My Father-in-Law Controls My Marriage

Here’s the love-life problem: you get married to a person whose father ‘controls’ her or him. Now this is common in a ‘guy marries girl who hasn’t separated from her family of origin’ scenario. But the gender is not the important part. The fact that the person you love is not yet free, is.

OK, so how to understand this and what are your options? Let’s establish something right away. Just because you got married does not mean your spouse is fully ready to emotionally be your spouse. Sound surprising? The fact is, people can get married and still be dependent on their families of origin.

Ideally, a marriage is healthiest and happiest when both persons make a 100% commitment to each other. This means that the list of people and their importance to you in your life right now starts off with your spouse (and kids, of course, but I’m talking about early marriage).

There are two ways to do a marriage. The first is the ‘grow up after marriage’ model. What it basically means is, you get married, probably younger (but not necessarily so), and you’re not yet separated emotionally or perhaps physically from your family of origin. They have a lot to say, privately or publicly, about what you should do, why, and how. Your spouse is second on the list of people who matter the most. Let’s be frank, this is the kind of thing you can feel and probably see. The evidence is pretty plain.

If you are willing to take the risk that your spouse will grow up, meaning leave home after you’re married, then you concentrate on growing together in the relationship over time. Ideally, that’s when it works best. By the time you’ve been married awhile, you’re first on the list, and your spouse has left home so to speak, during the course of your marriage. If she or he doesn’t grow up in course of your marriage, you’re in trouble. The most common way of being in trouble is when your father-in-law (or anyone else in the family of origin) controls your spouse.

The alternative is the ‘grow up before you get married’ model. Basically, this marriage happens after you’ve spent some time ‘finding yourself.’ In recent decades this has become more popular, especially if you go to college, and you’re a male (but not so much in the USA). Ideally, you learn how to take care of yourself (maybe not financially). You also learn how to cope with being alone sometimes and you work on developing yourself. By the time you get married, you’re usually older, and hopefully more matured.

This is not to say you don’t have to also grow in the course of your marriage. Only that you’ve done a lot of the basic maturing (leaving home) before you get married. The advantage here is that whatever conflicts you might have had about growing up and out of your parent’s control, don’t get played out in your marriage. There’s enough to do being married. When you’re leaving home and learning how to be married at the same time it can be a lot stress with too many mixing of influences.

So what happens when your father-law is in control of your marriage? A common scenario is, you work for your father-in-law and you’ve married his daughter. And if you really want to pour it on, you live in the same house with him too. Wow! Talk about giving up your freedom! Well let me tell you a family story. My father got married to his boss’ daughter and lived with him. My brothers and I lived on the first floor of my grandfather’s house. You see, my mother’s father was not about to ‘give away’ his daughter (or anything else he owned) to anybody, and I mean ever.

He had been trying to have a ‘son’ with my passive-aggressive grandmother for sometime. So his only child, my mother, was threatened (no inheritance) and persuaded (controlled) into a move downstairs in my grandfather’s house after marriage. Of course she had thoughts of leaving but was pretty ambivalent about doing so. Since my father, an uneducated man, worked for my mother’s father and was financially dependent upon him, he felt trapped and impotent to oppose my grandfather in any way.

I remember the tension that existed between my father, mother, and grandfather. I later understood that my parents’ marriage was negatively affected by this tension and control. My immediate family lived in this way long after my brothers and I grew up and left home. It wasn’t until my father had reached his older years that he decided to move out of my grandfather’s house and into his own with my mother. My grandfather’s control had finally been broken. Even though he tried to guilt them into staying every opportunity he got. Unfortunately, it wasn’t shortly after that, my grandfather moved into my father’s house because of failing health, now in his nineties.

My father’s freedom was unfortunately short-lived. A nursing home was out of the question for my mother. She took care of her father (her mother died years before) in her home until his death in his middle nineties. The hard part was, she ‘suffered’ in a tense and angry relationship with her father until the day he died. The guilt had a powerfully negative influence on both my parents.

If you ask me what effect growing up in the middle of this struggle has had on me, I’ll tell you I value my freedom. I think I value my freedom and individuality even more in my own life because of what I witnessed in my father’s. In my family situation there was little growth during my parents marriage and what little there was showed up late in their lives together.

In my life, I spent a lot of time trying to grow up before I got married. Putting marriage off until I was middle-aged and personal therapy experiences were my preferred method. I’m glad to say, I consider myself a free man (at least for as much as any man can be free in this life). So there you have it. A son ‘corrects’ the mistakes of his father in his own life. A common love-life story for a lot of people.

Ring a bell? Comments? Dr. T. Jordan



Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.


  1. Eloisa on September 14, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    It’s too late to fix my marriage now. My husband let his father take all the decisions in our marriage. Now, I’m hurt and is a pain that kills me day by day.

    • rick on July 12, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      Me too except it is my wife and controls our marriage from what her father dictates! I have never ever seen anything like this in my life! We have four children and all have the surname as her just like her dad, even my wife didn’t take my name lol…If we go to buy a car then it always ends up with the father in law picking it and I am left wondering where I went wrong? Do I love my wife? Yes, it’s turning me, I am starting to despise her and her and her family make me feel so lonely, I am never invited to dinner or any other family occasion, in fact I spent one Christmas alone because her dad wanted her and MY CHILDREN ALSO to attend the church…. It’s obvious she doesn’t love me, how could she? I feel used and betrayed, if not only to impregnate her so she can bring more vulnerable children who will not ask questions (our own) to the church to please her own dad, my father in law? It’s making me ill that these god loving people would do this to me…where is the love, the hope, the friendship, where is god in all this???? Why does my wife dress like a slob in front of me, yet when she goes visiting her dad she wears the tightest clothes going, breast practically hanging out, perfume…I don’t see any of that at home, she is always tired, always feeling ill ( oh babe will you sort the kids out I am feeling weak, oh babe will you do them dinner I feel dizzy)…yet a new man comes along like a new mate and she is up and ready looking her best with a long necklace down her cleavage and treating me like some useless goffa in front of them, no respect for me at all??? I am not some little man, not that that should matter, I am big, strong but lonely because of my upbringing, seeking love from someone who can understand…I guess it’s time I realized a long time ago (I did but refused to believe it) that she is bad news…Now she it trying it on to the dwp hoping to get sick money every week, she wrote a letter and told me that it is from me and this is my opinion on how bad she is…In the letter she said she could not move, she could not wash a dish, she needed a wheelchair, the kids had to wash her hair, I had to help her with the toilet…lol, I told her straight that I would not endorse her lies and in fact she is trying to con!

  2. Amit on July 29, 2016 at 6:02 am

    My wife is totally controlled by her father, she doesn’t work at home only because his father is playing mind games. Moreover he fills negativity in her mind. She is pregnant since march 2016 and now she living with her father since 20 days. I went after 10 days to take her back ,but her father and she herself created issues and said me and my family bad words and abused us . I was in stress so I left her and returned back home. She didn’t call even that she want to come. Her sister is also living with her father as my father in law has created issues in her marriage also. Both sisters are currently living with his father… Plz help me what can I do to live ..I am stressed so much that I can kill myself. They are planning to send my wife to me with full mentally preparations and I bet she will do some dramas and can harm my parents.
    Plz send some immediate ,time being solutions
    Rgds amit mail I’d

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