Many married couples have trouble with the question of who comes first, your spouse or your parents? The answer is your spouse – that’s your first obligation. When you get married, you leave your parents. It doesn't mean you don't talk to them anymore (unless they're horrible), but you have to cater to the new dynamic. You're going to have a much stronger marriage if you become a loyal husband or wife.
Here are some of the things I hear all the time from callers on my show:
- "I just don't have the courage to say ‘no’ to my parents."
- "I don’t have a problem saying ‘no’ to my spouse, but I can't say ‘no’ to my parents.”
- "My parent did nothing wrong, my spouse is overreacting."
I want to discuss how to put your spouse before your parents, and particularly, how to stop your parents from ruining your relationship. But first, let me ask you a few questions:
- Does your husband or wife get upset when your parents drop by uninvited?
- Is your spouse bothered by the fact that your mother calls constantly at all hours, day and night?
- Do you pressure your husband or wife to spend vacations with your parents because your parents want you to?
- Do you listen to your Mommy or Daddy gossip about your mate?
- Guys, do you accuse your wife of overeating when she complains about something your parents said?
- Ladies, do you consistently turn to your father for advice instead of your husband?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’re caught in a classic parent-spouse tug-of-war: “I want to please my parents. No wait, my spouse. No, my parents. No, my spouse…”
But don’t panic quite yet – I have some good news. Ready?
YOU DON’T HAVE TO TRY TO PLEASE EVERYONE!
The choice between your spouse and parents was already made when you took your vows. Your vows trump everything, even your neurotic attachment to your parents or your wussyhood in dealing with their over-controlling nature. You have to focus on making your spouse your first priority, no matter how much it pisses off your mom or dad.
Here are 9 of the most common things your parents might be doing to interfere with your marriage and how you can deal with them:
1. They're too intrusive. They always have to know everything about what's going on. They show up uninvited and/or overstay their welcome.
How to deal: Set some rules and set them fast. Talk to your parents about visits and say that they have to call first because “we might be in the middle of sex in the living room and we don't want to be interrupted” (when you say things like that, parents hear you loud and clear). Tell them that you love them, but if they don’t call in advance, the door will not open unless it’s an emergency or somebody just died. Saying this might hurt their feelings, but it’s required.
2. They assume that since you came from them, you're going to do exactly what they did. Houses, finances, kids, clothes, vacations – whatever it is, your parents expect you to do things exactly the way they did.
How to deal: A marriage brings together two people with two sets of genes, behaviors, family dynamics, and ways of doing things. Tell your parents that you appreciate their input and viewpoints, but you've made your own decision. Say you expect that someday your kids are going to tick you off too when they make their own decisions (a good joke thrown in is always helpful).
3. Your parents try to do everything for you. They shower you with a car or a vacation (of course, the car is the one they picked out and the vacation is with them.)
How to deal: If you don't have a lot of money, it seems like fun to have your parents pay for you, but there are always strings attached. You become dependent on them, which means that you and your spouse are not two adults joined together as one. Tell your parents no gifts over $100. It may take you longer to save for your house or you may be staying at home for your vacation instead of going to Hawaii, but you'll have more pride in yourself and your spouse.
4. They bad-mouth your spouse.
How to deal: Explain to your parents that you don't want to hear it and that you won’t be talking to them if they don’t stop. You married your spouse, not them, and if you’re happy, then that’s what matters.
5. They criticize your lifestyle. From how far away you live to how you spend your money, it’s constant condemnation.
How to deal: Stand by your choices and your spouse. You must live your life your way. NEVER side with your parents against your spouse, and don't carry their criticisms home with you. Don’t tell your spouse it went down, just deal with it.
6. They make a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe you picked your sister-in-law's wedding over the annual family reunion and now your parents are mad.
How to deal: Gently remind them that you have two families now and that there is going to be triage (in this case, the one-time wedding takes precedence over the annual reunion).
7. They set a bad example. Your mother has been divorced four times, or your dad is cheap beyond repair.
How to deal: You can't fix your parents or the past, so don't bother trying. Instead, put your energy into not picking up their bad habits.
8. They don't want to share. You have to be there for every birthday and holiday because that's the tradition.
How to deal: Parents usually expect all holidays and family celebrations to remain the same even after you get married. However, you need to tell them that you have a new family, which means new traditions.
9. They ignore the rules you have for your kids. They load your kids up with gummy bears or worms, and let them stay up until 2 in the morning when you’ve said “no” (and when they never let YOU do it when you were a kid).
How to deal: Don't fight, just lay down the law. Limit your parents to short periods of time if they don't follow the rules, or make sure you're there. Minimize the time that they can do damage.
Now, what happens if it’s your spouse’s parents who are rubbing you the wrong way?
How to deal: Talk to your spouse. Say, "I don't know why I have such a bone to pick with your parents, but I can't stand it when your mother or father does ______." Usually, your spouse will respond, "I know, I grew up with that." By having an honest conversation instead of attacking them, you can become a team in learning to deal with it.