In many cultures, it’s typically understood that marriage is the beginning of a new life for a couple -- it’s the point at which many people decide once-and-for all that they are branching off from the family they grew up with to start their own. Married life is frequently used as a benchmark for true adulthood, however malleable that concept might be, and that means that it’s often considered the appropriate time for a child to really start living separately from his or her parents.
However, regardless of distance or idealism, the truth is that the in-laws are still just a phone call away; being married is not just a relationship between two people, but a meeting of two families. While it's true when we marry our spouse we also marry our husband’s family, setting boundaries that are appropriate with our husband's family is still a key part of building a marriage that will last a long time. If boundaries aren't in place, other people, including the mother in law, father in law, or other family members can cross those boundaries and intrude in the marriage.
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Why Do Men Choose Their Family Over Their Spouse?
It can be hard when you feel that your husband doesn't stand up for you when you feel disrespected by his family. It is obviously a bad thing for a son to love and care for his family; a husband’s strong relationship with his parents can not only nourish but positively inform a marriage and see to its longevity. After all, a man may be more likely to respect his wife and treat her with honor when that's how he views and treats his mother. Additionally, there may be times when it’s only appropriate that a husband is choosing his family over his spouse -- lots of unforeseen family emergencies can arise that can demand a son’s attention.
However, when the boundaries are weak, and a man's wife is consistently not his priority, it can prove to be a significant hitch in married life especially if you have a disrespectful husband. While it’s not always realistic for a wife to expect her husband’s undivided attention, it can be especially hurtful when it feels like she’s not getting her due at all, or as though their relationship might be falling to the wayside.
Let's first look at some reasons why some men may put their family above their spouse, and then discuss some healthy ways and handy tips to help resolve the issue:
He Feels Guilty For Not Spending Time With His Family
This is especially true with men who have had a close bond with their parents growing up. If you feel that spending a large amount of time with his family might be an issue in your relationship, talk to your husband to see what’s going on. If he wants to spend time with his family, perhaps you can go with him when he visits. You might even consider scheduling family holidays to spend time with your husband's family, so that you can strengthen your bonds with your husband’s family while also strengthening your bond with him. Alternatively, you can figure out what specific times are appropriate for him to spend with his parents.
He Wants To Keep The Peace
The “fighting with the in-laws” trope exists in more than just comedy movies -- it’s actually not especially uncommon in married life for there to be conflict between a wife and a mother in law or with a husband's family in general. Sometime you may even feel that you have deal with disrespectful in laws. These conflicts with your husband's family are reasonable, resolvable, and not vitriolic, but other times, in-laws can be unduly controlling with regards to a husband’s relationship. This can be true when it comes to simple things or bigger things and there may be significant disagreements with your husband's family about weddings, finances, child-rearing, and property ownership that can be tense and can split interests.
In these instances, some men might elect to appease their mothers in order to keep their head down and avoid conflict. While this may sometimes feel like a betrayal, consider his perspective, and assess whether he’s genuinely dismissing your interests and point of view in a decision, or if he’s simply trying to be judicious and keep from damaging his relationship with his family. Intra-family conflicts can be very delicate, and may require some compromise in order to make things work with your husband's family -- however, he may also be rejecting what’s best for your new household in order to please his parents and your husband's family, which can be a recipe for an unhappy marriage with your husband, and may indicate that he needs to work on setting boundaries.
It’s only natural that a man care deeply for his mother -- after all, his mom is the first woman who ever loved him. As a boy matures into adulthood, however, his relationship with his mom should mature as well, but this is not always the case. For a son with an immature relationship with his mother -- what we might casually refer to as a mama’s boy -- parent-child boundaries are essentially nonexistent with strong attachment. There may be signs your husband feels that his mom's wish is his command. If his mom wants him to run an errand, take her to the store, or have lunch with her, he always obliges. Some other signs that your husband might have an immature relationship with your mother in law can include:
Wanting daily contact with his mom
Consistently choosing his mom over his wife and children, or even himself
Refusing to move far away from his mom, or even still living with her
Has trouble making decisions without his mom, and in turn, might expect you to baby him as well
Has financial ties to his mom, which keeps him close to her
Men Live With Their Parents Longer
According to a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, for the first time on record, men ages 18-34 are more likely to live with a parent (35%) than with a spouse or partner (28%). This extended living arrangement could enforce strong emotional attachment and dependency traits with his parents that could be causing difficulty in switching priorities from his parents to his spouse.
