My husband goes out of his way to spend time with his family—he even admits he’ll stop everything to be with them. When it comes to seeing my family, though, he always has a reason for not being able to spend time with them. This is really tearing us apart. Should I just accept this unequal family time and hide my hurt to avoid the problems?
This kind of problem is much more common than you might think. It usually occurs in the early years of a marriage and can involve either spouse. How you choose to deal with this issue could affect the quality of your marriage for many years.
Some couples choose to react to their hurt by attacking and accusing each other of being selfish and insensitive or of being histrionic and exaggerating the problem. The good news is that most couples we’ve worked with have been able to deal with this problem in ways that actually brought them closer together and strengthened their marriage. It’s not good for you to just ignore the problem. At the same time, it’s essential that you spend more time praying and thinking about how to strengthen your relationship than dwelling on this issue.
The Bible makes it clear (Genesis 2:24) that one of the essential tasks in a marriage is to leave and cleave. At the very least, this means that the husband and wife should spend more time with each other than with their individual families. The first step is for both of you to make sure you are spending both quantity and quality couple time together and allowing God to “knit your hearts” more tightly together in love. As you strengthen your couple bond, it will become safer to deal with potentially volatile issues.
The next step is to clarify how big the problem is. One husband we worked with had a similar concern about his wife and so for one month he tracked the amount of time she spent with her family (apart from time at church) to see if his perceptions were accurate. He discovered that while he was exaggerating the amount of time, it was still more than he thought healthy for the marriage.
If you decide that it is a problem, the next step is to select a good time to talk with him, prepare what you are going to say and ask some friends to pray for you before and during your conversation. It would be good to let your husband know what you want to discuss and ask him to prayerfully prepare his heart. You might tell him, “When you do this, my interpretation is that you don’t want to spend time with my family and that really hurts.” After he responds, you should be prepared to suggest what you think would be a fairer and more mutually respectful arrangement. Ask yourself, if things were “better” what would that look like? What would be some small steps in a healthier direction?
Another option is to approach talking about it in a different way. Ask yourself what’s been different about the times you and your husband successfully solved other conflicts? What did each of you do that helped? Did you listen better? Did you ask more questions? Did you try to understand each other’s perspective rather than pressure them to see it your way?
The fact that discussing this issue makes it hard for you to control your emotions and is tearing you apart suggests you may have reached emotional gridlock on this issue. If that’s the case, we would encourage you to find an older and more mature couple or a trained professional counselor with which to discuss the issue. Remember that every problem provides a new opportunity for understanding, growth, increased intimacy and a stronger marriage.