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Dealing With Your Child's Spouse

M. D. Jackson has studied psychology since 1989. While her specialty is family relations, she also loves neuroscience and behaviorism.

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I Hate My Child's Spouse

Every week I receive letters from people dealing with their in-laws, boyfriend or girlfriend, or spouse of their child. Bad interpersonal situations have become so prevalent that I am writing today to help people in those situations. Hopefully you can gain some perspective on your situation. There is an old saying that goes, “You aren’t losing a daughter, you are gaining a son." I mention that because we really should look at our in-laws that way, yet most people look at it like they are losing their child. The first thing you should do is not hate your son/daughter-in-law.

It's Not Your Life

Let’s start with the obvious; when your child chooses a significant other they do so because it is his/her life. You can only make decisions about your own life. As parents of small children and even teens we control their lives to an extent. As they get older we have less control over their behavior and choices. Sometimes that is difficult for us to get over. An independent adult child has every right to choose whom they will spend their life. It is their choice, not yours. Good or bad, you need to mind your own business. Some people in our lives are a learning experience. Do not assume that you are right in your ideas of what your child needs. It’s not your life.

Expectations

We all hope that our children will find a good person to choose as a life partner. We see the pretty wedding to someone we can hang out with, befriend. Someone who fits into our idea of what a good spouse should be. More often than not our expectations are met with reality. Maybe our child finds someone who we consider to be a less than desirable life partner. It’s time to bring those ideas into reality. Write down the list of qualities you wanted in your child’s life partner, and then consider how realistic is the person you have created in your head? Are you being honest about who your child is in a relationship?

People get into relationships for a variety of reasons. It is not unusual to see people who are opposites attract to each other. This is because people learn from each other and finding someone just like you doesn’t teach you anything. Seeing the good in your child’s life partner is important for your relationship with your child. Now write down the good qualities in the person your child chose. Do those qualities match up to deficiencies in your child?

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My Child's Life Partner is Horrible

There are horrible people in the world. Freeloaders, druggies, thieves, abusive people are all horrible life partners for your child. Yet, the odds of you getting your child to have a clear perspective on the situation are slim. Even in extreme situations a lot of people choose to stay. The idea of being alone is worse for some people than the idea of being in a relationship with someone who is horrible. I draw the line at physical abuse. If someone is a physical threat to my child, then I would intervene. Other than that, stay out of it.

The best thing you can do for your child is let them know you are there if they need you. If your child is secure in the fact that they have you to turn to, they are more likely to leave an abusive or dangerous situation. That doesn’t mean you constantly tell them you want them to leave someone. It means that you reinforce that you are always there for them no matter what. If you make your child feel like they made a huge mistake with someone, they are more likely to stand their ground and stay put. Pride is a strong emotion and no one wants to feel like they were wrong.

My daughter’s first husband was a loser. I never called him that when they were together and now there is no reason to hide it because, she divorced him all on her own. This man did not want to get a job. He wanted her to support him, and in fact his mother made comments about how my daughter should support him. I couldn’t stand this guy. I never told my daughter that until after she left him. Why? Because she chose him and it was her life. She had to decide he wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t my place to say it. Now she sees what I saw years ago. My attitude toward him was never going to change her mind about him. She figured it out. Your child will eventually figure it out too.

Relationships

Not everyone has great relationship skills. A long time ago I imagined my mother, myself and my daughters-in-law hanging out, being best buds. I was always excited about the idea of having daughters-in-law. The reality is that we all have lives and while I do have good relationships with my daughters-in-law, it’s not really what I imagined. Many of the people I talk to do not have a good thought about their in-law relationships. Maybe they are not willing to share their child, or maybe they feel left out. When you are in a relationship you try to learn things about the other person. You may not have a lot in common with your in-laws, yet I find most people are interesting in some respect. Genuinely caring about your in-laws is a good place to start.

There is also the possibility that you are not going to have a great relationship with your in-laws. Not all people mesh. You may find that you are simply too different to be close. In that case you will have to practice being nice and non-judgmental. Why? Because it is never to your advantage to create issues with your child’s spouse. Even if you can break up a relationship you should not do it. Know that your lack of support for your child’s relationship is only going to push your child away.

Money

Over the years you come in contact with people who are in a relationship for the money. It becomes obvious when you sit at their table and they do not seem to like one another and one of them comes from money. Well, there is nothing you can do about gold diggers either. Most people are blindsided by ideas of love an intimacy, these ideas disrupt the logical thought process. Know that in the end these things work themselves out. I’m all for prenuptial agreements, just know that most people do not use them. It’s tough to see a relationship built on money, here again it’s none of your business.

Communication

Parents often feel like their child is pushing them out of their life. While this does happen it is usually temporary. When a person gets married, the family get together becomes complicated. My advice to newlyweds is that they either alternate holidays or spend them all together. I enjoy hearing stories about my in-laws when they were growing up. Parents share a common ground, raising kids. There isn’t a reason to not have everyone together. If you are getting left out, discuss it with your child. You can tell your child you are hurt by something they are doing. You also may find out that something else is going on.

There is something to be said for giving someone the benefit of the doubt. If you really feel like your child’s spouse doesn’t want you around, then the best thing you can do is try to build that relationship. You aren’t perfect either so maybe you can foster a positive relationship that will at least allow you to be a part of a child’s life. You may not always get what you want out of your relationship with your child, just like any other relationship. You can work toward a good relationship with your child and their spouse.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I am engaged to an amazing man who treats me like a queen. My mom disapproves because I have my masters and he does not have a degree. However, he has an amazing job and has an incredible work ethic and goals. She also doesn’t approve because she thinks I’m too young at 26. She hasn’t stopped crying because she feels I didn’t get engaged to the kind of man she wanted. How can I let go of my mom's hurtful words about my fiance?

Answer: It is unfortunate that your mother does not see the value of the man you have chosen. Parents want what is best for their children. They often have preconceived notions about how that child's life will evolve. What you need is an honest dialogue from your mother. There is something about the man you have chosen that is setting her off. Possibly this is happening because she had an issue at some point in her life that fostered her beliefs about people. You have a master's degree so you technically do not need a man to support you. What is she afraid of? Ask her. Also, ask her if she thinks this man has a significant character flaw that makes him a poor choice. Money doesn't make up for character. As for how you will get past this, you won't, she will. In time she may eventually accept him. It is frustrating, but time is really the only healing force in these situations.

Question: My son is in a relationship with a woman who had a son and now they have one together. I see my sons anger with dealing with the children and he is being like my ex-husband was. My ex was psychologically abusive and physically abusive to me kids. I fear my son is going to be the same way and it frightens me. How do I deal with this?

Answer: If you sincerely suspect he is being physically abusive you should report it. If you just think he is headed down that path, then talk to him about getting help, no child should have to go through that. He was a victim, he knows what that feels like. He needs a good therapist and parenting classes. If he refuses to acknowledge his behavior, I would do whatever you have to, to save those kids.

Question: How can I help my daughter deal with an uninvolved husband when it comes to their two daughters and puts his time into hunting above his marriage and children?

Answer: The first thing you need to do is understand him as a person. Men in general are not equipped to handle marriage and some men have a tough time relating to their daughters. Hunting is a means for feeding his family. It may be that he knows hunting and doesn't know anything about girls. People tend to fall back into what they know when they are faced with what they don't know. He needs someone to show him how to relate to his daughters. Truthfully it needs to be another man. My father took me fishing, hunting, and shooting. He can teach his daughters anything he would teach a boy. Maybe it just has not occurred to him to do so?

© 2018 MD Jackson MSIOP

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