Avoiding in law holiday disaster: Your spouse visiting your family’s house.

If you take your partner to your family’s house for the holidays, you better have their back.

One thing young American couples have in common is that in the first years of their marriage, they usually continue past Christmas traditions with each other’s families, often going back and forth from year-to-year or in one day if they live nearby, as the young bride and groom have not yet stepped into the stage of life where they become the matriarch and patriarch of their own family. Since our families come in all shapes and sizes, we will be dealing within a range from the most un-regimented, accepting, free and easy families to the rigid, nasty, boundary-less, rule-filled and judgmental kind. So, each new spouse needs to have an awareness of what they are dealing with, and that is why a pre-visit conversation should take place between the young pair that includes:

1. Understanding home family customs, traditions, expectations, and foibles. What are the family’s quirks and eccentricities? What do they love, what do they hate? Are they generally accepting of others? Should certain subjects be avoided? A discussion on how the visiting spouse can have the best time and have the most successful visit should be discussed.

2. Will we stay in the home with the family? If there is any question of how the new spouse will be treated, hotel, Air BNB reservations, or a request to stay at someone else’s house should be made. Protecting your new spouse from your family is a huge bond builder and is what any spouse hoping to have a thriving marriage must do. Think this way: I value my spouse’s comfort over my family’s, because when your married, your spouse comes first.

3. Home spouse must lay the groundwork prior to the visit with their family. The home spouse should speak with his/her family prior to the visit and get the lay of the land, set expectations and boundaries, and if necessary, let their family know that no family funny business will be tolerated when it comes to the visiting spouse. Treat the spouse respectfully, period. Once there, if the family blames, judges or negatively interacts with the new spouse, to their face or behind their back, the home spouse will always protect, defend, and side with the new spouse. If anyone talks to the home spouse about the visiting spouse negatively, the conversation is immediately shut down.

4. Do not succumb to home family pressure and control. During the visit, the couple should make decisions together about what they want and are willing to do, and then the home spouse is the spokesperson who sets the boundary. I strongly believe that if you are not able to set boundaries based on your partnership’s best interest, you aren’t ready to be successfully married.

5. Remember the Golden Rule. The wise old biblical rule of, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” is a wonderful guide to use when in doubt of what to do.

6. If it doesn’t go well. If, despite all your efforts, you and/or your spouse have a miserable time, don’t return a second time. Seriously. Part of growing up is to be able to stand in opposition to your family when they do not treat you and your family right. When you can do this, it means you are growing up.

By now it should be obvious that in a new marriage, a new spousal unit must be protected at all cost. A visiting spouse must have certainty that no matter what goes on in the home spouse’s family, he or she will have their back. At the same time, a home spouse also needs to know that the visiting spouse will also be kind, open, friendly, pleasant, respectful and helpful to his or her family while there. If you married someone where this is a concern, then good luck, because personal self-control and diplomacy are two qualities that help make marriages work, and lacking those qualities is a predictor of bad things to come. Also, I have seen spouses in my practice who insisted on the holidays being spent at their family’s house always, and they were not flexible on the subject. This presents all sorts of problems that are deeper than just the holidays alone and speaks to the person’s emotional immaturity, so sometimes the holidays show us who are spouse really is, or isn’t. Luckily, immaturity is a fixable thing.

Huffington Post blogger Brittany Wong recently quoted Dr. Becky in an article focusing on the discussions couples need to have before getting married:


It may not be the sexiest way to spend a Saturday night, but discussing big-ticket relationship issues like family planning, money and monogamy could be the best way for couples to stave off a future split.

In fact, the ability to broach big, difficult conversations early on is one of the most important qualities in a new relationship, said Alicia H. Clark, a psychologist in Washington, D.C.,

“You can’t know how you work through disagreements until you have them,” she told HuffPost. “Disagreeing, arguing and fighting about these things will reveal what’s really important to you both. And knowing how your partner will handle conflict is almost just as important.”

What thorny conversations are crucial? Below, marriage therapists and psychologists share their top 10 picks.

The talk about what you want to change about each other. (Be honest, you know you want to.)

“A lot of partners enter marriage with a secret hope that something will change about their partner: He’ll spend less time with his friends when we’re building a family, she’ll spend less money shopping when we’re in this together, I’ll get him to cut back on his drinking. Holding on to these silent hopes can be very destructive to the long-term health and happiness of your marriage. Disclosing them before marriage can actually foster the change you want in a more effective way.”― Kurt Smith, a therapist who specializes in counseling men

The money talk.

