My parents want to be closer to my wife, she thinks that's wierd

This is a bit of a personal question, so I appreciate your taking the time to read and to answer thoughtfully if you would like to offer advice.

My parents have told me they don’t like that my wife doesn’t reach out to them, or call them on her own without me. They’ve also told me that I’m disrespectful of her parents by not calling them without her, or not buying gifts for them for Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. On the latter, I take my cue from my wife on that one - at their insistence, she and her brother don’t buy them presents for those days.

At the same time, my parents don’t make an effort to reach out to my wife, either. They don’t - and I don’t think they’ve ever - called her just to talk to her. When they visit us or when we visit them (we live 300 miles apart), we talk and get along just fine. There’s no animosity and I thought our last visit was warm and pleasant. She and my mom talk quite a bit in-person, though she doesn’t talk as much to my stepfather. That’s partly because he talks mostly politics and sports (subjects she doesn’t like), and he spends most of the time talking with me anyway. As far as I can tell, we all get along just fine.

Recently we had a pretty bad fight and, in the process of their telling me how hurt they were, they brought up that my wife is disrespectful of them by not trying actively to be closer to them. I tried to reassure them but I don’t think I was successful. I talked with my wife about it and she thinks it’d be ‘weird’ to do things they ask like call them out of the blue when she never did that before. We agree it’d be the same if I started striking up a relationship with her parents like that, and her parents have never indicated that they’re unsatisfied with how I relate with them. Now we do live near enough her parents to see them every week or every other week, so I suspect if we lived farther apart they may expect me to make more effort.

So the question is, where to go from here? I don’t want my folks to think my wife doesn’t like them, at the same time my wife feels put-upon to do the things they ask, and I think she resents them butting into how I relate to her parents. We’d like to visit my folks for the holidays but put their minds at ease so they don’t have this lingering doubt over whether my wife actually likes them while we visit; at the same time, my wife doesn’t want to pick up the phone and call them out of nowhere. I honestly think my mother would find it weird and the conversation would leave both feeling uncomfortable. So where do we begin?

It really depends on the family. In some families, the husband takes care of keeping in touch with his parents, and the wife takes care of keeping in touch with her parents. (This is what DH and I usually do.)

In terms of your relationship with your IL’s, that’s not really your parents’ concern. I’d ask, more specifically, if there is anything your wife has done that has bothered your parents. If it’s just that she doesn’t buy them a present, is it possible for you to buy cards, presents, etc. that are from BOTH of you? Have your parents done something that has bothered your wife? Did this just come right out of the blue - and if so, is there something that happened recently that has precipitated this concern?

I wonder if some of this might be due to what your parents expect the IL/DIL relationship to look like. Not every DIL is close to her IL’s, and the same is true of SIL’s. It almost sounds as if you need to have a big sit-down or a talk on speakerphone with all four of you, to determine exactly what the issue is here.

I’m wondering if you’re an only child and your mother may feel that you’ve been ‘taken away’ from her by your wife somewhat? My husband and I have always dealt with each others parents in the same way that you and your wife are doing now and that has worked really well. (Both his parents are now deceased. We’ve been married 25 years). There are times when my parents need their computer fixed or some little job done that my husband will go over to their place on his own and there were times when my MIL and I would go shopping for something specific when they lived near us. But its never been the case where husband or I would just ring each other parents for chatting in the way we ring our own. There would always need to be a reason for that sort of call such as inviting them to something or having some specific question to ask.

As you said, you think your mother would find the situation she seems to be asking of your wife, to be awkward and unnatural herself… so perhaps there is some deeper underlying problem that she doesn’t want to admit to, such as that feeling that you’ve been taken away from her by your wife?

Thanks for the honest response.

This was my wife and I’s assumption when we got married; I think expectations have changed now that we have kids.

Agreed.

We recently had a fight that was entirely unrelated to my wife. I think we’ve made amends on that, but I know we’re still rebuilding. It could really be that my wife’s relationship with them has been on their minds for a long time and they’ve not wanted to
say anything until now.

That’s very likely. We never actually sat down and said “this is what we expect” but that’s not how people normally talk. It doesn’t make it easier than we live at a distance.

Just naming that as a possibility is helpful. I don’t know if everyone would want to do that but it’s something to suggest. Maybe even starting small - if my wife sent the emails with photos of the kids instead of my doing it.

I’d feel weird calling up my mother-in-law to chat too. We get along fine in person, but we just don’t have that kind of relationship. I actually don’t even like talking on the phone in general, even with family members. The only people I ever really talk to on the phone are my husband when he is away or my mother. I just don’t like the phone.

Would your wife find it less weird if your mother actually initiated? It seems weird for your mother to be upset if she doesn’t do what she expects of your wife. What about email? If your mother emailed your wife every now and then would that be more comfortable for her? Maybe your wife could take some initiative like sending pictures of your kids every now and then- something other than a phone call.

