NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Feeling Stuck in the Middle: What to Do If Your Spouse and Your Parents Don't Get Along

One of the most challenging problems that you can face as a married person is when your spouse and your parents don't get along. This situation puts you in a very awkward position, especially if you're close to your parents and you really love your spouse. You're caught in the middle between them. 

What to Do If Your Spouse and Parents Don't Get Along

It can be very hard to understand why, if your spouse loves you and your parents love you, they can't get along.  This can place a strain on your marriage and on your relationship with your parents.  Holidays, birthdays, the birth of a child, and family visits can become very stressful for you and everyone involved.  So how you deal with this and maintain your sanity?

First, as much as you can, step back and try to be objective, as if you were a disinterested person observing this situation. 

Are there really clear cut reasons why there's animosity? For instance, do your parents dislike your spouse because he or she is mistreating you?

If your daughter or son were in a similar relationship, would you feel the same way? 

Alternatively, are your parents being unreasonable or are they being too intrusive or overstepping boundaries in your relationship, which is stable and healthy?

These can be difficult questions to ask, especially since there might be things that you don't want to see about your spouse or your parents.

Recognizing that this is a common problem can help you when you feel alone, desperate, and unsure of what to do. 

Whenever two or more people get together, there's the potential for personality conflicts. Just because you love your parents and you love your spouse doesn't mean they'll necessarily love each other.

Obviously, one blog post can't address every possible scenario or permutation of this type of problem, but let's take a look at one possible scenario, which is a composite of many accounts with all identifying information changed:

Lorna was in her early 30s when she and Tom got married. They met through friends, and dated for a couple of years before they decided to get married. They were very in love. Lorna had never met a man who was so kind and considerate of her. They had similar values and they wanted similar things in life.

Overall, they were very happy together. But the one big stressor in their lives was that Lorna's parents disapproved of Tom because he was raised in a different religion. Before they even met Tom, when Lorna talked to them about Tom and they found out he was not raised in their religion, they were upset. Although Lorna had anticipated that they might have concerns, she was surprised by their reaction, especially since neither Lorna, her parents or Tom were active participants in their religions.

Lorna was very close to her parents, and she wanted them to like Tom. Before Lorna and Tom got married, it took a while before her parents agreed to meet him. Then, they were cool and standoffish with him, which hurt Lorna and angered Tom. She hoped that once her parents met Tom, they'd let go of their misgivings and embrace him, as Tom's parents embraced her. But it was a strange and awkward dinner at the restaurant, and her parents made an excuse to leave before dessert, leaving no doubt about how they felt.

After that, it was an uphill battle. When Lorna told her parents that she and Tom were getting married in a civil, non-religious ceremony, at first, her parents refused to come, which upset Lorna very much. It also put a strain on her relationship with Tom and led to arguments when she asked him to consider converting to her religion so they could make peace with her family. This made no sense to Tom, since neither he nor Lorna were spiritual people, and he refused to do it.

Two months before the wedding, Lorna's parents relented and, with heavy hearts, they agreed to come to the wedding. After all, Lorna was their only child. But they let it be known, in no uncertain terms, that they felt Lorna was making a big mistake by marrying outside of her faith, and nothing Lorna could say or do would change their minds.

Fast forward a couple of years: Lorna and Tom moved out of state because of their careers. Lorna had just given birth to their first child, a healthy baby boy, and Lorna's parents were coming to visit. The old issue about religion came up again, as Lorna's parents pressed her as to which religion, if any, Lorna and Tom planned to choose for their child.

Lorna dreaded talking to her parents about this, especially since it wasn't important to her or Tom. Once again, it created tension between Lorna and Tom. 

She tried to convince him, once again, to convert and to raise the baby in her parents' religion. But Tom didn't agree, and he was frustrated that Lorna still couldn't stand up to her parents. And this is what brought Tom and Lorna into marriage counseling. S

he felt torn between her husband and her parents. She was overjoyed with being a new mother, but this ongoing conflict cast a shadow on everything for her.

During their marriage counseling sessions, Lorna and Tom worked out to be more supportive of one another. 

Lorna also learned, with a lot of effort, how to make Tom and the baby a priority and to stand up for herself and for Tom with her parents. 

Once she saw the situation in a clearer way, she felt less conflicted about it. 

Her parents didn't like what she had to say, but they didn't want to lose their only child, so they accepted the situation reluctantly. 

After Lorna stood up to her parents, she felt better about herself and it helped to strengthen her marriage.

Getting Help in Therapy
As I mentioned earlier, the types of conflicts that cause can tension between your spouse and your parents can vary widely. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you're caught between your spouse and your parents, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional to help you or you and your spouse to work it out.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.