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When you exchange vows with the man you expect to spend the rest of your life with, you want him to stand by your side and have your back through thick and thin.
So what happens when, whether in times of conflict or otherwise, your husband chooses his family over you?
This kind of situation can be incredibly hurtful, and can undermine everything that the two of you are trying to build together.
Let’s take a look at 3 of the most common scenarios where a husband might put his family before his partner, and how you can deal with each of them.
1. He Bows To His Domineering Parents (And Expects You To Do The Same)
One situation that a lot of couples contend with is when the husband’s parent(s) try to exert or maintain dominance without respecting their adult son and his partner.
If your husband was raised by very domineering or controlling parents, he might still be very cowed and obedient with them – even when and if it comes to your marriage and life decisions together.
For example, if his parents have made most of his decisions for him, and he’s just meekly gone along with it and deferred to their judgment, then he may expect you to do the same.
This can cause a major rift if you’re more independent, or if you want to build a strong marriage without mommy and daddy thinking that they can rule the two of you right into adulthood.
Some people might be absolutely okay with older family members making decisions for them and ruling their lives so they don’t have to “adult,” but if one of you is okay with this and the other isn’t, then there’s going to be conflict.
Even more so when and if your husband sides with them rather than you, and expects you to go along with things to keep the peace.
Yeah, no. This isn’t cool. At all.
How To Address This Issue
In a case like this, you need to make it very clear to your husband that the two of you are a united team, and that you need to make decisions for yourselves, regardless of what his parents might think or want.
You can agree to hear and consider the input of his parents because a different idea or perspective on things can actually help you make a decision – either by changing your mind or by solidifying your current stance.
But the final word has to be yours and his alone. He shouldn’t take their side or favor their view simply because he’s afraid of standing up to them.
This can get complicated if the parents are helping you financially. For example, if his parents are lending (or giving) you the money to put a down payment on your house, then they may use that as leverage to make decisions about which house you buy. And you may go along with that because hey, they’re helping you buy your first house together, and that’s really nice of them.
Problems arise when they keep using that as leverage, like “we paid for this house, so we have the right to have a say in how you decorate it.” Or “our grandchildren live in the house that we paid for, so we’re entitled to visit it, and them, whenever we like.”
The way to approach situations where his parents feel that it is okay to force their views and wishes upon you is to do so tactfully and respectfully.
Don’t try to criticize their views or tell them that they are wrong for making those views heard. Just counter their view with your own, firmly and decisively.
For example, if they try to suggest Rose for the name of your forthcoming daughter, but you have another name in mind, politely state: “That’s a lovely name, but we’re very keen on Catherine, actually.”
Or if they try to muscle in on a family holiday that was meant just for the two of you and your children, respond by saying: “We’re really looking forward to some quality time just the 3/4/5 of us, but why don’t we plan a weekend away with all of us later in the year?”
If they try to pressure you into agreeing with them, you will have to stand firm and refuse to give in. Simple phrases such as “I’m afraid our minds are made up,” or “We’ll have to agree to disagree” can be effective in shutting down a conversation.
Just know that the more you and your husband can stand up and stand firm, the more his parents will eventually get the message.
They may resent you somewhat for it, but unless they are particularly toxic individuals, they should back down sooner or later.
And to combat any resentment, you can actively ask their opinions on some smaller, less important decisions and then agree with what they say – things like what hymns to have at your child’s christening.
Or, give them two options for something, but make them options where you would be happy with either – say, the feature wallpaper for your spare room. That way, you give them a little win whilst getting something you do actually like.
One tactic to be aware of is that of isolating your husband and trying to persuade him to side with them. They may say things like “Are you okay with this?” or “Is this what you want?” or “Do you agree?”
Make sure your husband is prepared for this. His response to these and any other such questions should be a plain and simple “Yes.” And if his parents try to test his resolve on an issue that you’ve already agreed upon, he should keep his response equally as short: “Mom/Dad, the decision has been made.”
2. He Allows Family Members To Disrespect You
Have your husband’s family members ever disrespected you in front of him and/or your children without your husband saying anything in your defense?
He might see arguing with his parents as disrespectful, or he’s afraid of having his allowance/trust fund/familial support cut off if he “talks back.”
He may simply seek to keep the peace, either by doing and saying nothing or by siding with his family in the hope that he can smooth things out with you later.
But where does that leave you?
Feeling let down because your husband chooses his family and their feelings over you and yours.
That’s no way to have a healthy marriage.
How To Address This Issue
Sit him down and make it very clear to him that this is absolutely not cool with you.
Some people who have been immersed in this kind of family dynamic all their lives might not have any other perspective other than their firsthand experience. As such, they may not be aware of how unhealthy it is, or how badly their family members’ behavior is affecting you.
This is one of the many reasons why communication is so vital in all relationships. We can only ever process situations through a filter of our own experiences, and what one person considers normal and acceptable might be absolutely appalling to another.
Or vice versa.
Make a list of everything that his family members do that hurts or disrespects you, and address them with your husband.
Ask for his perspective on things, so he doesn’t feel like you’re barraging him with a volley of issues about the people he loves, and allow for the possibility that there might be some situations in which there’s misinterpretation.
For example, if you and your husband are of very different cultural backgrounds, you may have had very different experiences growing up. A person who comes from a very large, close-knit Asian family may have a very different dynamic from someone who was raised in a small, reserved Scandinavian family instead.
