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Thursday, 14 September 2000

My Husband's Family Is Tearing Us Apart

Written by  Dr. Marc Gelkopf, PhD and Elisabeth Gelkopf-Belais, SW

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QDear WholeFamily Counselor,

My husband and I started out our marriage with family issues that have basically torn us apart. First, we were both under 30 and the responsibility of raising his emotionally troubled teen-age cousin was "dumped" on us. She became the scapegoat for all our communication troubles because she became an off-limits subject. This child was constantly put out of school, her grades were awful and she had no respect for us. It was not until she physically jumped my husband that he realized I was not the bad person. A few months into the marriage, my brother-in-law moved in with his two children. He was never home to care for them, so now I was a single mother of three. Finally, whenever my husband's family comes around, it's for money and he never says no.

We are now at the point of a communication shut down. We do not spend any recreational time together, there is no intimacy (physically or emotionally) and we are basically living separate lives. To make matters worse, lately he has been forwarding me e-mail from another woman that is pretty provocative under the disguise of jokes. When I went into his e-mail log, I also noticed several e-mails from a former girlfriend. I love my husband and I want to stay married but I do not believe he feels the same. I thought of counseling, however, with his ego, he would never go for it. Do you have any suggestions to help??


Dumped Upon

ADear "Dumped Upon,"

We hear that you have started your marriage on what seems to be very problematic grounds. You have been forced to handle problems that no married couple should have to endure. We hear that you are in a crisis situation.

As a young and new couple you have had to take upon yourself responsibilities for a teenager, which is a challenge for even the most experienced parents. Thereafter you have had to take upon yourself two more children. This makes you, as you rightly say, a mother of three, but these aren't even your own children -- however fond of them you might be. This situation has brought you to a point where you have not had the opportunity to grow as a couple.

What has in fact happened is that you and your husband have let your marriage be invaded by your husband's family. Your marriage has been invaded by people who don't belong to it, who belong outside of it.

Obviously you were in a situation where it seemed to you that you could not refuse these people. But when such a situation arises, there is a need for negotiation and dialog. You and your husband avoided discussing whether his cousin or brother-in-law should move in and once they did move in who would be responsible for what.

Ignoring problems only makes them get worse. This is one of those rules in life that it's best to learn now.

We would like you to know that marriage -- and for that matter any 'serious' relationship -- has its boundaries. They need not always be physical, but they need to be clear. You and your husband are a couple, and it's time for you to remember that. Being a couple may sometimes mean saying no to the inappropriate demands of the family. You and your husband need to learn how to defend your relationship.

We believe that both of you know that there are serious problems in your relationship. By sending you these letters it seems as if your husband is trying to create a crisis in your marriage. Let it be a wake-up call for you to act. Your relationship is in danger and you need to find the courage to face your husband.

Talk to him -- not in a reproachful tone -- but just state the facts: your marriage isn't going well, you have no intimacy together, you don't enjoy being together anymore, his family is an obstacle to building a strong and intimate marriage, you love him and want to work things out.

So we would like to strengthen you in your endeavor to talk to your husband, and to set clear limits in your relationship. If your brother-in -law has to stay, then ask your husband if he understand that you all must sit down together and discuss the terms by which he can stay.

If your husband has problems in setting clear limits with his brother (which it seems he has) ask your husband that he at least support you in your demands towards your brother-in-law!!

It is time for you and your husband to learn how to be a couple and to make your marriage the highest priority in your lives. You need to learn how to be together as a couple, how to talk about the important things in your life, how to share your dreams and expectations and how to solve your current challenges. The best way to open up these discussions is to ask him how he would like your marriage to be.

Good luck,

Marc Gelkopf, PhD and Elisabeth Belais-Gelkopf, SW

Last modified on Monday, 16 January 2012 18:35
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Dr. Marc Gelkopf, PhD and Elisabeth Gelkopf-Belais, SW

Marc and Elizabeth are a husband and wife team of psychotherapists who work with individuals, couples and families.

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