It's tough enough for some men to prioritize their wife over their parents even when in separate households, but having everyone under one roof makes it that much more difficult, and increases the chances of making his family the priority. If strong boundaries are not agreed upon and instilled ahead of time, and if there is no emphasis on some degree of independence from the family unit in spite of physical dependence, problems could arise.
What Steps Can You Take?
Here are a few handy tips to help you resolve some of these issues with your husband:
Communicate With Your Husband
Unlike when you’re single, dating and long-term relationships require consistent honesty and communication. The first step is to speak honestly with your husband about your feelings. It's important to talk to him about it. Also, ask him about his feelings, for he may simply be finding it difficult to express his feelings of showing his loyalty to both his family and you. Assure him that you are not against his family and that you don't want to isolate him from them. Find a compromise, if necessary, but ensure that healthy boundaries are intact.
Tell him that you understand he loves his family and that you know he loves you too. Suggest ways in which he could help you feel more appreciated and be clear as to what he can do to show you that you are just as important to him. Leave blame out of it and concentrate on how to best deal with the issue together as husband and wife. Communicating in thoughtful and direct ways is an important first step in helping him change his priorities.
When you got married, you became a team. Realizing this and building upon that relationship daily will help build a foundation you can both trust when in-laws and other family members come between you. Never put your husband in a situation where he has to choose between you or his family. Instead, work out your differences alone in private, and then approach his family as a team when conflicts arise.
While it can be easy to resent your mother in law, or be mad at your husband, understand that on some level, many of us may still feel like our parents’ child and be drawn towards allowing our parents to take care of us as they did when we were younger -- especially if they were quite controlling. However, emphasize for your husband that it can become unhealthy to rely so heavily and exclusively on his parents for comfort and guidance.
You may find yourself becoming irritated because your in-laws treat your husband like a child. Tell him firmly but gently that he needs to tell his parents that he is old enough to manage his own life. Let him know that he needs his own independence -- not just for his sake, but for yours as well.
Avoid Resentment Towards Your Husband
Avoid nagging your husband about you needing your husband to spend more time with you or choosing you over his mom and dad. This will only hurt him by putting down his parents and negating his role as a husband. These hurt feelings could turn into resentment or anger, which could cause problems in your marriage. Remember, he’s not choosing his family in an attempt to hurt you, but as a result of long-standing bonds and patterns that can be hard to break with
Your Husband Has To Make The Choice
Ultimately, your husband has to decide to change. Making you his main priority and breaking away from his family is, in the end, his decision. He has to form a boundary between his new family and his family of origin. Be supportive of your husband and understanding as your husband learns these new traits.
There are times when your husband should give increased attention to his parents, or where choosing his family might be the most logical option. These are situations when his parents or family members are sick, dying, or going through difficulties in their life. These are extenuating situations where your husband will need to be there for them.
Seek Professional Help
There is a chance that your husband will remain adamant that his family comes first. If this is the case, you need to have a talk with him about why he differentiates the meaning of family when it comes to you two and his parents. Understand that this is a complex issue that requires tact and understanding, and seeking help both individually and as a couple from a mental health professional can be a tremendous asset. There could be issues that have not been dealt with, which could be a contributing factor, and a mental health professional can give you insight on what these are. In addition, a mental health professional can provide additional insight into reasons why your husband is placing his family above you.
Choosing to work with a professional can allow you to learn the tools to communicate better and work through your issues as a family. They can also assist you in creating helpful boundaries, explaining your viewpoints to your husband, and prevent you from pointing the finger and making things worse. These tools may help improve the dynamics between you, your husband, and your in-laws.
"In a short time my husband and I have gained a lot of clarity of each other's actions and communication with his help."
