He Said: "We spend too much time with her family."
When I started going with Cynthia, it was great to see a family spend time together as hers did. But after we married, we were expected to visit my in-laws at least once a week, not to mention every holiday and birthday. Getting together was more than an obligation; it was a mandate.
That was a big difference from what I was used to. My parents had a come-when-you-can philosophy. But Cynthia's parents want everyone there, no matter what. She says it's an expression of their love, but I see it more as an unwillingness to let go of their children.
When our son was born, their expectations became even greater. My older brothers tended to spend more time with their wives' families, and it had hurt my mom when she saw too little of her grandkids. Though my mom died before our son was born, I was determined not to let our visits become one-sided in favor of my in-laws. I wanted to be sure we were staying close with my dad, too.
Cynthia didn't understand why I was dragging my feet about going to her parents'. She thought I was being stubborn. But I wanted us—not my in-laws—to be the ones who set our agenda.
She Said: "My parents love having everyone together."
Soon after our wedding, my parents invited Marvin to a birthday dinner in his honor. When he said he didn't want anything done for his birthday, I thought he was just being humble. But when the next couple of family get-togethers rolled around, he started making comments like "Let's go somewhere this weekend" or "Wouldn't it be nice to celebrate Thanksgiving on our own?"
When I confronted him, he admitted he'd had too much of a good thing where my parents were concerned. This came as a shock, since he had been around my parents three or four times a week before we were married and seemed to enjoy it. When I mentioned this, he replied, "Yeah, but I went to see you, not them."
My parents think Marvin is wonderful, and I didn't tell them how he felt. But after almost three years of covering for him, often taking the heat myself, I'd about had it. It frustrated me that at home it was like pulling teeth to get him to go, while any time he visited my parents he was sweet and jovial.
Family gatherings, once a joy to me, became a source of conflict and dread. I knew we couldn't go on arguing every time a family occasion arose.
What Marvin and Cynthia Did:
Their differing outlooks on spending time with extended family became the biggest source of conflict between the Roemers. "I love Marvin," Cynthia says, "but I also love my family and I was tired of feeling trapped in the middle. Something had to give."
To initiate some positive changes, she admitted to Marvin that her parents were too demanding at times, and she hinted to her mom that Marvin felt a bit overwhelmed by so many family gatherings. When her mom replied, "Well, he'll just have to get used to them," Marvin and Cynthia knew they had their work cut out for them.
The Roemers needed to set mutually agreeable boundaries and then stand by them, regardless of the waves it might cause. They agreed their relationship should supersede any other.
Cynthia now tries to give Marvin a chance to make it his idea to visit her parents. For instance, if she doesn't push to visit them too often, he is more willing to suggest they should drop by. She also sees her parents on her own, as well as initiating more visits with Marvin's relatives.
"I'm more sensitive to Marvin's needs now," says Cynthia, "and I never commit to a visit without consulting him."
Marvin has changed, as well. He now makes more of an effort to be a part of Cynthia's family gatherings. He accepts the fact that his in-laws will probably always have a closer bond than his family, but he is happy that he and Cynthia are trying to balance the time they spend with both sides. "The best part is that we're working together now, instead of against each other," he says. "And now that we have a child, it's even more important to set limits we can both live with."
The Roemers make a point of discussing beforehand how long they will stay, and whenever possible they let Cynthia's parents know in advance. Though her parents still question their "other" plans and the occasional early departure, Cynthia says, "they seem to be loosening the ropes a bit. I think they are catching the drift that we have taken control of our lives. Now they ask rather than assume we'll visit."
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