Parents are prejudiced against husband

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

March 03, 1996|By FROM LADIES' HOME JOURNAL Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"I can't stand the pressure anymore," says Kelly, a shy, 28-year-old mother of two. "My parents and my husband are forcing me to choose between them."

Kelly was shocked to discover that her parents, to whom she has always been close, are in fact prejudiced against John, her second husband, who is Asian-American. They can't forgive her, she claims, for divorcing her first husband, Edward, who, as they put it, "is one of our own kind."

According to Kelly, her first husband, a lieutenant in the Air Force, was a philanderer. "Everyone on the base knew he was sleeping around," she explains. After their daughter, Amy, was born, Edward spent even less time at home. "When he told me he had contracted VD from a prostitute, I demanded a divorce," Kelly recalls.

With John, she says, she found peace and hnppiness. "John is quiet and intelligent and loves doing the simple things in life. And he's wonderful to my daughter."

Kelly doesn't blame John for wanting to steer clear of her parents, but she's caught in the middle. "I had hoped that after we had a child together, John and my parents would find a way to connect," Kelly says. But Matthew is a year old now, and, if anything, the arguments have escalated. "Every time John hears me talking to my parents, he thinks they're trying to poison me against him," she says.

John, a 36-year-old Air Force mechanic, is convinced there's nothing to talk about. His wife, he insists, has changed "into an upper-class snob."

John is furious at the way his in-laws try to bribe Kelly to leave, sending money and airline tickets for her and her daughter to visit, pointedly leaving him out and showing far less attention to their grandson than to their granddaughter. "I can never give Kelly the kind of life she's used to," John says, "and that means our marriage is history."

Standing up to parents

"Kelly comes from a family whose place in society had unwritten but rigid rules," notes Jerron Adams, a therapist in San Antonio. Though her parents had never shown any overt prejudice, Kelly had nevertheless learned to accept the exclusion of other people. While she thought she could oppose her parents, her courage faltered under their pressure.

Kelly is not alone in her fear of confronting her parents. But unless she makes it clear to her parents that her marriage is her priority, she risks losing it.

Do you, like Kelly, feel guilty going against your parents? If you keep the following in mind, you can go home again -- on your terms.

* Remind yourself that your needs and wishes may be different from your parents', but that doesn't necessarily make either of you wrong. You can't change them, though you can change your own behavior.

* Force yourself to act grown-up, even if you don't think you are. The way you talk, walk and hold yourself sends a powerful message. Rewrite the script in your own mind so you relate to your parents as an adult, not a child.

* Don't let them push your hot buttons. Express yourself honestly and calmly without getting defensive, crying or yelling. Listen to what they have to say, but don't engage in protracted debates.

* Tactful confrontation is often one of the best ways to deal with controlling parents. If you can't withstand a personal encounter, explain in a letter why you are confident of your choices.

* Distance yourself if you have to. If your parents constantly leave you feeling demeaned, frustrated or angry, you may need to cut them out of your life until they can relate to you in a more positive way.

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