"My husband and I have been having a wonderful experience with Keith Welsh (LCSW). We have never felt like we truly connected with a counselor before, but now we leave each session with a sense of ease and an action plan to continue working on our goals, both together and individually. He provides tools and insights that give us ownership over building a stronger relationship instead of just allowing us to vent and continue the same vicious cycle. We are very appreciative of his expertise and care!"
Rest assured that you are not alone in this very common situation. If you don't know what to do about your husband consistently prioritizing his family over you, there are tools available to help you move forward. Speaking with a nonbiased professional can help you figure out the best way to talk to him, so that he hears and understands you. Take the first step.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Should a man or husband choose his wife over his family?
In an ideal world, the two things -- an individual’s family and his spouse -- would never be diametrically opposed, and would in fact work harmoniously together. The unfortunate reality is that sometimes things won’t work out this way with your spouse's or husband's family, and the jealous mother in law really can play a role in our lives. In these situations, understand that part of marriage (and frankly, part of becoming an adult) is understanding that you cannot live and die to please your parents, but should instead focus on building your own life with the person that you chose to marry.
However, in some unique circumstances, a husband choosing his family is not only acceptable, but probably the more responsible thing to do. It's important to remember that each family has their own unique dynamic. If there is a crisis your husband's family, it is only understandable that a man goes to attend to it -- and if his wife is on relatively good terms with her husband's family, it can’t hurt for her to support him in that endeavor.
What to do when he chooses his family over you or your husband chooses his family over you?
Sometimes you find yourself thinking, "I feel that my husband's family disrespects me." You wonder why you have to deal with disrespectful in laws or a disrespectful family member and ultimately this leads you to wonder if you even have a disrespectful husband! You find yourself having to deal with disrespectful in laws or specific family member at family dinners and family gatherings and are looking for signs your husband notices. And if he doesn’t, then you feel even more confirmed that you have a disrespectful husband.
If you assess that there really is a problem and that you may even have a disrespectful husband on top the fact that his family disrespects you, take steps to communicate with him about it and be honest to people with their behavior offends you. Be open and understanding, but be honest about how you feel. There is no shame in feeling somewhat ignored or neglected by you husband and even feeling that you have a disrespectful husband and expressing that, but try to hear your husband's side of things, too.
If you feel strongly that your husband's family disrespects you and keep thinking "My husband's family disrespects me", it’s important to have a conversion to not let it continue to happen and to form a united front when you’re discussing the issue with your husband's family.
If you do decide to have a conversion with your husband's family or spouse’s family, family dinners could be a good setting. Make sure that when you bring up the feelings that the family disrespects your spouse, present a united front when you’re explaining to people when their behavior crosses the line. You can use language such as "I'm sure it's not your intention, but I feel that my husband's family disrespects me." Your husband could say something like "I love my family but I don't want to be a disrespectful husband. But my wife is my family too and this is not something I can keep let happening." When everyone is gathered at family dinners, express honestly why you and your spouse are feeling your family disrespects them and that you understand that they probably did not intend to make your spouse feel like the family disrespects them.
Who comes first your spouse, husband, or your parents?
In a marriage, your spouse, whether husband or wife, comes first, but in your family, your parents come first. This means that there may be times where you have to juggle the two -- if your parents are sick, getting divorced, or struggling financially, for instance, it might be only natural to try to attend to their needs. However, remember that you made a commitment to be in an exclusive partnership with your spouse and not your parents and it's important to present a united front when you're together. Your spouse is supposed to be your life partner.
Who is more important, the mother or wife or spouse?
The truth of the matter is that both are important in many men’s lives and women’s lives, and that in a healthy homeostasis with both women, neither relationship should be forced to come before the other.
However, it is important for a man to be aware of how these roles should be distinct, and to be aware of the fact that he made a choice to enter into a partnership that brings with it new roles and responsibilities. It becomes unhealthy when a man turns excessively to his mother for emotional comfort, seeks her out for relationship advice instead of turning to his partner to work things out, or primarily consults her on issues regarding his new household that he should instead be consulting his wife about. Ultimately, you do not need to wonder who will come first, because it is not a competition.
