I have been married for three years and my wife doesn’t get along with two of my sisters. She thinks they are rude and snub her at family gatherings. She doesn’t want to attend any of my family gatherings and tells me to not attend as well. She’s basically telling me that it’s either her or them.
My sisters don’t hate my wife and I can’t understand why there is all of this drama. My sisters are confused as well and tell me they don’t understand what she’s talking about. How do I show loyalty to my wife when my family isn’t that unhealthy? I don’t want to have to choose between my wife and my family.
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It’s important to remember that people behave in ways that make sense to them. Your wife’s feelings and behavior don’t make sense to you or your family, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have legitimate feelings that cause her to pull away. This is an important opportunity to show your wife that you have her back and will show her that she’s first.
Your family had your loyalty and priority before you married your wife. Once you committed to your wife that she would be your priority, it means that everyone and everything else comes second. This fierce loyalty is a critical foundation of strong marriages.
Your wife may be sensitive. She may be unreasonable. She may be falsely accusing your sister’s intentions. She may even be crazy. It doesn’t matter. She is your wife and your priority is to turn toward her for as long as it takes to understand and support her.
As long as she’s not harming herself or others, there is room for you to turn toward her and take the time to create understanding and safety.
I encourage you to stop running interference between your wife and your sisters. If they are confused about your wife’s behavior, they should talk to your wife, not you.
You’re complicating the situation by talking about your wife behind her back. It builds fear and resentment, which makes it difficult to resolve anything.
Don’t get hung up on your wife’s refusal to do things with your family. If your family is emotionally mature, they will understand that your marriage is more important than the larger family. Extended families are there to support marriages and help them grow.
I encourage you to view the idea of loyalty in a broader sense than whether or not you attend a family function. Loyalty to your marriage means giving your best energy, attention and concern toward understanding your wife’s concerns. Spend time listening to her and asking good questions. Put aside the pressure to do things with the family and let her know you care about her concerns.
You need to ask yourself the following question: Whose pain is more important to you … your family’s pain or her pain?
Listen to what she says.
She may be picking up on dynamics in your family that make it hard for her to fit in. She may have some valid feedback. I remember when I was first married my wife pointed out that I seemed to take on a different role when I was with my siblings. She noticed that I reverted back to some familiar role as the younger brother; that left her confused about where we fit in as a couple. Her feedback was helpful and allowed me to make adjustments as I moved from being a brother and son to being a husband.
Even if your wife is being overly sensitive, your undying commitment to her will soothe and reassure her that she’s not alone in her pain.
We are usually more reasonable and flexible when we feel safe and connected. As you provide that safety for her, chances are it will open up more options for interacting with your family.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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