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