Who comes first in a marriage, the husband, parents, or wife?
Before you're about to get married or maybe even after marriage, you may find yourself wondering about the following:
"Who should I put first? Is it myself? My husband or wife? My parents? My in-laws? Is there a right and a wrong?"
In essence, no, there is no right or wrong. In a marriage, both partners should attempt to put each other first, with the understanding that they have the mutual beneficial goal of supporting each others’ happiness. If you feel uneasy or anxious about 'Who should come first?" have that discussion with your partner and maybe enlist the help of a licensed mental health professional in couples counseling or marriage counseling.
My husband lets his family disrespect me, what can I do about it?
It can be difficult when you feel that your husband lets his family disrespect you or when you do not get along with your husband's family. It can feel as though you are caught between a rock and a hard place with your husband's family- you want him to make you his priority but at the same time you understand that your husband's family is important to him. You are having a hard time - you feel disrespected and ignored yet you can understand your husband to a certain extent but you don't want to let it keep happening. This can be a very tricky situation to handle when it comes to your husband's family, and a licensed relationship expert in couples counseling, family counseling, or marriage counseling can help guide you through this situation and how best to handle it and navigate the situation.
When a guy doesn't tell his family about you?
You've been together for a while but your man doesn't tell his family about you. This can lead to question, "Why isn't he telling his family about me?" It can be unfortunate or even disconcerting when you find out that your significant other has not told his parents about you -- in your head, you might let it be the catalyst of any number of hurtful or paranoid theories about why he doesn’t want to be with you, that your partner or husband secretly hates you, that your partner or husband is cheating on you, etc. etc.
The reality is that this can be a totally innocuous thing, depending on his personality and how far the two of you are into your relationship. He might know that his parents are judgmental and controlling, and might want to spare you from the discomfort of the dreaded “parents’ dinner” as long as he can. Alternatively, he might have a poor relationship with his family, and figure that it’d be best to leave them out of his affairs.
In less charitable interpretations, however, this can indicate some serious commitment problems. It could potentially indicate that, either consciously or subconsciously, he doesn’t consider you a part of his world long-term. Worst case scenario, it could also mean that he has something to hide -- if he’s juggling more than one partner at once, chances are he’d want them to be less intimately connected to his life so he can avoid the possibility of repercussions for his actions.
Who comes first in a man's life? His parents, spouse, or family?
A man should prioritize whoever he has committed to put first. If he’s unmarried, that could be himself, his family, or his significant other. When you’re married, however, there is an unspoken commitment that you will prioritize your partner and the family you might make together. However, it is best to discuss these things with your partner before entering into a marriage together.
The most important thing to remember is that love is not a competition. There is no limited amount of loving relationships that a person can have in his or her life, and there certainly is not a single “number one” spot. As your priorities change, your relationships change. As different people need them, and as you need different people, they occupy various important roles in your life. Instead of competing against this very natural flow, accept that having various loving relationships is healthy for your partner.
This may change if you think your partner or spouse has a toxic relationship, with a parent for example, or if you feel that you are constantly prioritizing a person who does not prioritize you.
Should a man or husband put his wife or spouse first?
In a committed relationship, you may wonder or stress over the following
Family - Is there a hierarchy?
Wife? Spouse? Significant other? Who do I put first?
Is there a correct order when it comes to family?
There are a lot of things to balance, including kids, family, and career goals. While it can become confusing to figure out how to order these things, remember that prioritizing your spouse can create a healthy, loving marriage that lasts a long time. A
However, you should be ready to accept that many different people will be important to you and your partner at various points in your lives. This does not mean that your love for each other is in question, it simply means that different relationships serve different purposes at different times! If you really love your partner or spouse, you want them to be happy, and oftentimes that happiness includes having many fulfilling, healthy friendships with other people and loved ones.
However, problems arise when people start to have issues with boundaries. Try to consider and mark your boundaries very clearly. This does not mean forbidding your partner from speaking to someone, but it may mean clarifying what you need in order to feel wanted and loved.
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