Dear CMR: We have a blended family. My wife has three adult children and usually struggles with boundaries and prioritizing our relationship over their issues. What can I do?
Dear Blended Family:
It sounds like you love your wife very much and want your marriage to stay on solid ground. I commend your efforts and your desire to figure out how to best handle this sensitive situation. As you are aware, blended families have their unique struggles and managing these struggles often requires a little finesse. However, just like in all relationships, blended families thrive on healthy communication patterns. It sounds like in this situation, clear and direct (yet, gentle) expression of your concerns will be key.
As you prepare to communicate your concerns with your wife, keep in mind that navigating the marital relationship and her relationship with her children will take a bit of give and take on both of your parts. To start, as you communicate your concerns to your wife, be careful not to use judgmental words. Instead, use “I” statements and concrete examples. For example, instead of saying, “You always put your kids before me,” try giving a specific example of a time/situation when you felt you were less of a priority. For example, you might say something like this: “The other day when I wanted to spend the evening with you, you went into the other room and spent the night talking on the phone with your daughter. I felt hurt and lonely.”
When you are able to directly express your feelings without blaming the other person, you are more likely to be heard. Also, be careful to communicate not only the reason for your hurt but also what you would like instead. For example, you might say, “I would have liked to spend some intimate time with you. Maybe next time you can talk for a short time and then spend the rest of the evening enjoying time with me.” You may find this to be the most important part of your conversation. When we mention our needs, not just our concerns, we often get much further.
In addition, it will be important for your wife to know that you aren’t out to criticize her approach and you aren’t trying to sabotage her relationships with her children. Instead, she’ll need to hear that you love her and that you want to strengthen your relationship. Even more, she’ll need you to offer a loving and listening ear as she responds to your concerns. When there is a positive, rather than a negative focus of your communication, you’ll get much further in managing conflict. Finally, it will be vital for your wife to know that you support her relationship with her children. Remind her that her relationship with them is important to you but you are concerned with the toll it may be taking on your marriage.
Finally, when it comes to give and take, I’d suggest extending grace when your wife misses the mark after you’ve shared your concerns. Grace has been defined as offering “unmerited favor” and marriage is fertile ground for opportunities. Your marriage will thrive as you enjoy your time with your wife and offer an abundance of grace.
Veola Vazquez is a licensed psychologist and professor of psychology at California Baptist University. She regularly speaks at Bible studies, women’s retreats, conferences and community outreach events. She is an author of children’s and women’s fiction. She earned her Ph.D. from Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola University.