You and your wife get to decide what kind of relationship you’ll have with each set of parents. If your parents are expecting more, they will have to learn to accept that their ideal just isn’t going to happen. And also, they really don’t have any right to comment regarding how the two of you relate to her parents. That’s not their business.

If they want a closer relationship with your wife, why don’t they pick up the phone? Relationships work BOTH ways.

If my son-in-law picked up the phone and called me just to chat, I think I would faint right then and there. And I wouldn’t have a thing to say to him other than greetings. But we get along fine when they or we visit. The same with my DIL. My children live out of town, and while they call me, their spouses usually don’t.

My husband and my mother are extremely close, just as close as if they were mother and son, yet he rarely picks up the phone to call her, or she, him. If I’m on the phone with her, he will take the phone and have a long conversation. And he makes sure I call her frequently, but he doesn’t do the calling. When we visit, they are inseparable.

I was close with both my in-laws, but they lived only a few blocks away, so I would call my MIL all the time, but never my FIL–he didn’t like talking on the phone.

In short, I don’t think your family is all that unusual, and your parents aren’t being realistic. It all sounds perfectly normal to me.

Lorelei, I am just like you. I only ever call my mom or husband for non-business reasons. I don’t know what it is about phones I don’t like, but I don’t like them! I much prefer email or face to face.

My husband is an only child and we have kind of a similar dynamic as the OP. My parents live far away and it’s like they don’t even exist to my in-laws (well, specifically my MIL.) She’s a nice lady, but we don’t have much in common and the way we socialize is very different. (I actually get along better with my FIL in this respect as we’re both introverts and can sit in a room, not talking, and not feel uncomfortable.)

As you can imagine, there will be plenty of opinions, not necessarily one right answer.

If you like your in laws, why not engage them more? My in laws were two hours away (now deceased), but that didn’t prevent me from developing a relationship. When I traveled for business in their area, I would stop and bring something sweet for a snack and visit with my MIL. She was a great lady. This worked out great. :slight_smile:

Her parents were separated, not divorced, and lived five minutes apart. ABout all they did together was go to the VA Hospital/Doctors visits. My wife didn’t really talk to her dad at all, so I took it upon myself. It worked out good for FIL and me, but was the source of problems for my wife. So this didn’t work out well. :frowning:

We lived a mile from my parents. My wife got along pretty well with my dad until one day when he came over (unannounced) and we were in the process of babymaking. :smiley: After that she was too embarrassed (so was he!). My Mom was not very accommodating to anyone, so they did not have a very good relationship. My mom wondered often what my wife didn’t call her. :confused:

Glad I could be of help :wink:

Just be yourself, and treat them with kindness, love and respect. Hopefully, they will do the same to you.

Your parents have an expectation problem. it is up to you (not your wife) to set the expectation that they will be receiving gifts from you as a couple, and will receive phone calls from you as a couple, period.

You need to frame it as how YOU have decided that your family will operate. And by your family, I mean you, your wife, and future children. You have established a new family, and that new family will have new traditions and its own way of relating to others. They can like it or not, but that is how it is.

a) Do not fight in the future. If they start trying to emotionally blackmail you with how “upset” they are then you need to end the conversation and pick it up when they can be rational.

b) They have an opinion about your wife. Not a fact. They will have to overcome it.

You set expectations and boundaries. And then you stick to them.

Well, yeah, it’s not their business. And how would they know unless they are butting in and asking, and you are answering. Stop answering. It’s not their business. Don’t share your business with them.

You need to handle this on your own, not your wife, and you need to do it before you visit for holidays.

In that case, bringing it up during a conversation about some unrelated hurt was something you should give yourself permission to deny them.

My husband calls this tactic “gunny sacking”. In order to make yourself seem more put upon by what are in reality small complaints, you store them in a gunny sack and dump them all at the other person’s feet in one big pile when you argue, to make your case about how aggrieved you are. That is a foul. It is healthier to insist that each complaint be lodged and discussed on its own merits. No package deals.

I’m a bit concerned about the “still rebuilding”… with your parents? Whatever you did, their fantasy ideal relationship with your wife isn’t part of that. That is something they need to forge with her via mutual consensus, not something they can ask you to “procure” for them. Let them build that with your wife. You can be a consultant, but do not consent to be made into their “broker”. Don’t let them do that to you.

I doubt it is conscious, but I suspect your parents are using some guilt trips and other “relational aggression” to (in essence) manipulate and control you. That’s a damaging strategy to let them use. Educate yourself about that. Marriage relationship and communication books could help. Also look at co-dependence literature–the lessons on what good relationships look like aren’t just for addicts. The bad habits of co-dependence are embedded in the insecurities of human nature.

I agree it is a weird expectation for a spouse to call the in-laws for no apparent reason. I know neither of my parents did this and we lived 500 miles away from both sets of my grandparents. The sole exception was if my dad was out of town, my mom might call his mom on her birthday, and of course would talk to them if they called the house and the other spouse wasn’t home.

