Ask Stavroula: Husband’s Dysfunctional Family

Dear Stavroula,

I am a woman who grew up in a traditionally strict Greek home where as a girl I had to abide by a different set of rules from my brothers. Unfortunately, a match wedding between my parents and some friends of theirs left me barefoot and pregnant to a man who was living a double-life. I was a career woman who was the loyal housewife to him regardless of the many days/nights of being without my husband.
After almost two years he decided to go to the other woman, abandoning us, me and a baby who has never met him to date.
I raised my child and finally when college bound, I met another man. Eighteen years passed before I made the decision to take care of me. I met a man who was divorced from a woman who wasn’t Greek. My life would be complete if it weren’t for his family. They don’t respect him, they have never embraced me and when I try to do the right thing because they are his family…it always causes turmoil, anger and my husband’s venting on me. I know he’s not yelling at me, per se but what will it take for him to realize how tired I am of the same repetitive complaining I’ve asked him to end? What will it take for him to realize we are so happy when they aren’t a big part of our lives, and every time something transpired because of them…it’s back to square one. Nerves, repetitive complaints, and my mom this and my sister that. Family is family but if the odds are always against us, is it not better to respect, love, but be distanced from them than always be in the lion’s mouth? I have a family who love us unconditionally, who has embraced him – granted they are not perfect. The difference here is that the only problems from my side of the family are never from my blood relatives, but those that married into the family. What can I do to keep my sanity and balance in my marriage to a really wonderful man who regardless of his being aware of how dysfunctional his family is…he just magnetically is drawn to them only to get all stirred up all over again. He just doesn’t get it, so what do I do?

Sincerely,

P.A.

Dear P.A.,

From your letter, I understand that your mother-in-law and your sister-in-law complain to your husband about your own behavior, and that is what causes you to fight. He, though he understands it, continues to pursue close relations with them.

It is very difficult to try to break off your husband from his family, since he has not yet cut the umbilical cord. Even if you do it temporarily, there is always the risk of not enduring it emotionally and him turning against you. So you have to accept that your husband has this particular relationship with his mother and sister and not try to cut him off.  Nevertheless, there are many things you can do to save your relationship.

The first thing you can do is to convince him to visit a specialist who can help you manage these situations without affecting your relationship. In addition, there are may be other problems in your relationship that make you magnify the situation with the family. You have to deal with them.

It is also a good idea to seek a calm conversation with him and to tell him, without tension, recrimination, and criticisms, that you understand and respect his relationship with his family, that you do not want to prevent him from keeping them close, but you would rather, for yourself, stay away and keep your distance, because you feel you are negatively affected. If you need to get along with his family, try to be formal and courteous and in no case engage in disagreement with them, even if they provoke you.

Think honestly about yourself and what your feelings are about your husband and decide if you want to fight for your marriage.

Look at his positives and make sure you remind yourself of them every time you get angry about his relationship with his family.

Accept him for what he is and think how you can live better with him. Try to re-establish your relationship by doing more things with him. For example, you can start a joint activity together or set one day in the week for a date night as you used to have at the beginning of your relationship. Get reacquainted with one another, spend more quality time together, find what unites you and leave aside what separates you.

See your husband’s relationship with his family as a negative one in a marriage that has so many positives. Stop giving them such great value – do not focus on them. You also need to change your way of thinking to overcome it.