Every couple tries to find the perfect balance between time together, time for children, time for self and time for others. Even after you become parents, sometimes one partner has a very close, involved relationship with his or her parents that the other spouse regards as "too much." Disagreements in this area often lead to periodic arguments where a spouse feels that to be loyal to one's parents means being disloyal to the partner. There are ways to soothe (but not permanently solve) the problem.
Avoid making "case closed" pronouncements. Your spouse will probably not agree with your conclusion that he is overinvolved with his parents. If he does agree, he will justify his reasons and you will have an endless debate. The goal is to manage your differences in a manner you each can live with. Eliminating them is unlikely.
Make specific observations. Point out behaviors and data that are not easily denied. ("You meet your mother for lunch every week, but I've been begging for a night out without the kids for months."). The goal is not to "prove" overinvolvement but to clarify areas that need modifying: "I want you to help your parents and I also want our family life to be less hectic. I'd like to figure out a way to do both."
Find merit in your partner's position. You may not agree with the amount of time she is involved with her parents, but let her know you genuinely understand her desire to assist them or enjoy their company. Ask her if she sees merit in any of your beliefs. Probe for the deeper reasons she might be over-involved. Does she feel she owes them for sacrifices they made that went above and beyond what parents usually make? Is she making up for time she was distant from them? Do they have special needs (illness, disabilities) that require more attention? Understanding the emotional pull she has to her parents can make it easier to accept those times she will inevitably be involved with them. It is often true that people are reluctant to make changes in their habits or views unless they first feel understood and cared about. If your partner feels that you "just don't get it" she will be more stubborn.
Focus on ways to increase family time, not merely to decrease his time with his parents. If you, your mate, and the kids can connect more often in meaningful ways, it can be easier to tolerate those times he spends elsewhere. The most desirable outcome is that he moves toward the family you two have built, not simply away from his parents.
Initiate spending time with her parents so she doesn't have to always be the one to make plans. If you call up her folks, drop by their place with the kids or suggest a family outing with them, she'll be more appreciative of your point of view when you want time with just her and the kids. You can help her say, "No" to her folks by finding ways you can occasionally say, "Yes" to them.
Check to see if this is touching a "hot-button" issue in you. Estimates are that seventy-percent of the time we are not upset for reasons we think. Instead, the issue at hand—while perhaps a legitimate one—may be inflamed by hidden issues. For example, if you have a strained relationship with your parents, a spouse's devotion to his parents might stir up guilt or anxiety in you. Or maybe the issue isn't his parents per se, but you feel the relationship is overall a bit unfair—he gets to do what he wants but you don't have the same freedoms. Or maybe you don't get along with your in-laws and his involvement is a constant source of strain for you. Ask yourself questions like, "If I got along well with my own parents…If I felt our marriage was fair…If I enjoyed the company of my in-laws, would I have a different opinion of my spouse's involvement with his parents?" If the answer is yes, then your underlying issues need some degree of resolution or acceptance before you can objectively deal with the problem at hand.
The amount of time and energy you or your mate spends with parents is a dynamic, ever-changing one. Changes in work hours, moving out-of-state, a parent's illness or disability and pressures in your own family life mean that no one solution is possible for this dilemma. Successful couples seek common ground, try to be fair, are willing to make sacrifices and accept that some issues never go away completely but can still be managed effectively.
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