The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that if one has an issue with another person, the person with the issue should go to the other in a spirit of love and seek to resolve the issue. If the husband in this situation invited his wife to approach each of his sisters and to strive to resolve the problem, he would learn a great deal about his wife, in observing how she responded. A controlling person would likely respond in one way, while a wife who needed strength, confidence, or assurance of her husband's love would in all likelihood respond quite differently.
My dad took this tack this with my mom, who's a delightful mix of insecure about being accepted and superior by virtue of originating from a wealthy family and having a PhD. She never missed an opportunity to criticize his "catty" sisters, his "immigrant" parents, and so forth.
Although I was raised literally minutes from my father's parents and siblings, I can count on both hands the number of times I saw my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins over the decades.
My brothers and I completely missed out on the strength and existential joy of belonging to a family (particularly since these and other qualities made my mother extraordinarily difficult at home). I am not part of the warmth and companionship shared by my cousins who have years of shared context and while they tolerate me, my sense is that they assume that at heart I'm aloof like my mother.
For all my dad's loyalty and putting mom first, she has remained a very difficult person and unappreciative spouse. I think the advice given here is inadequate, to say the least.
I don't know that I've ever felt so strongly about advice such as was given in this column. My son was in a similar situation. He wanted to "do the right thing" such as was advised here to accommodate his wife's wishes which eventually went well beyond controlling extended-family time. Initially we were unaware of any issues. Our concern began after my husband and I observed weight loss and signs of depression in our son. This was a first for both. One evening our son--in his mid-twenties at the time--called telling us he was having chest pains. His wife saw no need for a doctor or ER visit (the chest pains came after another "conversation" over what he could and could not do, and his duty as she saw it and as was advocated in this column to support her wishes. She also quoted church leaders and scriptures for justification.) So my response to the statement "She may even be crazy. It doesn't matter" would be a resounding "Yes, it does matter! It absolutely matters." It matters for the emotional, physical, and spiritual health of the spouse being manipulated and controlled, and for the young child observing and then repeating and mimicking the words and behaviors of her mother. My son's wife was eventually diagnosed with a serious mental illness. She saw no need to change damaging behaviors. It is between individuals and the Lord what steps should be taken in such a situation. We have been grateful for loving ward members, including priesthood leaders, who have shown great kindness to our son when he moved into our ward as he went through the difficult divorce process. He did not make that painful decision lightly.
Once upon a time I was a young bride who did not get along with my husband's family. They didn't like me, they thought he shouldn't marry me, they were sure I was trying to change him. I was sure that they were horrible, judgmental, cruel and uncaring people. By the time we got married only two of his five siblings came to the wedding. The best decision we ever made was to take jobs across the country from both our families. We got the breathing room we needed as a couple, and everyone involved got what they needed most, a chance to grow up. Familiarity in our case, truly did breed contempt. Distance and time gave perspective, and the biggest help of all, which was no additional hurt feelings. Wounds closed and life marched on.
Looking back objectively, I was a part of the problem, though at the time I felt terribly mistreated and victimized. Guess what, turns out his siblings are all good people and we actually choose to vacation with them now. It's easy to jump to conclusions and worst case scenarios about people's mental health and the future stability of their marriages. Everyone has a horror story of someone they know who was married to a terrible person. I thought this was actually very sage advice that excluding some undiagnosed mental illness, would help ease tensions and open the door for productive dialogue.
I think for any of us to judge this situation, we need to know a whole lot more. At first glance it appears the wife is being selfish and controlling. President Hinkley's teachings of loyalty to a marriage partner is true -- as long as it's within righteous bounds. The Lord does not expect anyone, male or female to be "controlled" by a single member of the marriage -- all should be done as One. This couple needs to work out what the real issue is so it can be addressed and agreed upon by both of them. . . . There's the old saying that there's three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth. This couple needs to work to discover the truth and not go solely on their separate viewpoints.
I didn’t agree 100% with your article. I do agree that husbands and wives do come first and have absolute loyalty to their marriage partners. That does not mean you should have to disown anyone. I’m sure President Gordon B. Hinkley would not approve of turning your back completely on the parents that raised you, the brothers and sisters you grew up with and had a strong bonded family before you got married. I would highly recommend the book “Stop Walking On Eggshells” by Paul T. Mason, MS and Randi Kreger.
The situation in your article sounds like she could have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as described in this book. These type of personalities are very insecure even though most of them are highly educated. They are also controlling, manipulative and overly sensitive and take things out of context. They are constantly looking for the negative and think people don’t like them.
