I have been married to my husband for almost 6 years. I have always known he has had a unique relationship with his parents. He has always been the parent-like figure and they have been emotionally dependent on him.
First a little background: my FIL was a "functional" alcoholic for all of DH's childhood. He is an only child. He stopped drinking when DH was about 20. DH describes his childhood as chaotic, oppressive, unstable with constant turmoil and fighting between his parents. His parents are still married to this day. They are both in their early 70s, both in good physical health and live about 1 hour away from us.
DH is very loyal to his parents and feels responsible for their well-being. Both have always been dependent on him and when something goes wrong (sink breaks, TV light goes out, you name it) they go straight to DH for help. I always just shrugged this off as being their family dynamic and never could put my finger on why their relationship bothered me. It seems like the neediness continued to grow. DH says this is because he's the only child and it's his job to take care of them. I don't mind helping anyone out who is older and needs assistance with physical tasks. There is just something else there that's intangible and bothers me - a sense of emotional dependence that doesn't seem normal.
We now have a couple of young kids and I noticed that their need evolved into "needing" to see the kids. I feel like we do our best to accommodate reasonable visits - usually a whole day visit every 2-3 weeks. I realized 5 years into our marriage that it's the guilt that my husband feels that really bothers me. The strange thing is I never see FIL or MIL (well MIL does a little guilt trip whenever we have to leave) really put a big guilt trip on DH. I shouldn't say there are never guilt trips, because I remember after my DD was born, FIL would call and say how much they missed her and DH would want to go down there the next weekend to visit because he felt bad that they were missing our daughter. I would feel a little miffed since my parents never played that card and as a result they see their grandkids less often (my parents are very careful about respecting boundaries).
In any event, I noticed how much guilt my husband carries around for his parents. I don't know why I couldn't put my finger on it until now. I feel my resentment growing over this situation and my resentment is with DH. His parents are needy, but I wish he had healthier boundaries. I notice the guilt seems to especially surround his dad, who was the alcoholic. Last night, he brought up the possibility of moving his parents closer so they could be around their grandchildren more often. I dread this idea so much and last night I finally realized why. I came across a codependent article online and it describes my husband and his relationship to his parents (especially his Father) to a tee. He even brought up moving one of his parents into our home if the other should die later on (regardless of whether they are capable of physically taking care of themselves). I told him I was not comfortable with that as boundaries could be an issue. He brushed it off and said that we could all live together and boundaries wouldn't be an issue. I stood my ground as calmly as I could (I was just seething inside since we had discussed this same topic a long time ago and agreed it would be best not to have parents living with us unless it was an extreme health situation).
I couldn't figure out why I feel the way I do. I feel guilty whenever he wants to take them along on vacation with us and I don't want them to come (seems like he is just being a good son). We do vacation with them occasionally, but seems like he's perfectly fine making that the norm. I used to wonder if I was just jealous of their "close" relationship? But, that didn't seem like it since I don't feel that way about anyone else in his family. I sense this relationship is a threat to my marriage and I don't know what I can do. I told him about the codependent article and he just laughed it off as "well you should be glad I went through all of that, it made me who I am today."
I don't know what to do. I sense we are in for big problems in the future. I am feeling like my husband holds his loyalty to his parents almost equally (maybe slightly below) the loyalty he has to me. It seems like they need constant emotional rescuing, even though their requests usually don't seem unreasonable. I really do love them, I am just afraid the issues would suffocate our family and marriage if they were closer. It really bothers me that my husband sees this as perfectly normal. Please help and let me know if I should be worried or if I'm just being paranoid. Is there anything I can do?
The following user gives a hug of support to kangaroo55: slenderella (10-01-2011)
I am just afraid the issues would suffocate our family and marriage if they were closer. It really bothers me that my husband sees this as perfectly normal. Please help and let me know if I should be worried or if I'm just being paranoid. Is there anything I can do?
Would he balk at couple's therapy?
If he is set in his ways and doesn't want to change his ways or seek any help,the only thing you can realistically do is work on you.
There are codependency groups and the like out there.
I think that your thoughts about the situation are right on the money. Perfectly articulated. I am proud of you, LOL. That said, I know you must realize that your husband is acting his part in a role he has played within his birth family for practically his entire life. I don't even believe that it is a totally conscious sort of choice on his part. It's just what he does because he was trained by his parents to have certain ways of behavior that show he is "a good son". Obviously there was a lot of dysfunction there since his Dad was an alcoholic.
You need to make it clear in no uncertain terms that you love your in laws but if one passes away the other CANNOT live with you, and you will do what you can to make the transition an easier one but living with you is not an option.
I think your husband is caught in the middle. I totally understand your feelings about it and I hear that it feels manipulative and you want your husband not to be a door mat.
I think that your husband has a great comfort level in his role, and if he is not "allowed" to keep doing it, he may feel so guilty that he will start hating you as a result.
I understand what you mean. But it is really the therapy for him to understand how he relates to his parents. Nothing the in-law can do about it. My husband has similar position with his Dad who has severe Alzheimer's now. My FIL wanted to work with my husband but they are never in the same field. For 20-30 years, my husband made his dad think they are in the same field. Ever since I married, all they talked about was his Dad's work after dinner. Nothing about my husband's work or his late wife's work. It is all about him.
Well, I failed to stop this connection and I had conflict with my FIL as he knew I didn't like it. He was incompetent anyway so what is the point to drag my husband into this mud??
But I waited it out. No more career talk from his Dad. Thank God!
Be patient and ask him to seek for therapy for his own sake. Come between him and his parents can hurt you in the long run unless your husband is willing to see it your way.
There is another issue: it is also true that in some culture, the big family are blended together and the adult child is supposed to be filial. This is esp. true in Asian cultures or some European cultures. In the old times, 3 generations could live together to help one another.
I guess the main issue here is you are upset that you are invisible. Has the MIL helped you in any way at all? Sometimes such big family if close, all members have to contribute to helping. Once in a while, the elder father may be the authority and does not do anything to help.
If he is very close to his folks, there is nothing you can do. It may not even co-dependency. It is the culture. Sometimes the wife could not stand it and may choose to leave. The best bet is for everyone to help out and so you don't feel used.
Of course, your husband does not have to offer so much help and etc. He certainly needs to talk to you first. Probably you should tell him that you need the attention and see what he says.