My Husband Chooses His Family Over Me. What Can I Do?
By Ashley Brown
Updated February 11, 2020
Reviewer Robin Brock
When you get married, you typically leave your parents' home and join your spouse. However, the in-laws are still just a phone call away. The fact is that 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 the family, there must be appropriate boundaries set up. If boundaries aren't in place, other people, including family, can cross those boundaries and intrude in the marriage.
Why Do Men Choose Their Family Over Their Spouse?
In a healthy relationship between a son and his parents, it can be nourishing and can positively contribute to a marriage. A man will more likely respect his wife and treat her with honor because that's how he views and treats his mother. However, when the boundaries are weak, and the man's wife is not the priority, problems may arise. Let's first look at some reasons why men put their family above their spouse, and then discuss ways to remedy it.
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. Now that he is out of the house and married, he's not spending as much time with his family, which may trigger feelings of guilt. As a result, he might pay extra attention to his family to overcompensate for his emotions. If you are experiencing an issue with this, talk to your husband to see what is going on. If he wants to spend time with his family, perhaps you can go with him when he visits. Alternatively, you can figure out what specific times are appropriate for him to spend with his parents.
He Wants To Keep The Peace
In many cases, there is a bit of conflict in a marriage. This may also be the case between a couple and in-laws. In either case, if you ignore conflict and pretend it doesn't exist to keep the peace, the problem may become more serious. Conflicts must be dealt with respectfully and in a healthy manner.
He's A Mama's Boy
The bond with a parent is the infant's first experience of love and of being part of a loving pair. Although romantic relationships are very different from "blood" relationships, the biochemistry and neural signals that bond infant and parent are the same ones used to bond us to a mate. The parent/infant pair, in many ways, behave like lovers. A mother and baby lock together in a mutual gaze, each looking back to the other. This is an activity called "eye love" which is also practiced by lovers as they gaze at each other in mutual admiration. This early intimacy leaves a legacy that impacts every subsequent intimate attachment, including a marriage partner.
Men have a unique history with their moms. After all, mom is the first woman who ever loved him. As a boy matures into adulthood, his relationship with his mom should mature as well, but this is not always the case. For a mama's boy, the boundaries are essentially nonexistent. 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. Here are some other signs of a mama's boy:
- He wants daily contact with his mom
- He chooses his mom over his wife and children
- He never moved far away from his mom, or he still lives with her
- He has trouble making decisions without his mom, and in turn, might expect you to baby him as well
- He might have 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.
Everyone Under One Roof
A record 64 million Americans live in multigenerational households. That's one in five Americans. It's tough enough for some men to prioritize their wife over their parents 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, then problems are just waiting to happen.
What Steps Can You Take?
The first step is to speak honestly with your husband about your feelings. 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.
Be amicable in your tone. 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 a couple. Communicating in thoughtful and direct ways is an important first step in helping him change his priorities.
Remember: You're A Team
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.
He Is Still Their Child
If your husband falls into the mama's boy category, this step is important to pay attention to. You may find yourself becoming irritated because your in-laws treat your husband like a child. Too much coddling from mom and dad may make it difficult for your husband to make you his top priority. If he continues to go to them for advice and care, rather than turning to you, 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 you are the priority.
Avoid nagging your husband about you needing him 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, which could cause problems in your marriage.
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 and understanding as he learns these new traits.
There are times when your husband should give increased attention to his parents. These are situations when his parents are sick, dying, or going through difficulties in their life. These are extenuating situations where your husband will need to be there for them. Remember that this is a temporary situation. Your husband may experience feelings of guilt and slide back into making his family the priority, which must be quickly addressed. After the situation with his family has been rectified, you should once again become the priority.
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.
However, not everyone has access to reputable counselors in their area, and not everyone feels comfortable sitting in a waiting room with other people. This is where online counseling services like ReGain offer solutions. You will be able to talk to a professional whenever you need to, and say whatever you need to say- all from the comfort and privacy of your own home. No one else will know except for your counselor. They can provide insight and advice on steps to take in order to move forward. Below are a couple reviews of ReGain counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"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.