This is a question I hear a lot, especially from wives.
MANY women are upset because they feel their man’s family disrespects them or tries to control them and their man does nothing to come to her defense.
I talked with Greg about this issue. Here are some of his thoughts (I believe this applies in marriage and before marriage):
A husband who feels respected probably will try to protect his wife – but she has to be willing to stay under his covering and protection.
If she lashes out at his family members, insults them or disrespects them and creates a lot of hurt feelings, she will be on her own. Her husband can’t protect or defend her if she creates a lot of problems for herself. At that point, a husband will allow her to lie in the bed she made for herself.
Men HATE drama.
Really – we don’t like drama either, but sometimes we are more concerned about “being right” than being kind, respectful, forgiving, selfless and gracious. That drive to hang on to my “being right” or being offended can definitely lead to unnecessary drama.
Men don’t want to be put in a tug of war between their mom and their girlfriend/fiance. Yes, he should always choose his woman (especially once she is his wife) over his mom. But he doesn’t want to hurt his mom. He would rather not be forced into a position where he has to hurt the feelings of a woman he loves.
But if his girlfriend is honoring his leadership, genuinely respecting him on a regular basis and he knows she trusts him and admires him – he probably will be willing to stand up for his her against someone else if he sees someone insult her – particularly if she didn’t do anything to instigate the attack.
WHY ARE THESE RELATIONSHIPS SO DIFFICULT?
In-law relationships (and future in-law relationships) can be very tricky. We don’t have the long history of unconditional love with in-laws that we do with our own parents and siblings. Each family’s culture is unique and it is easy for people from different families to have widely differing expectations about lots of topics. Plus, attempting to navigate the new boundaries of a new relationship or new marriage can be difficult for families who are used to being very involved in their children’s decisions.
Also, it is difficult for some parents to let go of control of their son. They love him. They want the best for him. But it is difficult for them to release their son to be his own man when he becomes an adult. Some parents want to continue being the authorities in their children’s lives and don’t embrace God’s design for the authority structure of the new marriage or a relationship that is heading toward marriage. If parents think the have the right to be in charge and that they are still God-given authorities over their child, they can be quite controlling – and this is VERY destructive to a courtship/engagement/marriage. Especially once the couple is married:
- The new wife NEEDS to know that it is her husband who is in authority and in charge now, not his parents or her parents.
- The husband NEEDS to know that his wife will follow his leadership, not her parents’ or his parents’.
CREATING NEW BOUNDARIES THAT PROTECT YOUR MARRIAGE
It is critical for the man, in my view, to set healthy boundaries with his family or with his new wife’s family, if they are attempting to exert improper authority over the marriage – because he is the authority in the marriage. Sometimes, it may be appropriate for the wife to do the boundary setting with her own parents. Please pray for God’s wisdom on this! (some suggestions):
- I love you Mom and Dad (and siblings)
- God has placed me in charge of my new family now.
- I want to honor you and respect you. I’m so thankful for all you have done to raise me right.
- Now it is time for me to be responsible for the decisions in my family.
- I welcome your ideas and suggestions when I ask for them.
- Please pray for God to give me wisdom to lead my wife and family well for His glory.
WHAT CAN A WOMAN DO? (My suggestions, for whatever they are worth. These are not the only ways to handle things, just some ideas to get you started.)
**** AS ALWAYS I am assuming you are with a very godly man who loves Jesus more than anything and who submits to Christ and His Word and who is respectful of the authorities over him.
You can’t force your man to set healthy boundaries with his family or your family. But, you can support, honor and respect his leadership. You can close ranks with him and not allow family members or friends to divide you and destroy your unity. (Only say these kinds of things if you can say them sincerely and genuinely!) Let’s pretend your man’s name is John.
- Look to John when family members want to make you make a big decision and allow him to answer if he is there. If he is not there, you could say, “I need to talk to John about that. I’ll let you know what we decide.” or “I’ll check with John.”
- “You can talk with John about it if you aren’t comfortable with his decision.”
- “John asked me to do X. I’m going to honor him and do that as he asked me to.”
- “That is a decision John and I will be making together. I’ll be sure to let him know about your concerns.”
- Don’t speak negatively about your guy to others.
- Talk about your man’s strengths and the good things you admire about him to family and friends.
- “Well, this is the decision John made, and I support him.”
- “I know you are concerned about what we are planning to do. Thank you for sharing. We appreciate that you love us very much. We will be sure to take these issues into consideration when we talk about our plans.”
- “I trust John.”
- “I have every confidence in John.”
- “Yes this is a big decision. We will be sure to be careful and thorough as we decide what to do.”
- “Thanks for telling me your concerns. We know you love us very much.”
- “That is an issue I am not at liberty to discuss right now. Thanks for understanding.”
Also – it may be best NOT to talk to extended family members about every little decision – or the big ones…. It may be best only to talk with your man (especially once you are engaged and planning on marriage) about them, and pray about them and possibly speak to a godly mentoring wife who is living out respect and biblical submission in her own marriage. Then, when you have made your decision together, you may be able to talk about it with other family members.
Once you are married, you answer to God and to your husband. You don’t answer to extended family and friends and coworkers. If you are still living at home under your parents’ authority and you are not married yet, then you must obey your father over your boyfriend/fiance if they do not agre. Once you are married, then you will place yourself under the covering, leadership, authority and protection of your husband. But if you are still fairly young and at home, your father is your covering and God-given authority until you are on your own or until you get married.
It can be very wise, in my view, to not share all the personal business that goes on between you and your husband but to keep most of that private. If you are in danger – you may need to reach out for help – or if there are some HUGE issues like drug addiction, alcoholism, infidelity, physical abuse, uncontrolled mental disorders – but understand that family and friends may not be as willing to forgive as you are when the crisis is over.
Please pray that God might show you the healthy boundaries you need to have with your families and for your marriage to be strong and vibrant.
HOW TO TREAT HIS FAMILY (some of my suggestions)
- ALWAYS be respectful
- don’t criticize them to their faces or to him – he hears criticism of his family as criticism of himself
- don’t raise your voice
- use a pleasant, friendly tone of voice
- Don’t tear them down to other people
- don’t try to change them
- Accept them the way they are and that they are different from your family. That is ok!
- Be sure they feel included with seeing your children if at all possible
- Allow your guy to be the one to deliver difficult news to them if possible
- Respect the way your man decides to relate to his family – Don’t try to make him do things your way. Trust him to handle his family members and let him be the one to speak to them if there is conflict going on or if you are trying to avoid conflict. His family can hear from him much more easily than they can hear from you.