I have been married for three years and my wife doesn’t get along with two of my sisters. She thinks they are rude and snub her when the family gathers. She doesn’t want to attend any of my family gatherings and tells me to not attend as well. She’s basically telling me that it’s either her or them. My sisters don’t hate my wife and I can’t understand why there is all of this drama. My sisters are confused as well and tell me they don’t understand what she’s talking about. How do I show loyalty to my wife when my family isn’t that unhealthy? I don’t want to have to choose between my wife and my family.
It’s important to remember that people behave in ways that make sense to them. Your wife’s feelings and behavior don’t make sense to you or your family, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have legitimate feelings that cause her to pull away. This is an important opportunity to show your wife that you have her back and will show her that she’s first.
Your family had your loyalty and priority before you married your wife. Once you committed to your wife that she would be your priority, everyone and everything else comes second. President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke strongly about the absolute loyalty marriage partners should have toward one another. He said, “Determine that there will never be anything that will come between you that will disrupt your marriage. Make it work. Resolve to make it work. There is far too much of divorce, wherein hearts are broken and sometimes lives are destroyed. Be fiercely loyal one to another.”[i]
Your wife may be sensitive. She may be unreasonable. She may be falsely accusing your sister’s intentions. She may even be crazy. It doesn’t matter. She is your wife and your priority is to turn toward her for as long as it takes to understand and support her. As long as she’s not being harmful to herself or others, there is room for you to turn toward her and take the time to create understanding and safety.
I encourage you to stop running interference between your wife and your sisters. If they are confused about your wife’s behavior, they should speak directly to your wife. You are complicating the situation by talking about your wife behind her back. You also now have secrets you’re keeping from your wife, which adds additional fear and resentment in your interactions with her.
Don’t get hung up on your wife’s refusal to do things with your family. If your family is emotionally mature, they will understand that your marriage is more important than the larger family. Extended families are there to support marriages and help them grow.
I encourage you to view the idea of loyalty in a broader sense than whether or not you attend a family function. Loyalty to your marriage means giving your best energy, attention, and concern toward understanding your wife’s concerns. Spend time listening to her and asking good questions. Put aside the pressure to do things with the family and let her know you care about her concerns. You need to ask yourself the following question: Whose pain is more important to you…your family’s pain or her pain?
Listen to what she says. She may be picking up on dynamics in your family that make it hard for her to fit in. She may have some valid feedback. I remember when I was first married and my wife pointed out that I seemed to take on a different role when I was with my siblings. She noticed that I reverted back to some familiar role as the younger brother that left her confused about where we fit in as a couple. Her feedback was helpful and allowed me to make adjustments as I moved from being a brother and son to growing into my role as a husband.
Even if your wife is being overly sensitive, your undying commitment to her will soothe and reassure her that she’s not alone in her pain. We are usually more reasonable and flexible when we feel safe and connected. As you provide that safety for her, chances are it will open up more options for interacting with your family.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.