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My wife told me she is unhappy and I need to move out. We were living with her parents so I feel I didn’t have a choice. I have been living at my parents for a week now. By the way I’m 23 and she’s 19 and I’ve made some mistakes, but I’m going to fix them. Should I move back in the house with her without her saying I can come back? I really love her and want this to work.
Please don’t try to move back into your wife’s parent’s house without permission. This is a really bad idea if you’re trying to save your new marriage. Your wife doesn’t need you forcing yourself back into her life if she asked you to leave. Let’s examine your situation so you can create a healthier response.
First of all, you’re in a strange situation because you’ve been living in her parent’s house. So, they are going to ultimately decide who lives in their home. If you and your wife have created drama in their home, they’re probably relieved to have some peace. I don’t know how they will work this out with your wife, but if she’s asked you to leave, it’s highly likely they’re supporting and influencing her at this point. After all, she’s 19 and probably hasn’t lived away from home, so chances are they still see her as their child who lives at home.
Before you talk with them, you need to talk with her and work out an agreement. She needs to know that she invited you back into the home since she was the one who invited you to leave. Dr. John Gottman calls this “accepting influence.” One author further explained Dr. Gottman’s finding:
“Being open to influence requires a man to let go of avoidant strategies like distancing, attacking, and defensiveness. This doesn’t mean adopting an inferior position, but rather allowing his partner’s needs to be of primary importance in his life.”[i]
Dr. Gottman found that it’s more important for men to accept influence in their marriages because women already naturally accept influence from their husbands. She needs to know that you are open to her experience instead of forcing your preferences on her. She asked you to leave for a reason and disregarding her feelings will only teach her that she doesn’t matter to you.
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught that even though marriage requires both partners to take personal responsibility for their contributions to the health of the marriage, it’s been his experience that “it is predominately men who bring about the conditions that lead to divorce.”[ii] Look closely at the conditions you created that led to this separation. Also look closely at the conditions you are about to create by forcing yourself back into her life.
This is a good opportunity for you to get some personal support and counsel from a professional therapist, church leader, or close friend who can help you slow down your reactivity and think through your next steps. Your wife is hurt and needs to know that you care about her pain. She is counting on you to treat her like a person with feelings and thoughts separate from your own. If she’s willing to talk, work hard to listen without defending yourself and explaining your choices. Instead, see if her experiences and feelings touch your heart and soften you to better understand what she needs to feel secure with you. These expressions will likely produce some action items you need to follow through with to create more stable conditions in your marriage.
Depending on what your specific issues are in the marriage, both of you will benefit from marriage education through a class or counseling. You’ve made serious commitments to each other by getting married and you both will need support learning how to create a healthy marriage. Seek support so you can find your way back to each other and build a marriage that will last.
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.geoffsteurer.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. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.