Vince says: I love my wife, Sue, and I respect her mother. But she calls every day after work, just at dinnertime, and she wants to talk with Sue and the calls last usually an hour. She also expects Sue to come over every Sunday and do small jobs for her, and then stay for dinner. She never includes me in the invitation for dinner. I thought that when we got married, couples were supposed to put each other first, but I’m definitely now feeling like a runner-up!
Sue says: My dad died when I was a teenager. I was the only girl in our family (two brothers, both younger) and my mom relied on me a lot. Mom was lonely and my brothers were out of the house most of the time. I love Vince and he is definitely my first priority in life, but I can’t say “no” to my mother – she really needs me. And is it such a big deal for a mother to expect one dinner a week with her daughter? I just wish Vince could understand how important this is to me and my mom.
What do they do?
How a man and woman make a marriage and family work is not always easy, especially when it comes to our extended families. “That is why a man leaves father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Genesis 2:24). God gave us the “what to do” about marriage relationships, not too clear on the “how to do.” These three-way relationships seem to pop up in almost all families, especially between Mom and an only daughter.
The best way to anticipate this problem, though it rarely happens, is to talk about these issues ahead of time, before the marriage takes place. Identifying potential “problems” in family relationships can be very helpful when an issue pops up (Whose house do we go to on the holidays?).
Vince and Sue need to make sure their relationship is well nurtured. They need to spend quality time together. The trust the partners develop in their relationship helps them weather the ups and downs of life, and they cannot go wrong by focusing on open and honest communication. Putting the marital relationship first is critical to a successful marriage. “Love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Have the same regard for one another” (Romans 12:10, 16).
Vince and Sue should pick a time to talk when they are not already angry with each other. Sue should listen to Vince – really hear him and imagine how she would feel in his spot. Must the nightly phone call always occur during dinner? Can’t Sue call her mom back after dinner (maybe while Vince does the dishes)? Is dinner every Sunday at Mom’s house necessary for Sue? Could Sunday dinner move to Vince and Sue’s?
Sue needs to acknowledge how torn she feels, and Vince needs to listen with open ears. Hopefully, Vince can imagine how lonely Sue’s mom may feel. The competition between Vince and Sue’s mom needs to be talked about by the couple. Sue needs to clearly let Vince know that he is No. 1 in her life. That doesn’t mean Sue can’t help and talk to her mom.
Once Vince and Sue agree on what is comfortable for them, the guidelines on which they agree need to be communicated to Sue’s mother. These same conditions can be used for Vince’s parents and family as well.
Families are important. They provide necessary love and support in married life. Perhaps Vince and Sue can find a role for Sue’s mom. Is she willing to occasionally sit with the children for a “date night” for Vince and Sue? Including Sue’s mom in their family life will help her feel cared for and a part of their lives. “And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).