It's tough to love family


#1

I occasionally drop by these boards in order to gripe about my in-laws. They’re the hardcore fundamentalists who shunned my wife when she dated me, married me and became Catholic. But now I’d like to gripe about my own family, and my wife’s disposition toward them.

Me and the missus are fighting right now, and I’m pretty sure it’s mostly my fault, although I have to stand on some principles that make it difficult to grovel so completely I have to look UP to see dirt. Here’s some background:

Before we were engaged, we visited my folks out west. Mom, never one to back down from perceived threats to her dignity, took my comment “Most Catholics don’t know their faith very well,” to mean “Mom, you’re a bad parent and probably Satan incarnate because you don’t do apologetics work.” The ensuing fight was an embarassment to my future wife and my brother’s girlfriend.

Before the wedding, my sister waited so long to get her bridesmaid’s dress that she almost didn’t get it.

My sister didn’t bother to try it on before the wedding, and she was mortified to discover that, ah, she was far too…shall we say, “proportioned” to fit into it. Luckily she was able to hold the bouquet in front of her.

Seven hours before the bridal shower, I knew my mom, sister and brother’s girlfriend would be late to it. Granted, they were here in D.C., an unfamiliar town with a seemingly complicated Metro system. But I took great pains to ensure they’d be on time. I drew maps, gave them options, offered to drive them. Instead, they had to shop for just the right shoes. They ended up being about three hours late, and the hostess of the party, a good friend of mine, was shocked at their rudeness. You can imagine how my bride felt…

My brother, who was my best man, was basically useless. He took no initiative for anything. He didn’t even bother to offer to take my tux back the next day.

I understand that he was probably distracted–he recently found out that his girlfriend was pregnant. Did I mention that it’s his second child? The first he had with his former wife of nine months, give or take. He’ll get around to getting the annullment taken care of.

Back at home, my brother and his girlfriend live with my parents. Together. This used to be a fairly strong Catholic family. Somewhere along the way, they just sort of gave up and went with the flow. My wife, who grew up under the stern gaze of an authoritarian patriarch, is astonished that my dad, who, for certain reasons, I respect very much, does nothing to root out this great moral problem under his own roof.

Now, before you think my family is a bunch of gap-toothed rednecks, well, they aren’t, really. Kind of. You’d never be hard-pressed to find a can of Copenhagen in my family’s home, but it’s a big, nice home, with lots of expensive toys. The world would gauge their material possessions as “success.”

But, I love them. They love me, although they think I’m getting a little too big for my britches (Mostly metaphorically speaking) because I’ve adopted a lot of the “East Coast” way of living. They’re crude, poorly educated but not stupid–or unopinionated-- and beyond hilarious. I miss them very much every day. And I won’t ever live near them again because my wife hates their guts and the place I’m from.

I understand where she’s coming from. She’s Catholic now, but she’s still got that fundamentalist mindset when it comes to the family. She’s also fairly worldly, or wants to be. She likes the “sophistication” of D.C. city living, and she judges my family to be something the Clampet’s would be embarassed about.

Cont’d…


#2

I mostly let her comments slide when they’re about stupid things they did before and during the wedding. (Oh, I forgot to mention. At the reception my mom got loaded, pinned a huge flower arrangement to her dress, and called it a corsage. She also, in a tragically mis-worded and inelegantly applied attempt at sisterhood with my wife, called her a “bitch.”) But how much of that do I have to take?

Last night we went to a Theology on Tap. We connected with some of my long-lost Franciscan University buddies. (Sort of. I didn’t really know them, but I’ve been trying to get in good with the local “Catholic mafia,” which they’re part of.) I was in high spirits afterward. Finally! I was making good, Catholic friends. But for whatever reason, (my guess was that the three Captain and Cokes hit her 105 lb frame pretty hard), she decided to launch into how I was all wrong about my dad and how he was anything but “wise.”

A note on my dad: He’s also a Catholic convert. He came from something so fundamentalist they were forbidden to read the Bible. His dad was stern and apparently without feeling or empathy. I don’t think my grandpa ever instilled anything in his children like moral principles or kindness. You just did what he told you, end of story. My dad was somewhat warmer than his dad, but he’s mostly stoic with his family. I get the feeling that we’re a duty or an obligation, but you know, I respect that. Despite the grief my dad got from my mom all these years, he still maintained his dignity, worked hard, provided for his family, and at least gave us the seeds of proper moral development and integrity. We all rejected that, of course, but at least I came back based largely on his example. Dad wasn’t a fighter. But, at least by example, he was and is a good man.

