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Dear Debra
Dear Debra, Advice Columnist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 1852
Experience:  I have been an Advice columnist for 14 years. My column is published weekly in local newpapers.
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I have a real, deep, long lasting relationship issue throughout

Customer Question

I have a real, deep, long lasting relationship issue throughout my family which has/is affecting my marriage, kids and immediate family. I will most likely need to seek advanced counseling, but thought some initial direction here may be warranted. I have been married for 15 years (age 47) and we have two boys 11 and 9 yrs.

Situation 1: My wife comes from a family that did not value, therefore she did not experience a broad, communal, close extended family. I did, having grown up in a farming family that included great grandparents, grandparents, aunts/uncles and cousins. I was taught direction and obedience and work. My wife did not have that structure although she adores her family and is very close to her two sisters (she is the middle sibling).

Result 1: Because of our backgrounds, my family (specifically my parents) often expect to be involved in our lives, participating in the lives of our kids including discipline, driving expectations on us. I have the tendency to obey to their expectations because this is what I learned, and therefore they are able to impart some influence. My wife has grown to despise this which has led to her virtual dismissal of my family. We have not been intimate at all in our relationship, as I feel her disdain for my family has now put me in a similar light. I have tried to move to a more neutral position which has resulted in some recent blowups where any interaction now is very tense and uncomfortable. My parents visit occasionally to see our kids (i feel it is important to keep that connection), but they no longer stay with us and only for a day or so. This relationship situation also has extended to my only sibling (sister) who is very close to my parents, especially helpful as she has a special needs child. She did not bother to call or invite me or my family to my mothers' 70th birthday event she has planned, because she said she couldn't take the stress of having us attend. Over the last few days, I have had all 3 women in my life (wife, sister and mother) engage me in very emotional conversations where they were all putting me in a position of making choices. It's as simple as either a divorce or complete estrangement, neither of which are options to me. I don't believe the problem is me, and I am being put in the middle here and being asked by everyone to fix it...or at least that is how I feel. By the way, my wifes family, especially parents, will have nothing to do with my family. I have a fairly decent relationship with them, and although I don't appreciate some of their antics, I make it a point to accept them as they are.

I just need some direction on moving forward or risk some serious consequences regarding happiness, mental health not to mention the most critical issue I am concerned is the effect this will have on my two boys. We have done an ok job on shielding them from some of this, but I know they sense there are problems which could manifest themselves later in life with us and their extended relationships.

Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Dear Debra replied 6 years ago.
There are two people in a marriage and those two people make the best decisions for their lives. When they have children they raise their children guiding them as they grow. What has happened here is your family was very involved in your life and you wife was raised differently. Your wife grew up making her own decisions. This marriage has never been about two people focusing on each other raising a family if was a whole family involved in decisions your wife wanted to make. She wanted to be in control of her own life. Now what has happened is everyone is trying to fight for control and that shouldn't be what this is about. You have a life with your wife and children. You both need to make decisions for your family together. If you let other make decisions your wife feels you are disregarding her opinion. She needs to feel involved in decisions. She might at times felt excluded. I feel that if everyone wants to see you happy because right now it is about you. You need to be happy, your family needs to accept that. You love your wife and kids, you want this to work out. Your wife decided to disconnect with your family because she felt like that was her only choice. She wanted to get control back in her life and stand on her own. Talk to your wife about how she feels. Your family loves you, but you need to explain that you also have a very important woman in your life that is the mother of your children. There love for you they will want to see you happy. If you have anymore question I will gladly answer.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.

Thank you. I think we are at that point of understanding. I have primarily supported my wife and our needs through this process.


However, as we have tried to re-establish a new relationship, my parents have agreed and have taken steps to try and back off. They have done a lot for us given some recent career challenges I faces recently but have now re-established. However, my wife continues to believe that any efforts by my parents in giving of time, gifts, sponsorship of opportunities for our kids are steps to control rather than help. She believes if she lets them back into her life as previous they will revert trying to influence our lives. Thus, she continues to rebuff my parents as they have attempted to modify their approach, making them very upset. She still avoids answer their phone calls or emails. I am always the one who has to respond. My mother says she is "heartbroken" and my dad is just "angry". My sister is both.


To describe the overall relationship over time, we have broken up and tried to come back together, but my wife hasn't fully made the transition, so we are moving back into a period of estrangement which may be permanent I fear. My parents have now told me they do not wish to have any communication with my wife. My sister states she doesn't trust her....stating she is nice is person, but doesn't carry through with the relationship from a distance and has learned that my wife has spoken negatively with others about my family. I know I'm am painting my wife as a villain....but I am just trying to get our families to a point of reasonable coexistence so my kids can participate and experience the value of a broader family.


The unfortunate thing now is that although I understand and support my wife feelings as you described perfectly in your earlier response, is that my attempts to repair are viewed by her as siding with my family. There are some instances where I believe she is overreacting, twisting the intent or misinterpreting connection attempts in an effort not to give in, which makes it extremely difficult for any compromising to occur. I don't know how I can support her/us and our needs and still create a level of coexistence without all of the negativity and mistrust.

Expert:  Dear Debra replied 6 years ago.
Your wife thinks by giving gifts that is a way of control. I just want to focus on this for a minute. You could look at this in many ways. She might feel like your parents are saying she can not provide these types of gifts for her family. She might feel like your parents by everything and she wants to be the one who provides all the gifts. Your wife wants to be apart of her own life. She wants to be able to give her children things. But then your parents are wondering why they can not help out and take care of their grandchildren. But what needs to happen is your wife needs to be included. If your parents and sister said can I get the boys these things what do you think? It would be a better approach then just buying the gifts. It includes your wife and if the gift is something she wants them o have then it's ok. I do believe that because she has felt your family has controlled a lot in her life that everything they do from this point, your wife will feel like they are being controlling. I don't feel the family should be divide like this, your parents should try to see if they can get along with your wife. It is very important for the children to put differences aside. You want to be able to all be together and have a good life together. You want to have your family growing up with your children and your sister. You want your wife to be able to understand the love that your family has for you, but I think the solution is including your wife in every decision. I think you have to let her be in control of the things she feels they are controlling. I think your wife wants to be able to do thing for her children and for you, but she might feel she is in competition with your family. She wants to feel like she is number one in your life and in her children life.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.

I agree and have tried to move in that direction.


My parents and now sister communicate with me in isolation. When I suggest that, in my mind, the only way to rebuild is to reconnect directly with my wife and include her....they resist or outright refuse, claiming they have tried in the past only to be rebuffed or get no response from my wife. They believe it is on me to decide on maintaining a relationship with them, making statements like "we are your blood relatives and it is up to you to decide how we move forward".


What tactics do you suggest or have known to work for others in similar situations in order to allow these types of relationships to progress to a comfortable, respectful coexistence?

Expert:  Dear Debra replied 6 years ago.
I want you to explain how much it means too you to have everyone getting along. I understand they have tried in the past with your wife, but they need to keep trying. It is important for the kids and for your relationship with your wife to put things in the past and move forward to create a good relationship with one another. It is not solely up too you for things to work it takes the whole family to work together to resolve these issue. This should not be placed on you. You need to sit your parents and sister down and explain that it is important for them to get along with the one you love that you are my family and she is the mother of my kids and someone I love. She is going to be in my life and I want her to feel included. If they put their feelings aside and think of you, the kids and what is best for all of you, then they need to again try to make these problems end. You need to all work together and find the solution. If this does not work, then everyone needs to be civil around each other. But your lives will have to be separate, but I feel that with communication and understanding, everything will work out.