We have a son that has disowned his whole family because of a wife that apparently has this Borderline Personality Disorder. For him to obtain “peace in his life” he no longer has any communication with his side of the family nor with any of his old friends. He is now completely isolated from his previous life except for his biological children. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. I spent a number of years wondering and worrying until it was recommended that I read this book. At least now I finally understand what had taken place.
I disagree whole-heartedly with the comments in this article. I am the mother of a wonderful son. I live in another country. Every time my son and his wife plan a trip to visit, she picks a fight with him so she doesn't have to come. They fight all the time. The wife constantly tattles to me when her husband doesn't behave the way she expects. She tries to manipulate each situation so she looks good and he looks bad. She makes us feel so we don't want to be around her either. It's a mess. I only get to see my two granddaughters once a year under the present circumstances. I agree with everything Melanie Alfred and many others have expressed over manipulating mean spouses. I feel victimised by my son's wife. No one on our side of the family likes my son's wife, either.
A house divided will not stand and maybe it's best to choose which house needs to stand more. I'd say support your wife. She may have issues but it's important to develop trust so her insecurities will resolve and you are a unit. She may be like a neighbor of mine who instantly took offense when someone who befriended her turned around when she saw her and went the other way. But I told her "she may have forgotten something and it didn't even register to her that she saw you." We interpret stuff all the time and need to pray to see with an understanding heart.
Give her the support she needs to develop confidence of where she stands with you.
I went through this myself. I broke away from my brother to "give in" to my former wife's "wants". The marriage finally ended in divorce. Now the grown children are suffering from their mother's doings and they have to "gird up their loins" to visit her. She is a recluse. She will not even acknowledge her own mother. All I can say is: your advice is sometimes wrong. I have since reconciled with my brother. I have gone on with my life. But, "sticking it out" was the wrong thing to do.
Geoff Steurer has a point. in order for this husband to take the moat from the eye of his wife, he must learn to take the beam out of his.His first step is to to learn his covenant relationship with his wife. That is an important starter. That does not mean that he should allow himself to be manipulated or separated from his family. But it does mean that he confirms the importance of that covenant relationship with her and with Jesus Christ the giver of all covenants. That together they will deal with all other family relationships through gospel principles.Some times this doesn't work but we have to remember that we can only change ourselves. The next step is D&C, Sec. 121:41-43.
If a husband did this to a wife it would be considered isolating and abusive. You don't gain anything by giving in to people like this. I say if his wife doesn't want to go to family functions she is within her rights to decide not to go. But she is stepping over the line to demand that he not go. Sorry if it doesn't look right to some people, but a sick relationship will never look "right" and also be real.
I don't agree with your advice. In abusive relationships there is a pattern of isolating your partner and exerting power and control. If there had been a traumatic incident, I think your advice would have been more appropriate. In this case I would advise the husband to be loving and kind to his wife, but also let her know that he doesn't feel right about cutting off ties with this family. I feel like most relationship problems can be solved with kindness, time, and patience.
The wording by the questioner here is curious. He states, “How do I show loyalty to my wife when my family isn’t THAT unhealthy?” This indicates that the young husband recognizes some amount of unhealthiness in his nuclear family. However, much more than he recognizes may actually be occurring! For instance, if his two sisters are in the habit of reducing or manipulating him when they are all together, and his wife clearly picks up on this, she may be reticent to continue any kind of relationship with them because of how they “hurt” her beloved husband. Of course, he may be utterly unaware of this due to the family dynamics that existed long before she entered the group. In this case, the new wife has the potential of helping her husband improve his own family relationships; if he will listen to what she perceives, appreciate her sensitivity, not discount it, and work toward change.
In addition, I know a family where a new daughter-in-law was highly jealous of the relationship between her new mother-in-law and her new sister-in-law (her husband’s only sister); a relationship that was very close and very trusting. Add to this the fact that both these ladies were beautiful and highly talented. This left the new daughter-in-law (not as beautiful nor as talented, at that time) feeling like an outsider with no hope of breaking in or fitting in to this tight family circle. Extremely important to this situation was the fact that the new daughter-in-law came from a highly dysfunctional family, completely unlike the one she married into. She could have easily sought to keep her husband separated from his family, due to her own insecurity. But, instead, the mother-in-law and sister-in-law recognized this trouble spot, and worked tirelessly (with true Christlike compassion) to make her feel a part of “the family”, which she now does.