My feelings for dad are complicated, so when my wife decided to lay into him, my response was complicated. And therefore sounded stupid. Which frustrated me. My responses were measured, but inadequate, with only a little edge.

We went to bed angry, or so I thought. In the morning, I wasn’t angry, but I wasn’t ready to trust my mouth. So, I went to work alone. (We commute together to two different jobs). She was crushed because she had no idea there was even a fight going on. (I may have been TOO subtle.) So, I brought her up to speed via e-mail, and wouldn’t you know it? Now we’re fighting.

Anyway, thanks for reading my rant. Now here’s the catch: please give me some advice. I know we’re supposed to “cling to our wives,” but how much is too much? To me she sounds like a whiney, spoiled brat. But I can’t deny that my family has serious, even tragic flaws. Morally, they’re hypocrites. Socially, they’re clueless. But am I required to listen to my wife run them down any time she wants? If it ever comes to it, I’ll chose my wife over them, but God help me if it does come to that.


#3

Montanaman,

Ever heard “don’t fall asleep mad at each other”? It’s a wonderful piece of advice for every relationship, engagement, marriage…

You and your wife’s fight last night was basically over when you went to sleep last night–especially because you realized this morning that she didn’t remember. “I wasn’t angry, but I wasn’t ready to trust my mouth.” Balderdash. You were pouting plain and simple and you took it out on your wife by not commuting with her. And, then, to justify your pouting, you started the fight over again.

Nice…

Now as for your family–honestly they did a really horrible job at welcoming your bride into their family. Anything she says about their ruining her day they honestly deserve. I’m serious about that. A girl’s wedding day is very important to her, and it sounds like your family went out of their way to make her day miserable.

But…you love your family. That’s admirable, but it isn’t fair to expect your wife to just forget how they behaved. I mean, let’s face it–you admit that your mom has sort of fit the “horrible mother-in-law” description.

And then there’s your dad–the one she lashed into last night. Well, as for as I could see, he wasn’t the one ruining things earlier, but, on the other hand, did he step in and try to make things better at any point?

So, let’s see if I can summarize what I’ve been trying to get at:

If I were you I’d apologize to your wife for dragging the argument on. Explain how you know your family behaved badly, but that you still love them with all their shortcomings. Ask her to please not emphasize these shortcomings in public. Tell her you love her. Ask her if you can start over again. And pick up a surprise for her on the way home from work…

Just my 2 cents…

kevinsgirl


#4

I know. Kind of tough, though, when your wife’s already gone to bed and every reconciliatory thought in you head begins with “Honey, I’m sorry that I…” and ends with “…you antagonistic, self-righteous know-it-all.” I opted for the lesser of two evils.

You and your wife’s fight last night was basically over when you went to sleep last night–especially because you realized this morning that she didn’t remember. “I wasn’t angry, but I wasn’t ready to trust my mouth.” Balderdash. You were pouting plain and simple and you took it out on your wife by not commuting with her. And, then, to justify your pouting, you started the fight over again.

Nice…

Point taken, but I’d hardly call it pouting. I was mad.

If I were you I’d apologize to your wife for dragging the argument on. Explain how you know your family behaved badly, but that you still love them with all their shortcomings. Ask her to please not emphasize these shortcomings in public. Tell her you love her. Ask her if you can start over again.

Just finished doing that. Say what you want about technology, but chat has helped us through a fight or two in the past.

The underlying problem is still there, though. She promised to try to be more sensitive when it comes to this issue, and I promised never to leave for work by myself again, or go to bed angry.

I just remembered something I read on this forum a while back. When you’re fighting with your spouse, get naked. See how long the fight lasts. I think I’ll give it a try, but man, what a risk. What if she doesn’t find that charming? Kind of tough to take a bold, principled stand when your pants are around your ankles…

And pick up a surprise for her on the way home from work…

There ought to be a store for that kind of thing.


