Putting Your Spouse Before Your Parents

 

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 fewquestions:

  • 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 youThey 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 molehillMaybe 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.

Dear Daughter Letter

After watching Miley Cyrus disgusting performance on the VMAs, angry mom Kim Keller wrote an open letter to her 13-year-old daughter to turn this ugly display into a teaching moment.  I loved her letter so much, I read it on air, and am posting it below.

Kim just sent in this follow-up email which I wanted to share with you:

Thank you from Roadkill Goldfish, the author of “Dear Daughter”. I am the mom who wrote that viral letter about my commitment to parent my child. I wanted to thank you for reading it on the air. The feedback from parents has been OVERWHELMINGLY positive.

Dr. Laura, YOU are the reason I am my kids’ mom. I used to listen to your show on my commute. I was on a corporate fast-track, and I had every intention of going back to my full-time job after my daughter’s birth, but when the doctor handed me the sweet pink bundle I knew I couldn’t let anyone else raise her.

I would absolutely hug your neck if I had the opportunity, and I am so honored to have had you read my words. Thank you for being bold. Thank you for looking out for children.

Best regards,

Kim Keller
The Roadkill Goldfish

Here is Kim’s “Dear Daughter” letter:

“Dear daughter, let Miley Cyrus be a lesson to you.

Yes, this is what happens when you constantly hear everything you do is awesome. This is what happens when people fawn over your every Tweet and Instagram photo. This is what happens when no responsible adult has ever said the word ‘no,’ made you change your clothes before leaving the house, or never spanked your butt for deliberate defiance.

If you ever even consider doing something like that, I promise you that I will run up and twerk so you will see how ridiculous twerking looks. I will duct tape your mouth shut so your tongue doesn’t hangout like an overheated hound dog. I will smack any male whom you decide to smash against his pelvis – after I first knock you on your butt for forgetting how a lady acts in public.

Why would I do that? Because I love you and I want you to respect yourself. Miley Cyrus is not edgy or cool or sexy. She’s a desperate girl screaming for attention: Notice me. Tell me I’m pretty. See how hot I am. I know all the guys want me. All the girls want to be me.

You probably know girls who will emulate this behavior at the next school dance. Don’t do it with them. You are far too valuable to sell yourself so cheaply. Walk away. Let the boys gawk and know in your heart that they see only a body that can be used for their pleasure and then forgotten.

I’m sorry if you’ve ever felt sad because I haven’t gushed over everything you’ve done. My role is to praise when praise is due, but also to offer constructive criticism and correction when it is needed as well. I’m sorry if you’ve ever felt demoralized because your Instagram following isn’t in the thousands, and I’m sorry those ‘selfies’ can never capture how amazingly beautiful you truly are. I’m sorry if you’ve ever wished you had a friend instead of a mom, and I promise you that I will probably get worse when you hit high school.

Dear daughter, I am going to fight or die trying to keep you from becoming like the Miley Cyruses of the world.

You can thank me later.”

Quote of the Week

 

I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living, but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.

John D. Rockefeller
American industrialist and philanthropist
1839 – 1937

Have a happy Labor Day weekend!

How Can I Make Them (or Myself) Change?

The type of call I’m least fond of on my show is “How do I change my sister-mother-cousin-uncle-father-friend-husband-wife-kid?”  People don’t change because YOU want them to.  They may not even change if THEY want to.

People need three things in order to change (and you’ll notice that your name is NOT among them):

1. Willingness 
2. Desire 
3. Courage

Let’s break them down…

Willingness 

A change that somebody else requests only gets made about 0.0001 percent of the time.  It usually takes a crisis or a really bad situation before someone willingly accepts that they need to change. They spend their energy rationalizing, justifying, making excuses, and explaining why they don’t have to.  In order to change, they have to be willing to make mistakes, look and feel stupid, be scared, and admit to others that they need to change.

Desire 

Desire is different from willingness. It’s the logical need to initiate the change. Desire is saying, “I really need to make this change because if I don’t, I’ll lose my marriage/health/life or limb.” The kinds of payoffs that inspire change are things the person values a lot.  Without their heart really being in it, they are never going to change.

Courage 

Courage is the most important of all the factors, and it’s the area where most people fail.  They may have the intellectual notion that they should do something better with their lives to be happier or more successful, but that’s not enough. True change requires guts.

When I first started on radio 30-plus years ago, I was so concerned with how smart I was going to sound that I had trouble tapping into what callers were saying and getting inside their heads. However, one day I just said to myself, “Look, it doesn’t matter how you sound. You’re supposed to be there to help people, and if you come across as stupid for one call or several calls, so be it.” It was at that point that I really started to be able to hear what callers were saying.  I could open up with them because I had gotten myself out of the way.

If you allow yourself to get in the way, keep obsessing over how you sound or look, or continuously worry about who is going to approve, you can’t do what you are meant to be doing.  I like to think that we are all meant to do something on this earth. However, so many of you don’t do what you may desire to try because you can’t stand the interim period of looking stupid to someone else.  But sometimes you have to look like an idiot today in order to be better tomorrow.

When you’re faced with a conflict or the possibility of looking stupid, you lose your good intentions and the gumption to sustain a change. This is why you have to be able to speak the truth and accept that you’re not perfect.  One thing I think everyone should do is get up in the morning and say the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Knowing what you can and cannot change is probably the most important piece of information you can get into your head at the beginning of the day. If you say it out loud, it will have a lot less power over you.

Finally, you can’t beat yourself up when you try and things don’t go perfectly. There’s a difference between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism.  Healthy perfectionism means that you use your drive to learn and challenge yourself. It is unhealthy to beat yourself up when you make mistakes – that’s something ALL humans do. Otherwise, your life will be a total retreat.

Have you ever shot pool, played golf, or done any other type of sport where you have to control a part of your body to move something else? No matter how much training you’ve had, when you’re stressed, nervous, scared or challenged, you tend to revert back to old familiar habits. This happens to me when I play tennis. When I’m feeling stressed or pressured, I tend to bring my elbow in and do a chop shot. The way I recover is by saying in my brain, “It doesn’t matter if you miss the ball. What matters is that you continue to do the right swing, and eventually, you’ll be hitting all the balls correctly.”  This may seem like a silly example, but the same mindset applies to all aspects of your life.