About Last Night: I regret not confronting this marital issue years ago 03-09-17

September 4, 2017

Q: Twenty-five years ago, I married into a very traditional, patriarchal family. Tina and her sisters idolise their father, declaring him the most important man in their lives. Making Tina the centre of my world would never be reciprocated. Whenever we’ve had differences, he’s taken me aside to provide “advice”, and, as he’s always been civil, I’ve tolerated it. He indulged his daughters, and expects this to continue, regardless of the financial wherewithal. As he’s always taken Tina’s side, she welcomes his interference. Consequently, many issues have gone unresolved, and our marriage hasn’t been allowed to develop, and mature. I’ve given up trying to exert influence, and regret not confronting this years ago.

A: Every one of us has a unique back story. The personalities and dynamics of our family of origin, our cultural and religious upbringing, our social status, belief systems, lifestyle choices and values contribute. When two individuals choose to marry, they have to sift through all of this, and negotiate, to decide what will continue in to the future, and what will be discarded. As a couple grow together they create their own system of living.

If there are children, they will need to make the same adjustments as adults, if they become part of a couple. In this way, families, and societies, evolve.

Politeness, timidity, a reluctance to stick one’s neck out, and an approach to issues summed up as “anything for a quiet life” might make for smooth sailing for a while, but the truth is that being assertive and proactive can assure a smoother journey in the long run. Most of us fear conflict, and “go with the flow”, but that tide often takes us off course.

It has been said that we teach people how to treat us. Your passivity and inaction have taught Tina and her father to treat you with disrespect. It is not too late to try to make changes, but it will be much harder now than it would have been 25 years ago.

The first thing you need to do is to talk to Tina about how you feel. Begin by saying how much you love her, and that you want to deepen and enrich your relationship. Tell her that you appreciate her loving family, and honour her father for trying to protect his daughters. It is important that Tina hears these positive affirmations before you bring up what you want to change.

You can then explain how you feel about the current situation. How you feel marginalised and disrespected when her father interferes. Describe the stress you have experienced when you have felt obligated to fund a lifestyle that her father believes she is entitled to, no matter how tight money has been.

Do not go into attack mode. Tina and her father are doing their best. You are responsible for allowing this situation to continue, and going in to attack will only elicit anger, defensiveness and a closing of the ranks. By sticking solely to explanations of your feelings in a variety of situations you will be communicating, rather than fighting.

If Tina goes to her father, and he tries to offer advice, politely decline to hear it. Tell him that you choose to build a closer, more self-contained relationship with your wife. Tell him that you believe the relationship needs to mature.

If this process proves to be difficult, visit a relationship counsellor – just you, and Tina. Her father cannot be involved.

Are you able to spend more time as a couple? Make sure that your only social life is not family gatherings. You and Tina need a chance to bond as a couple. Perhaps you could plan a holiday for just the two of you.

At the beginning of your relationship, when you were newly in love, it would have been easier to loosen the father-daughter bond, and unite as a couple. Twenty-five years on, Tina might listen to what you want to change, but might be quite content with the status quo. Laying on a guilt trip, or playing the victim will not help. You must hope that the love and goodwill between you is strong enough for her to be willing to make changes.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com.

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