The comments posted are great, Michael Peterson's comment is right on the mark. President Hinckley is quoted as saying “I am satisfied that happiness in marriage is not so much a matter of romance as it is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion." At no point does the Gospel teach that a woman's happiness is more important than a man's, that is a recent secular idea that stems from the feminist movement. I am not saying women shouldn't have equivalent value in this life, I am saying valuing women over men simply reverses the old stereotypical roles that women and enlightened men have been striving to overcome. Working to overcome this challenge for this couple is important and needs to be done sooner rather than later. Counseling with a good Bishop or Family Counselor might be very helpful.
This situation reminded me of an interesting experience I had in my marriage. I had an incident where I had lost my temper with a couple of my children, and in my stewing and introspection over how I had come to be so impatient, I realized that it was my wife who was provoking me. She would tell me things about them that were colored in such a way as to provoke me and then she would expect me to discipline them over the things she had told me. I decided that I had to shut out that input and I began to tell her that if there was some misbehavior that she had seen, that she should be the one to deal with the children over that and not expect me to act on something I hadn't seen. But when I started doing that, she became clearly annoyed at me. So I prayed over this issue and took it to the temple: if my highest priority was my wife, should I give in to her provocations, thus damaging my relationship with my children, or should I resist them, thus hurting my relationship with my wife?
The answer I got was that my highest priority was not my wife but was to be a good person myself, and thus I had to reject her provocations.
My wife ended up leaving me and then coming out in a full-throttled attempt to completely destroy my relationship with my children. I am so glad I heeded that answer to prayer as I then came to be in the role of being the rescuing influence to my children to bring them back to the gospel.
So I think that this husband needs to be very careful here. He can let her react as she chooses to and can be understanding as Geoff suggests, as this may help her through this. But I feel he should not let her manipulate his behavior toward his sisters. He needs to set the boundary, as other commenters have suggested, that she needs to respect those relationships and let him maintain them.
Although I can certainly understand why you advised as you did I have to wonder at the long term effects of such a rift in the family. My family is having this same problem. Despite begging for forgiveness multiple times, my brother and his wife have been eliminated from one of their son's and 4 of their grandchildren's lives because his wife will not allow either of them to associate with her nuclear family. My nephew supports his wife, my brother supports his wife and the rest of us have been cut off from all contact. My nephew and his wife say they love us all but won't come to large family functions and don't invite us to any of their celebrations. The only contact they have is with his siblings and their families. But that contact has to exclude the parents. In my opinion the choice to refuse to forgive whatever slight or infraction became the tipping point halts the forgiveness process and they pay a terrible eternal price. If they refuse to forgive the accumulated little things my sister-in-law said to her daughter-in-law how can they progress? Can they take the sacrament worthily? What if they find themselves in the same temple session? This subject isn't as easy as your article suggests.
A husband's job does not include the reinforcement of his wife's irrational wrong-thinking and/or lack of charity. The traditional family, upon which eternity depends, does not consist of only one generation. Without connectedness of all the generations, the Great Plan of Happiness will be wasted at the Lord's coming, and He will smite the earth with a curse. Presumably, this wife will one day have adult children, and if she reaps what she sews, she will see her in-law children and grandchildren alienated from her association and affection. Only a wise husband can save her from this sad prospect. And if his wife will keep her covenants, she will follow his wise counsel.
If a husband was doing this to his wife - telling her she can't be with her family or friends or whomever - it would be considered controlling and emotionally abusive. Since when does it become okay if the wife is doing this to her husband? He needs to set healthy boundaries of how he will be treated and how he won't. If he doesn't, she will just pout, get angry, argue, give him the silent treatment, and do whatever she needs do to get her way. Since when is that healthy? The couple needs to go to marriage counseling to figure out why there is this controlling issue going on and what to do about it, as well as set boundaries of what is acceptable behavior and what isn't. If it isn't taken care of, it will only get worse. Anyone who has been in an emotionally abusive relationship or has known someone who has, either man or woman, will tell you that it is never a good thing to just put up with it. It eventually takes over the marriage and the controlled partner in any relationship.
Your comments are great. I have seen several situations where the husband has done exactly what you suggested but unfortunately the wives in all cases appeared very manipulative. In the end apparently loving in laws were utterly separated from their sons and grandchildren with Christmas presents, visits, invitations to dinner and family events such as weddings were continually rejected for years. (It's tough when families are genuinely loving and giving are continually rejected.) Many friends they made were also victimised when the wives wanted to achieve something that playing victim got them. I saw these husbands go through a shocking time. Where does one draw the line on being sympathetic to such a wife? Should all other relationships be utterly abandoned if the spouse proves unstable or just plain manipulative?
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