BUT, I do think visiting is different, each spouse should together visit with the parents and not avoid this. This is especially important if grandkids are part of the picture. I know my mom’s parents loved and appreciated my dad because he was the only son-in-law who spent time talking with them when we would visit.

losh14 said:

“My parents have told me they don’t like that my wife doesn’t reach out to them, or call them on her own without me. They’ve also told me that I’m disrespectful of her parents by not calling them without her, or not buying gifts for them for Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. On the latter, I take my cue from my wife on that one - at their insistence, she and her brother don’t buy them presents for those days.”

Your parents are being weird–it is perfectly normal for the DIL or SIL let their spouse manage their relatives, as the blood relative will be most familiar with family norms. Your parents may be doing this because you live closer to your wife’s parents, so they feel jealous and shut out. However, the substance of their complaints is off base. They are making up rules that Emily Post and Miss Manners have never heard of.

“At the same time, my parents don’t make an effort to reach out to my wife, either. They don’t - and I don’t think they’ve ever - called her just to talk to her. When they visit us or when we visit them (we live 300 miles apart), we talk and get along just fine. There’s no animosity and I thought our last visit was warm and pleasant. She and my mom talk quite a bit in-person, though she doesn’t talk as much to my stepfather. That’s partly because he talks mostly politics and sports (subjects she doesn’t like), and he spends most of the time talking with me anyway. As far as I can tell, we all get along just fine.”

Tell your parents that.

Here’s another thought—your mom may be envisioning your wife as the daughter she never had, and in her head, the daughter she never had is supposed to call her. Also, she may be imagining that your wife has way more free time than she actually does.

“Recently we had a pretty bad fight and, in the process of their telling me how hurt they were, they brought up that my wife is disrespectful of them by not trying actively to be closer to them. I tried to reassure them but I don’t think I was successful.”

Your wife is not being disrespectful.

“So the question is, where to go from here? I don’t want my folks to think my wife doesn’t like them, at the same time my wife feels put-upon to do the things they ask, and I think she resents them butting into how I relate to her parents.”

Maybe you can tell them, very bluntly (you’re their son–they’ll forgive you) that your wife likes them, but that they are jeopardizing the relationship by expecting too much. I’d be tempted to say something like, “Ma, if you want to talk to Suzie, pick up the phone and call Suzie. She won’t always be free, but late morning tends to be a good time.”

“We’d like to visit my folks for the holidays but put their minds at ease so they don’t have this lingering doubt over whether my wife actually likes them while we visit…”

That sounds very awkward, too.

Visit because it’s time and you want to visit. Don’t visit in an attempt to prove that your wife likes them. That sounds terrible and doomed.

Easter Joy said:

“I’m a bit concerned about the “still rebuilding”… with your parents? Whatever you did, their fantasy ideal relationship with your wife isn’t part of that. That is something they need to forge with her via mutual consensus, not something they can ask you to “procure” for them. Let them build that with your wife. You can be a consultant, but do not consent to be made into their “broker”. Don’t let them do that to you.”

Yeah.

I’ve encountered a similar situation before where some grandparents were expecting their daughter (fortunately not me) to create a relationship for them with their grandson and serve it up to them on a silver platter. They weren’t bad people, they were just lazy and a little entitled and unrealistic about how you go about having a relationship with a 12-year-old grandson you’ve never put a lot of effort into previously. As I would have put it if anybody asked me at the time, you’re not going to get out what you didn’t put in.

It may be that they are suddenly realizing, oops, we forgot to have a relationship with DIL! and then sticking you with the responsibility of making that happen.

I live 2 hours away from my parents.

I had experienced a similar situation with my parents (mainly my Mom) before we had kids. My mom is of Spanish decent. She felt that it’s the daughter-in-law’s responsibility to initiate the relationship. She felt my wife was disrespecting her by “not making an attempt.” At the same time, my wife felt that it was awkward that my mother never sent her birthday cards, etc.

My family was never big on cards, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

My wife’s family is very big on them.

My mother strongly believes in non-interference. My in-laws, not so much.

Today, my mother and father do call… but they sometimes feel that my wife often doesn’t answer the phone. To be honest, my wife doesn’t answer the phone a lot when anyone calls because she’s usually busy with my daughter. But, her family members will keep calling back until my wife answers. My family will not call back and will try again a day or two later.

It always comes down to not understanding the other’s point-of-view. Just keep putting in a good word for your wife and tell your parents to call her.

Tell them they should reach out first. “Do unto others as you would want done to you.” Jesus does not force us to pray to him, we must make the first move sometimes.

Maybe you and your husband could start a family website. It is easy and convenient to post photos and text, keeping your parents (both sets) up to date on your activities without interrupting activities that are a higher priority at the moment. This could become a fun shared activity (they could upload photos and add text to the site, too) and a simple way to foster closer relationships with them.

I do a semi-anonymous blog recording the kids’ milestones and activities. The readership is primarily my SIL (my brother’s wife) and MIL.

“My parents have told me they don’t like that my wife doesn’t reach out to them, or call them on her own without me.”

Too bad for them.

Bible: “Man leaves mother and father and cleaves to his wife”

Source: God

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