Photo by Tom Swinnen on Unsplash
Photo by Tom Swinnen on Unsplash

Close Mother-in-law


My wife and I have been married three years, and we live a couple hundred miles from our parents. She talks to her mom every day on the phone, and when we visit her parents, it’s as if I don’t even exist—she and her mom go off in their own little clique. Is this a normal woman thing, or am I too defensive?


Based on the clear teaching of scripture as well as the results of relationship research we know that one of the essential ingredients to a healthy marriage is that we “leave” our family-of-origin and “cleave” to our spouse. It sounds simple but for many it is much easier said than done.

It’s always tempting to see these situations as a problem to be solved rather than an opportunity to grow. It’s great that your wife and her mom have a close relationship. However, it’s time for her primary relationship to be with you rather than her mom. With some thought, prayer, seeking of wise counsel, patience, and preparation this situation can become a turning point in your marriage that God can use to knit your hearts more tightly together in love.

Women as well as men find camaraderie with each other and their relationship must be a significant source of comfort and security to your wife. If you have not had an intentional talk with her about your feelings, it would be wise for you to make time for that. Write out and rehearse what you want her to hear and understand. What’s the “bottom line” of your concern?

As you talk with her, let her know you value the fact that she and her mother are close. Let her know that sometimes you do not know what to do or how to feel when they are together. If you want to be a part of at least some of their conversation, let her know that. If you have the safety in your relationship to do this, you might want to explore whether her reliance and dependence on her mom is keeping her from developing that with you. What does she think about this? Are there things she could be talking with you about that don’t need to be shared with her mom?

This is a delicate conversation and if you have a prayed up and prepared heart, she will be less likely to feel attacked and respond with defensiveness. Let her know that you are not accusing her but that you just feel somewhat confused and left out and want to have the best marriage possible. If the primary message is your love for her, your desire to understand her and your commitment to become one in Christ, she will be less likely to react and more likely to respond.

You can’t force her to do anything different, but you can be vulnerable with her and share your heart. This might be a great time in your marriage to do a little marriage enrichment! Check out a marriage retreat, read a book together (such as Safe Haven Marriage by Sharon Hart Morris and Archibald Hart) or spruce up your date nights with some intentional romance.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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