is feeling pressure from his parents. Once you have let go of resentment and spoken openly with your potential husband about your concerns-after that, I cannot tell you, for example, whether to proceed and get married or not. I am not in your shoes, nor do I know your boyfriend or his parents.

But with a clear unemotional perspective, unclouded by anger or resentment, you will be able to gather information, assess the situation, and do the right thing. Although I cannot give specific advice I can give you some guidelines.

I am addressing this article to young adults dealing with confusing, manipulative, controlling or even downright bossy parents. Other in-laws can make trouble for a marriage too, but let's be honest--the issue is most often with your partner's parents. Everything I have said about letting go of resentment obviously applies when dealing with your partner's parents.

In fact, if you resent your own mom or your dad, you will remain trapped in the conformity and rebellion mode. The past will keep cropping up in all your future relationships, especially with your spouse. Unless you forgive your parents, you are destined to become just like them or marry someone just like them and then be to your kids what they were to you.

The focus of this article is coping with manipulative or intrusive in-laws. So you need to know that if you resent your parents, you will not be able to deal in a mature way with your partner's parents either.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that all parents are confusing--just most of them. I'm not saying that all families are dysfunctional--just most of them. That's why many readers appreciate this article--because I am addressing issues that they are dealing with.

If you are like many people, you can relate to what I am saying because you know some parents or in-laws who are confusing, intrusive, or bossy. Besides, many of us have had parents who were good people and who did the best they could; yet they failed us in some way, and we resented them. In fact, even if you had had saintly parents, you probably would have resented them anyway (for not letting you have your way, for example). So if they were decent but you judged them a bit harshly, then letting go of resentment still makes excellent sense.

By letting go of resentment, your relationship with your parents will improve and you will be able to deal gracefully and maturely with your new in-laws.

Now that I have covered the importance of letting go of resentment, let me lay down some more general guidelines. As a young person, it is good to start your own life. You can't remain dependent on your parents forever, nor can you remain tied to them forever. You won't grow.

To grow, you need to get out on your own, earn a living, build a career and one day a family, and develop your skills.

When I see grown kids and a parent who are too emotionally close, I suspect a co-dependent relationship based on resentment that has them both trapped by guilt.

The parent is guilty for manipulating and smothering the child. The adult child who has not left home is guilty for buried and suppressed resentment.

Neither is free to speak the truth, and neither has the love to set the other free. On the surface they are close, but it is out of guilt to cover layer upon layer of resentment.

This is not to say that a parent and child cannot be friends, respectful, and considerate of each other. Of course they can. It is a beautiful thing when an adult child has a noble and wise parent to whom he or she can turn for advice and counsel. But this is a far cry from guilt and dependency.

I am saying that when a young person who should be going out to start his or her life is hanging back and clinging to parents in an enmeshing or dependent way, and they are too emotionally close, it is not good, especially if you are engaged or a newlywed.

Sometimes the best thing for the adult child is a parentectomy. What I mean is: there is a time to cut the apron strings. Even parent birds will sooner or later shove the little bird out of the nest. He has to learn to fly, and no one can do it for him.

So if you are having issues with your partner's parents or in-laws, make sure that you two have found independent space for your new marriage. Sometimes putting a great deal of distance between you and them is the easy solution.

I heard a senior counselor on the radio say that one of the biggest trouble causing issues for young marriages is the failure to "leave and cleave."

This true for both the man and the lady. The lady's leaving home is a bit easier because after she meets and becomes engaged to her future husband, one day he takes her to their new home, carries her over the threshold, and together they start a new life together.

If she is a bit clingy to mom, then her husband, graced with strength and wisdom, helps her, through his love, to feel secure with him.

But when the man is still tied to his mother's apron strings, it does not bode well. He should have the vision to see this. As the husband or husband to be--he is head of household and he is supposed to become the Moses or George Washington of his family.

He must have the wisdom to see that he must establish himself in a trade or business, become independent, and separate himself from being too close to his parents. This does not mean that he cannot still respect them and honor them. One day he may even be able to help them when they are elderly. But as a young man, he must leave and cleave to his wife.

If he does not, then there will be pressure on his wife to have to conform to his parents, to continue the dependency relationship he still has, and to resent him for his weakness.

Often the wife sees the problems with being too close more clearly than her husband does. He is perhaps a dutiful son and does not realize the pressure and insecurity his wife will feel when she is curtailed in setting up her own home and feathering her own nest.

She instinctively sees the importance of independence, and although he should--he may not. If so, she will have to tell him in no uncertain terms.

If they are engaged and she sees that he is too close to his mother, for instance, to the point that his mother rules and dominates his life-she will have to make her concerns known to him. If he cannot or will not see the importance of becoming the man of the family, becoming established in business, setting up a home, and setting some boundaries to shield his wife from nosy intrusive relatives-she may have to draw a line in the sand or even end the engagement.

Another situation fraught with red flags is where he is not established in a trade or business. If he is a student (or worse yet, the eternal student), is used to hand outs from someone, or is not working--these liabilities should be dealt with before she gives her self to him.

Of course there are rare situations where he is only temporarily unemployed, he is finishing up school, or he is at home while working and saving money-nevertheless, a young lady will have to use her best discernment about this guy. There are plenty of fish in the sea, as my mother used to say.

To summarize: married couples need a place they can call their own. It is not good when a partner is so close to his parents that they begin to dominate his wife. This can ruin a marriage. She must speak to him about it, and he must leave and cleave. She must be careful not to resent her husband or his parents or in-laws. She should remain calm, but speak up for herself. If they are not yet married, he must have the wisdom to become established in a business or trade and not rely on his parents.

Roland Trujillo, MS, D. Pastoral Psychology, is the author of 17 books.His radio advice program airs in Southern California and is now in its 25th year.

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Why do couples argue?
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I am both a counselor and a spiritual care giver. I care about relationships and I also care about the spiritual side of life. The reader will find down to earth common sense relationship advice intermingled with references to God, the story of the Garden of Eden, and both Christian virtues and perennial philosophy principles such as forgiveness, patience, compassion and gentleness. 
I say things the way I see them, and it is my hope that my forthrightness and unabashed love for God will not be an impediment, but will be a breath of fresh air and an occasion to think outside the box.  .  .  .  .
Ladies, do you have a weak man? Would you like him to be the noble knight that you hoped he would be when you married? Instead your support of him only made him weaker, more beastly, and spoiled. Does he look to you for support instead of standing on his own two feet? Does he go off to the bar, gambling, or another woman, and then come crawling back?
Everywhere women are suffering because of the weakness of men. Kids are suffering because their dad was not there for them. And even decent people, who seem to have happy marriages or relationships, are often secretly unhappy. He feels trapped. She feels unloved. 
There. Have I gotten your attention? Read on and you may discover the truth that sets you free from the subtle errors. 

How true it was when Henry David Thoreau said: "Most people lead lives of quiet desperation."
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