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Jen: Nick’s family of origin was a very close, always together large extended family. Mine was a small family unit. Today, my little family of origin is spread all over the country. Getting together is rare. I love them all, but I don’t interact with them regularly. Nick’s family, by contrast, is still very much about getting together regularly to celebrate birthdays and other events, and Nick’s mom will take any excuse she can to spoil her grandchildren.
How we interact with our extended families can be a source of conflict in our relationship. For us, that conflict often involves me asking his mom not to overdo something with the kids and having her do it anyway. My best choice at times like these is to make sure I am open to listening to Nick and understanding his perspective. I choose to respect Nick’s relationship with his family just as I hope he will choose to respect my relationship with my family. Listening openly and making sure I understand Nick is at the heart of what’s important in keeping our relationship strong and solving the conflict.
Nick: While we work hard to understand each other, compromise won’t always be possible. Some conflicts between us and the families we came from must be faced more directly.
Being married to Jen means I should put her first, even when that conflicts with my family’s wishes or opinions. This didn’t come naturally to me early in our marriage. Over time though, I realized that every time I tell Jen “that’s just the way they are” or “can’t you just let it go?”, the message I’m really sending is “I’m on my family’s side, not yours.” I’m trading peace in my original home for strife in my current home.
While I am still far from perfect about it now, the rule of thumb I’m trying to live by is simple: if I have to take a side, the side I’ll take is Jen’s. Also, when I take her side over my family, I’m the one who gets to break the news to them, not Jen. And likewise, Jen strives to do the same for me.
It seems simple, but it’s not easy. So many couples we know let their extended family cut in the middle of their relationships, producing strife and making it so their home isn’t the sanctuary it should be. Take a moment this week and reflect on these questions in your own marriage – do I put my spouse’s needs before my family of origin? If I must take a side, will my spouse always know I have their back?
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