#5

LOL…ummm…yeah…that was what I was getting at…without calling you a BIG fibber…because you supposedly weren’t “angry”…:smiley:


#6

You already chose her over your family when you married her…

As soon as you both come to terms with the fact that the Norman Rockwell family is only a pretty painted picture on the wall and does not apply to any real family…any that I know of anyway… then you’ll both be on your way to a bit of peace and understanding. To err is human. Try to make the most of what you have…first you have a spouse.


#7

Exactly. It does no good for either spouse to drag up the failings of each other’s families. Love blinds us to a lot of the emotional pain we’d feel if we had been hurt by strangers–and we love our families in spite of it all. But, hearing about family failings from a spouse makes us realize that they aren’t loved the way we love them, and so sets us up for fights. So, don’t either of you do it, montanaman. Accept that both your families have their failings, as we all do, and let it go. That’s the only way to truly keep the peace.


#8

You chose your thread title well. It *is *tough to love. That’s why God gives us family: so we learn how to love as He loves.

Now that you’re married you will discover all your wife’s flaws, and you must learn to keep loving her anyway. She will discover all of your flaws, (which might include your extended family) and she must learn to keep loving you anyway. During your courtship and engagement, romantic love sometimes blocks us from seeing people as they really are. At times you may look at each other and wonder who that person is and what happened to the one you married. Now your romantic love must grow and develop beyond mere fantasy and romance. To have a successful marriage you must get down to the business of loving each other as you really are. Flaws and all.

You must understand this and help your wife to understand it too. Rise above your temptation to call her a whiny brat, and help her to rise above her temptation to run down her in-laws. All of us have flaws, and if we recognize the flaws in ourselves we are more likely to be charitable with other’s flaws. That’s one of the beauties of our spouse–they help us discover our own flaws as they discover our flaws. (And frequently point out those flaws just in case we didn’t know about them.:wink: ) Draw from the sacramental graces of your marriage as you discover flaws in each other. Then you can learn to love each other–not some fantasy bride, but the real wife whom God provided you cling to.


#9

From your previous posts, I remember that her family were total jerks because you are Catholic. BUT, it really does sound like your family behaved badly at your wedding - enough so that I don’t blame your wife for still being a bit ticked. It sounds like BOTH families have their problems (whose doesn’t?) and maybe you think that since your family is Catholic and hilarious, you can overlook (and so should your wife) their faults… unlike with her family who love Jesus just the same, but are not nearly as much fun & are fundamentalists? Not fair. I think you really should try very hard to make up to both families… you shouldn’t slam hers (she’s allowed to but you you aren’t) and she shouldn’t slam yours (you are allowed to but she’s not) That’s the rules in my house. I can say that my Mom is a few bricks short of a full load… but my husband may not say a word!!

Marriage is tough… especially in the begining when you are both trying to adjust to living with each other, rather than with your families. It’s sweet that you miss them, but get over it. Make up with your wife… Satan loves it when we fight with each other. She might be a bit of a whiney brat, but she’s YOUR whiney brat… for better or for worse, remember? Besides, I am certain that you have at least one fault? :wink:

Just my 2 cents.

God Bless.


#10

Just something to consider: I think it’s common for women to have serious difficulty letting go of an issue that was personally very hurtful to them, if they don’t feel their spouse fully ‘gets’ how they were harmed and why.

I think it might stop some of her rants if she felt like you TRULY understood (and verbalized) how heartbreaking these episodes of your family’s insensitivity were to her personally and that you fully appreciate how hurt she is. For one conversation, put aside your defenses and just agree with her that yes she was very unfairly treated and yes you can understand why. Empathize and empathize some more. 'Yes, I can only imagine how hurt you were when my sisters and mother were late to your shower. I can’t fathom how horrifying it must have felt for my mother to call you a bitch on our wedding day. I’m so sorry my siblings weren’t attentive or helpful about the details of our wedding. I’m just so happy we’re married and you’re my wife."

THEN. Later, much later, gently explain that as much as you recognize the hurt they caused her and fully empathize with how difficult it’s been for her to fit into your family–they are still your family and it hurts YOU to hear her verbally bash them at every opportunity. Ask her if she feels that you understand how hurt she is about what happened…and if you two can agree to move on from re-hashing the wedding issues and ultimately drawing conclusions about the character of each of your family members.