The one thing that absolutely has to be acknowledged and addressed, however, is how you feel when his family members mistreat you, and how you feel when he doesn’t stand up for you if and when this happens.
That, above all, is the issue that needs to be worked out.
You two are a united team in a world that can be incredibly difficult and hostile to negotiate. So it’s time to act as such.
He may get really defensive, and tell you that you’re being over sensitive or that things aren’t that big a deal. But if they’re hurting you and making you feel disrespected, then yes… this is a big deal indeed.
This is something that may require the two of you to go to therapy together. Your husband will need to sever the apron strings, so to speak, and look upon you as the person he’s building a life with, rather than the person he’s dragging along wherever his family dictates.
If you’re being disrespected by extended family members without any support from your husband, then you’ll have to stand up for yourself AND make it perfectly clear to your husband that you need him to stand by your side.
Should he balk at that idea, or insist that you back down and accept abuse and ill treatment for the sake of maintaining familial harmony, then you’ll have some tough decisions ahead of you.
Do you want to stay with a man who will bend to his family’s will at your expense?
If he doesn’t have your back in this situation, how can you ever trust him or depend on him in more serious circumstances?
Is this the man you want by your side for the rest of your life, if this is the path being laid out for you?
3. He Prioritizes Spending Time With His Family Over You
Some families are close. Really close. They may literally be in and out of each other’s lives on a daily basis.
Your husband may have lived in such a dynamic for his entire life. He may not have even questioned it.
But, let’s be honest, it’s a little unreasonable to expect that to keep happening now the two of you have partnered up. Especially when children come along.
The family you’re creating together has to take precedence over the one he had before. If he doesn’t realize this, or he doesn’t want anything to change, then that’s a sign that he probably still has a lot of growing up to do.
Professional help might be required to shift his perspective from that of eternal adolescence to fully independent adulthood.
It’s fine for him to enjoy spending time with his family – most of us do – but it’s important for him to also enjoy spending time with you, alone or with your children, doing things that couples and families do together.
How To Address This Issue
Prioritize yourself. While you’re dealing with this issue, make your self-care an absolute priority.
Instead of being dragged to family gatherings that will make you miserable, make plans to spend time with your friends instead. Pour your energy into hobbies and personal pursuits. Take a class that you’ve always wanted to delve into.
Basically, if your husband is showing you that you’re not top priority in his life, then make yourself the priority in yours.
Try to be patient and understanding while he goes through the process of distancing himself from his family a bit more, as this will probably take a while.
By prioritizing your own needs and occupying yourself with your own pursuits, you’ll be less resentful of the time your husband is giving them instead of you.
And let’s just be clear: joining him for family gatherings and respecting his right to spend time with his family outside of your relationship is an important part of that relationship.
But there is a balance to be struck here…
If he insists on spending every weekend with his family, you are well within your rights to say no and to do your own thing instead sometimes, especially if your relationship with his family is a little strained.
Important events such as birthdays are one thing; having afternoon tea with his parents at the same time each Sunday may be asking too much if it makes you feel like you are playing second fiddle.
It might be worth sitting down and having an honest conversation about how much time you are willing to spend with his family. Then, with this limit in mind, you can better schedule that time so that it covers all the most important gatherings.
And that schedule should be something his family are aware of, too, especially if they have a habit of turning up at your place unannounced.
Decide Whether You Want To Be Second Best Forever
One excuse that’s commonly heard in situations where your husband chooses his family over you is “they’ve been family to me longer than we’ve been a couple.”
Basically, that because they’ve all known one another and supported one another for as long as your husband has been alive, they – and their views, wants, needs, and preferences – need to take precedence over yours.
This is bullsh*t.
We don’t get to choose our family members, but we do get to choose our life partners. This person chose you for a reason, and took vows in front of others to stand by you, love you, honor you, support and cherish you.
Basically, by behaving the way he’s doing now, he’s in breach of contract. He vowed to stand by your side for better or worse, and now he’s reneging on that vow. Instead, he’s allowing you to be mistreated, disrespected, and made to feel like crap.
Sure, he may be very close with his blood family, but he chose you to be part of this family. As such, he needs to understand that compromises need to be made.
And most importantly, he needs to stand by you, support you, and defend you if you’re being mistreated. Even by those he loves.
Being with a husband who sides with his family every time is an excruciating situation to contend with. It may seem like he loves them more than he loves you.
And, quite frankly, if he can’t change his ways and treat you as an equal to his family, there are any great choices.
Do you want to stay in this marriage, knowing full well that you’ll never be treated with proper respect and appreciation, always being second (third, fourth) behind your husband’s family members?
If your husband isn’t willing to support you and stand up for you while you’re being disrespected by his parents, siblings, or extended family members, then you need to ask yourself whether you’re okay facing that kind of abuse forever.
Every holiday, every family gathering, will likely be excruciating. And your so-called partner won’t stop anyone from hurting you.
Battle lines have been drawn, so to speak. You’ll either need to establish dominance in this hierarchy, making it absolutely clear that this awful behavior won’t be tolerated, or leave.
No relationship is worth tolerating abuse and disrespect for.
Still not sure what to do about your husband taking the side of his family over you? This is a tricky situation, and one that can easily be made worse with the wrong approach. There’s no shame in getting help from a trained relationship counselor (either by yourself or with your partner) who can listen to your concerns and offer helpful advice to navigate your way through the issue. So why not chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.
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