Question

My wife feels threatened by my relationships with my family members, especially my older sister and my dad. I’ve always had a close relationship to them and it seems like she would rather me not have a close relationship to them anymore. It feels controlling and jealous. We’ve been married almost six years and I thought it would get better with time as she got more comfortable with them. When we were first married, there were a couple of times where I shared things about my marriage with them and my wife found out, so I’m sure that has something to do with it. I’m now afraid to talk with them about anything. I’d like to know what you think about this. I want to be loyal to my wife, but I don’t want to lose my relationships with my family.

Answer

You are caught in a loyalty split between your wife and your family. Even though your family is important to you, your marriage needs the most attention right now. Your family will always be there for you, but the trust and security you long for in your marriage are things that need to be cultivated and protected.

Instead of defending yourself or your family, spend more time with your wife trying to listen and understand why your family relationships are a threat to your marriage. This will do two things: First, by listening to her with an open and curious heart, you will give her an undeniable experience of your interest in her. This will help decrease the threat that you don’t care about her.

Second, it will open you up to valuable information you most likely don’t have. She may share things about your interactions with your family that will help enlighten you on this struggle. You may learn things that will change your mind about how your family should fit into your marriage.

Marriage is a commitment to be one with another person. The marriage relationship is special and different than other relationships. If you are keeping secrets from your wife, including sharing things with your family, you are sending a message to her that other relationships are more important than your marriage. This is a significant threat to any marriage, especially a young marriage that is still building a secure bond.

If you betrayed her trust with your family members, but never changed the nature of your interactions with them or didn’t work to rebuild trust with your wife, then it’s important to make this your first priority. You don’t need to get specific with your family about the nature of your marital struggles, but you can let them know that you’ve shared too much in the past with them and need to turn more toward your marriage. A healthy family will understand and support your marriage. If they become critical of your wife’s concerns, it’s even more important that you turn toward your wife.

President Spencer W. Kimball said, “when two people marry the spouse should become the confidant, the friend, the sharer of responsibility, and they two become independent. No one should come between the husband and wife, not even parents.”[i] It doesn’t matter if you have a strong bond with your parents or your siblings. When it comes to marital emotional intimacy, your spouse is the one who deserves your complete loyalty.

Shirley Glass, author of Not Just Friends, identified some dynamics that are common to emotional betrayals in marriage. See if any of these questions fit your situation with your family members:

  1. Do you confide more to your [family] than to your partner about how your day went?
  2. Do you discuss negative feelings or intimate details about your marriage with your [family] but not with your partner?
  3. Are you open with your partner about the extent of your involvement with your [family]?
  4. Would you feel comfortable if your partner heard your conversation with your [family]?

If your conversations with your family support your marriage and turn you back toward your wife, this is more healthy than using your family as a replacement for your marriage. You’ll have to explore this with your wife and take an honest look at how your family fits in to your marriage. The family should be there to support your marriage, not the other way around. The purpose of families is to build and support the new families that become part of the bigger whole.

Before you decide that your wife is just a controlling and jealous person, take the time to honestly examine your history with your family relationships and how they’ve impacted your marriage. Ask your wife questions about her experiences and take the time to listen non-defensively. You might find there is a way to maintain your relationships with your family while having a secure and safe connection to your wife.

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

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 as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

[i] Elder Spencer W. Kimball, CR, Oct. 1962, pp. 55-60