#11

Ahhh…Montanaman. Don’t think there aren’t a few of us who are thoroughly entertained with each and every installment of the goings-on of your various and sundry ill-mannered and cantankerous family members. Mostly because we can relate to your pain.

No matter how far you roam, what level of education or professional success you achieve–you will always be emotionally bound to your family of origin. Even when they are behaving badly, we somehow expect that the spouse we chose will rise above it and appreciate that the qualities and virtues that keep us coming back for more really exist somewhere–even if obscured by an ever-thickening layer of obtuse and ham-handed interactions.

You and your wife have experienced more than your fair share of bad behaviour from BOTH families–a trend that seems likely to continue. What you need to do is come to an explicit and mutual understanding that takes as a given your natural love and affection for each of your families of origin–despite their very obvious faults and shortcomings. This creates a safe haven to vent when frustration over undeniably boorish behaviour becomes too much to swallow or endure gracefully. It also protects each of you from the necessity of defending an irksome relative or becoming the irrationally irate spouse who descends to name calling, bickering over whose family is worse and other such destructive pasttimes.

I think your wife owes you an apology for being hurtful and insensitive to youeven if what she said about your dad was true and/or honestly felt by her at the time she said it. You can allow each other to vent–BUT you can not tolerate taking out your frustration with other people on each other. It will destroy your relationship.


#12

Greetings Montanaman,

If I remember correctly, your wife has been essentially cut off from her family because they disagree with her marriage and conversion. This must be INCREDIBLY painful for her, and she probably feels a good deal of guilt and shame because of her family. Given this, isn’t it natural that she will also be looking for faults in your family, to lessen her feelings that your family is somehow “better” than hers?

That being said…you also seem eager to connect with other young Catholics in DC. Have you connected with any of the parishes in the area that have active young adult groups? I’m not sure where you live, but I know of a few in DC and northern VA, as well as one in Mt. Rainier.


#13

Everybody else has offered you great advice. Take what you can.

Make up. Today. You really only have each other. Bring flowers.

Even though Kenny Chesney is not Catholic as far as I know, this song is a good reminder for new spouses:
http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/The-Good-Stuff-lyrics-Kenny-Chesney/F75CB9B92AF9626E48256BA40010F912


#14

I know I am going to get flamed for this…but…

Montanaman, congratulations on your wedding. Now it is time to really work on becoming one with your wife for eternity. Young couples want to shut the world out and focus only on themselves and their relationship. But like it or not, you married her family and she married your family. And as Catholic Christians, you are both called to LOVE–yes, each other (that is relatively easy) but also your families. Because like it or not, she is a product of her family–both good and bad–as you are a product of your family. Maybe in the short term you are completely estranged from her family. But you and she need to find a way to show Christian love and continue to reach out to her family until you find some way to have them in your lives. Be creative. Reach out to the easy ones first–maybe a sibling or her mother. But try. And if rebuffed, pull back and try again. I believe God is judging us on this. (And yes, I speak as sinner in this area–otherwise, I wouldn’t feel so strongly about this. But I rejoice in my successes and I counsel others–siblings, children, and friends–to persist until they can rejoice in their success).


#15

I am going to agree with ReginaNova here. I think it is important that you both be at least somewhat open and work in little ways towards reconcilliation with both families.

Just put yourself in your wife’s shoes. She has picked you at the cost of a relationship with her own family, and now your family is being, well, less than gracious. That’s got to really hurt. I would really avoid rubbing salt in her wounds by being critical of her family or calling them “fundies” etc. Just be there to love her because you know that she is hurting.

I also hope if your mom called her a “bitch” that you let her know that there is never, ever a time or a circumstance where that is acceptable. I understand that you appreciate your family, quirks and all, and that’s great. There are certain boundaries that really should not be crossed, and it is important that you look out for your wife if they ever are.


#16

Thanks, all, for your insightful comments. All is well between “Grace” and I now. We made up, had dinner, snuggled on the couch, and I gave her a killer neck massage. (No, not literally killer.)

