Question:

My husband’s brother and his wife recently separated after 20 years of marriage and 3 children. My brother-in-law has already moved on and has told the family within weeks of his divorce being final he will be marrying his new girlfriend. Here is my concern:

My husband and I are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their divorce. I am still mourning the loss of my sister-in-law from our family and my heart is breaking for her and their children. My husband, on the other hand, is 100% on his brother’s side and supporting him all the way. This situation is putting a wedge between my husband and me and also between my husband’s family and me because I am the only one in our family who thinks my brother-in-law is moving way too fast and that what he is doing is wrong.

How do we not let this family divorce negatively affect our own marriage? Any advice you can give would be appreciated.

Answer:

Spending a bunch of time focusing on the wreckage of your brother and sister-in-law’s impending divorce is like rubbernecking an automobile accident and rear-ending the car in front of you. Your focus needs to be fixed on what’s ahead for you and your marriage instead of getting distracted by something you can’t undo.

Divorces create split loyalties in families, churches, neighborhoods, and pretty much anywhere there are humans. There is nothing wrong with you relating more to your sister-in-law’s experience in the same way your husband connects more naturally with his brother. In the same way you both have opinions and differences in a variety of areas, you can let this be another place where you agree to disagree. However, your loyalty to your own marriage matters most.

There is nothing wrong with reaching out to each of them to offer support and love. You don’t have to get sucked into taking sides and fighting their fights. Neither of you should dictate relationship you each have with these family members.

I recognize this is easier said than done, however, for the sake of your marriage, it’s critical for both of you to make a commitment to one another that you won’t let this come between you. President Spencer W. Kimball taught that “the spouse … becomes preeminent in the life of the husband or wife, and … [no] other interest [or] person [or] thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse….marriage presupposes total allegiance and total fidelity.”[i]

Instead of focusing on who is more at fault for the divorce, try talking to one another about the sadness and pain you feel watching this family break up. That’s the real tragedy causing you both so much suffering. Supporting each other in your pain matters most. Sometimes we talk about peripheral issues to keep us from having to feel the reality of the situation.

This is a good time for both of you to take inventory of your own marriage. Have you both created the relationship you wanted? Are there areas that need improvement? Can you learn from the mistakes of others? Recognize how fragile marriage can be if left unattended and use this as a motivator to strengthen and reinforce your own marriage.

Instead of spending your evenings sifting through the wreckage of their marriage, or worse, avoiding each other because of your opposite perspectives on the matter, make a conscious effort to spend more time together and build a stronger marriage. There are countless ways you can breathe new life into your marriage to reassure each other that you’ll do everything you can to put the other first.

Your brother and sister-in-law have a long road ahead of them as they navigate divorce, remarriage, and blended families. You can still love and support them without getting entangled in their mess. You will both have strong opinions about the multitude of decisions they will be making in the coming years. You’ll most likely share these opinions with one another, but, at the end of the day, what matters most is your ability to turn toward your own marriage to protect it.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Geoff will be holding a 2-day couples workshop in St. George, Utah on April 25-26 to help couples deepen their connection and strengthen their marriages in a fun and interactive setting. Visit http://www.geoffsteurer.com/marriage-workshop for more information. This workshop is limited to 10 couples.

 

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

 

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[i] Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), 199-200