Dear Thelma: The silent divide – When in-laws clash

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Dear Thelma,

I find myself in a difficult and somewhat heartbreaking situation that has been plaguing my family for the past year. It all revolves around a persistent clash between my spouse and my parents.

My parents have always been loving and supportive, and I had never imagined they would ever have issues with my partner. However, since my spouse and I got married last year, tensions have been steadily rising. The problem lies in their differing values, lifestyles, and communication styles.

My parents are traditional, conservative, and have strong family-centric values. They have always envisioned a certain path for me, one they believe would ensure happiness and success. On the other hand, my spouse is more progressive, independent, and values personal freedom and career ambition. While these differences can be enriching, they have led to constant friction.

The main issues stem from misunderstandings, cultural differences, and the feeling of not being heard. My parents often feel that my spouse doesn't respect their traditions and values, while my spouse feels that my parents are trying to control our lives and dictate our choices.

This constant tension has taken a toll on all of us, and I'm struggling to find a way to mediate and help bridge the gap between my spouse and my parents. I love them all dearly and can't bear to see this divide deepen. I fear that if we don't find a resolution soon, it might strain our marriage and my relationship with my parents even further.

How do I navigate this challenging family problem. How can I help my spouse and parents understand and respect one another's differences? How can we find a way to coexist harmoniously as a family without compromising our individual values and happiness?

Caught In The Middle

This is a common problem and I think your choices are clear although you may not like the results.

You married your wife knowing she is progressive, independent, and values personal freedom and career ambition. When you married, you took on a partnership. That means you respect who she is and support her.

As your parents love you and you have a strong bond, they can tell you, their son, what dreams they had for you, and they can give you advice.

However, they can tell you once and then it’s up to you whether you take it or not.

Can they talk to your wife that way? Your wife is your partner; she is not their daughter. If they were very close, they might talk but they are not. Therefore, it is a formal relationship. That means all parties should be polite, kind and hopefully warm, but that’s as far as it goes.

Put plainly, people with different values and lifestyles can communicate perfectly politely at a party or in an office, so everyone involved has the necessary skills.

From your wording, persistent clash, the friction in your marriage comes from your parents pushing their unwanted opinions about how you two should live on your wife and with you standing by and not speaking up. So differences have become entrenched and there is a war of wills.

Let’s be clear here: Your parents can have an opinion but they have no right to dictate to your wife. Or indeed, to anyone. Also, everyone must be polite. There is no excuse for being rude.

So here is your choice: You either support your wife, which will certainly annoy your parents and bring you into conflict, or you do not support your wife, which will certainly impact on your relationship with her, to the point it may break your marriage.

My dear, you already know this. I think you’re probably hoping it will all go away because you don’t want a fight. It won’t. You must make your choice.

Should you choose to support your wife and live up to your partnership, it may help to remind your parents that you are an adult.

As parents, your folks may have become used to dictating to you because that was OK when you were a tot. However, the relationship changes as you age. They need to update their thoughts and recognise you are a man, and to respect your independence.

I do hope they are sensible. Interfering parents-in-law can ruin marriages; they can also cause rifts between themselves and their kids.

Sadly, not all parents are adult-minded. If you think they will sulk or throw a temper tantrum, consider having someone they respect – an older sibling of theirs perhaps – talk to them first.

However it works, expect it to take a while. But if you are calm, kind, reasonable and firm, you will hopefully see a change in behaviour.

Should you decide to stick with your parents, talk to your wife and see what she wants to do. But be warned: Marriages break up when a partner feels unsupported by a partner.

I know which way I would go, but it is up to you. Good luck, and know I’ll be thinking of you.

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Family problems , family conflict , in-laws


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