Stopping interference from in-laws


November 20, 1994|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"If Joe loves me, why doesn't he defend me against his parents' appalling behavior?" asks Marian, 26, the mother of two preschoolers. Joe's parents, Marian is convinced, hated her before they even met her -- and Joe knew they would. In fact, he didn't even introduce her to them until after they were engaged.

nTC That first meeting was awful: Joe's parents interrogated Marian about her morals, her ideas and even her parents' lifestyle -- and made it perfectly clear they frowned upon it all. "The way they talk you'd think everybody in my family ran around naked and smoked marijuana!" Marian exclaims.

She's tired of defending her parents and herself -- her in-laws' criticism extends to her own approach to child-rearing.

"They don't hesitate to tell Joe that our two kids, though adorable, are poorly brought up. And they predict dire consequences if I don't shape up soon. I've heard all the sermonizing I care to, thank you."

Even though Marian and Joe grew up in the same community and belonged to the same church, their families' attitudes and lifestyles are different. Joe, 29, described his parents as uptight and rigid, so much so that even the occasional glass of wine that Marian's family has with dinner offends them.

The actual battles started with the wedding shower and have continued unabated ever since. Each set of parents bad-mouths the other; they're not on speaking terms -- and Joe and Marian spend most of their time arguing about who did what to whom.

But as far as Joe is concerned, Marian is making a mountain out of a molehill. Joe doesn't necessarily agree with his mother, but he thinks if Marian weren't so sensitive or so stubborn, maybe she could learn something about managing a home from her. "Face it: Marian's housekeeping leaves a lot to be desired. And if my mother has some suggestions about toilet-training, what's the harm in listening?" he asks.

"Look," Joe points out, "we knew our families hated each other from the beginning, but we decided we could just ignore their unreasonable attitudes and concentrate on our own lives. What's different now?" he wonders. In fact, Joe is a firm believer that if Marian and he love each other, they should be able to work things out.

But Marian is fed up, and a few weeks ago she packed up her

kids and moved in with her parents.

Blocking interference

"Joe and Marian have fallen victim to one aspect of the marriage myth -- the erroneous belief that love conquers all," notes George J. Meyer, a New York psychologist. Just because Joe and Marian love each other doesn't mean either of them has to accept hostility or verbal abuse from relatives.

Like Joe and Marian, many couples find that other people in their lives -- in-laws, stepchildren or even good friends -- interfere in a relationship. When that happens, it's critical that both spouses not only recognize the divisive influence of others, but also refuse to be used as weapons in someone else's war. They must agree to make their marriage, and their commitment to it, top priority.

After several weeks of counseling, Joe finally realized this. Marian moved back home, and they began taking steps every couple in a similar situation can benefit from:

Working as a team, they told both sets of parents not to call constantly or drop over for unannounced visits, and they refused to tolerate any more criticism or unsolicited advice.

When it came to making decisions -- say, about how they would handle the Christmas holiday, a chronic source of friction -- Joe and Marian decided exactly what they wanted to do first, then informed their respective parents. This year, they plan to have their own small celebration at their home. Once their parents saw they could no longer interfere, they backed off.

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