[quote="ReginaNova]I know I am going to get flamed for this…but…

Montanaman, congratulations on your wedding. Now it is time to really work on becoming one with your wife for eternity. Young couples want to shut the world out and focus only on themselves and their relationship. But like it or not, you married her family and she married your family. And as Catholic Christians, you are both called to LOVE–yes, each other (that is relatively easy) but also your families. Because like it or not, she is a product of her family–both good and bad–as you are a product of your family. Maybe in the short term you are completely estranged from her family. But you and she need to find a way to show Christian love and continue to reach out to her family until you find some way to have them in your lives. Be creative. Reach out to the easy ones first–maybe a sibling or her mother. But try. And if rebuffed, pull back and try again. I believe God is judging us on this. (And yes, I speak as sinner in this area–otherwise, I wouldn’t feel so strongly about this. But I rejoice in my successes and I counsel others–siblings, children, and friends–to persist until they can rejoice in their success).
[/quote]

As for her family, the ball is pretty much in their court, although I am thinking of beginning a very nice letter-writing campaign. But the past two years has been very enlightening, if not depressing, about their behavior. It’s not so much about our Catholicism, it’s that we almost completely ignored her dad’s wishes to submit to his judgment about me. He wanted to make sure I was a “real Christian,” and an acceptable man for his daughter. I guess I understand–when you have five daughters, you’re probably as nervous as a long-legged cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But she was 27 when we started dating, and I was 30. And I found it tough to submit to a man who I knew was slapping his daughters around and using the Bible to justify the actions of a petty little character.

Her mom is torn, but she always tucks away her love when Dad says so. The siblings have been abominable–her older brother lied about things I said. And so on. Even her pastor twisted what I said after we’d had a little sit-down to try to reconcile. I may be buying Christian “praise music” now, but they’re not helping my impressions of hard-core fundamentalism these days. I loathe fundamentalism.

My mom is sinking down some sort of hole. I’ve been where she is–addicted to my sorrows, blaming everyone and God for my problems, taking anti-depressants to take the edge off. Mom reminds me of a wounded cat trapped between the couch and the wall. You want to help, to give her medicine, but every time you extend a hand you pull back a bloody stump. (I actually just went through something like that recently, although I still have my hand.) She interprets EVERYTHING as a sleight against her. My dad and siblings seem lost in this out-of-focus world, as if they’re fading in and out of this existence. They’re just…numb.

My biggest challenge here, I think, is keeping from being “judgmental.” I try to stay objective. As long as they’re professing Catholics, then I gently engage them from that point. If they didn’t believe, I don’t know how I’d talk to them, but they DO believe. Or they say they do. But they seem to have lost the fire or even the desire to take the necessary steps out of the darkness.

Like I said, it’s tough not to sound–or be–judgmental. I’ll probably write them, too. It’s the only non-confrontational way, I think.


#17

Montanaman–I think you are doing what a lot of young adults do. You can clearly see the flaws and errors in your family members and you know they would be better off if they could change. But unfortunately, most people resent it when others (no matter how well-intentioned) want them to change, so they will resist change. It is like religion and faith, it has to come from within.

I have been there–in terms of wanting family members to change generally and to embrace their Catholic faith more fully. In both situations, you need to pull back once you have delivered the message and let that person make the changes or not.

In the meantime, you need to accept the person for who they are now–flawed as they may be. Your mother, your FIL, your now BIL, your brother–all of them have redeeming features despite their flaws, errors, or sins. (God loves them. So we must to.) Focus on their redeeming features, love them for those traits, find a way to relate to them, and most importantly, accept them for who they are. Accept even the flaws–in the sense that you accept that that is who they are;and even if they never change those aspects, they are people worthy of love and acceptance).

It is amazing how when you accept a person, they soften and become less defensive and angry. Some of them even learn to change in the very ways you wanted them to. But they need to do it of their own accord, when they are ready, for themselves. Kind of like Grace’s conversion.

Take care.


#18

I would say… approximately none.

“Catholic mafia”? That’s offensive. You can do better.


#19

Catholic mafia offensive? Sheesh, around here that’s a badge of honor!


#20

I don’t necessarily think a letter is called for. I think you just need to be ready to be a little more confrontational, in the kindest possible way of course, when this type of thing is actually going on. I think a letter would just give them a chance to stew and probably resent your wife thinking she complained to you. If you handle it when it is actually happening then they might take you a little bit more seriously, maybe. I know you are a great writer, but I just can’t imagine how a letter would be very effective in an instance like this. I could be wrong though.


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