“You need to have a long, potentially difficult discussion about money. Go over a few things: Will one or both of you work? What will your general approach to money management be? Will you save every penny, adopt a spend-it-while-we-have-it attitude or have a more middling approach? Many people operate with a ‘we’ll figure it out together as we go’ approach and while that may work if the couple has similar thoughts on finances, if they don’t, it can lead to a relationship war. One party may feel like like their style is forever being cramped, while the other may feel that their partner is leading the family towards financial ruin.” ― Laurel Steinberg, a New York-based relationship therapist and professor of psychology at Columbia University

The sex talk.

“If you suspect your partner’s need for sexual intimacy doesn’t match yours, don’t overlook it. You might want to believe it’s an insignificant issue or once you get married it will work itself out, but sex should be easiest in the first couple years of any relationship. If you’re unsure of your sexual compatibility now, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have problems in the bedroom later on when kids and life enter the picture. Sex is the one thing that cannot be outsourced in marriage. Problem with division of labor? Hire out for help. Different needs for social relationships? One partner joins a club and the other stays home. Sexual frustration is unique because it can only be solved within the marriage. Resentment grows and the higher libido partner will eventually feel betrayed by their partner’s lack of interest. The end result? Festering resentment and, often, the belief that infidelity is justified.” ― Caroline Madden, a marriage and family therapist in Burbank, California

The personal space talk.

“Discuss your need for time alone, or apart from one another. People often overlook this topic initially but after the intense bonding of the early stages, one or both of them may want a bit of time to themselves, or time apart as they go out with friends. If this isn’t discussed beforehand, one partner may feel ditched or jealous, or one of them could begin to feel suffocated and start building resentments. A conversation early on about the normal desire to have some time alone could help distinguish individual needs for solitude from rejection, and allow partners to ask for alone time when they need it and enjoy the time they spend together even more.” ― Ryan Howes, a psychologist in Pasadena, California

The talk about kids.

“It’s so important for a couple to have a straightforward, candid conversation, not only about whether they in fact want to have children, but their beliefs and values about navigating the parenting journey. Do either or both have rigid ideas about waiting to start the process or plunging right in? Do either have strong beliefs about infertility treatments or adoption, should there be difficulty conceiving? Has there been a discussion about religious beliefs and expectations about the religious upbringing of the child? Go over it all.” ― Linda Lipshutz, a psychotherapist in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

The talk about how you’ll raise those kids.

“I see couples’ getting into power struggles a lot about raising kids ‘their way’ because they believe it’s the ‘right way’ with complete disregard for their partner’s preference and perspective. Having parents on the same team (knowing that it often takes work to get there) is imperative to the mental health and well being of children. Ask: Do you share the same core values? Do you agree on what qualities and behaviors from your own families you want to borrow and which you don’t?” ― Megan Fleming, a New York City-based psychologist and sex therapist

The monogamy talk.

“Most couples do want a monogamous marriage; however, monogamy can mean different things to different people, and without an honest conversation it is easy to imagine that your fiancé shares your views. Dig deeper, though: Are you comfortable with your soon-to-be spouse grabbing dinner with an ex who is in town on business? Are you comfortable with private or public friendships with an ex on social media? What about colleagues of the opposite sex? Will you be comfortable if you both have work that involves travel with attractive colleagues? And how might you want to navigate such situations if they arise? What if one of you develops a crush? It can be helpful to explore hypothetical challenges to monogamy through honest conversations before marriage.” ― Elisabeth J. LaMotte, a psychotherapist and founder of the DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center

The talk about family traditions and rituals.

“Rituals are not only traditions around major holidays, but how you spend your weekends or how you should (or shouldn’t) eat together during dinnertime: Have you always sat at the table as a family or is it fine to eat separately or in front of the TV? By having these discussions before they happen, you can also stand as a united front if you get any push back from your parents about changes to family traditions. Having these discussions can help you recognize your similarities, make room for your differences and create your own culture as a married couple.” ― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois

The talk about how you’ll handle future problems.

“You both need to know that your partner will do whatever is necessary to deal with future obstacles in the relationship, be it physical, emotional, mental or financial. For instance, if your partner gets depression or develops an anxiety disorder, many spouses would choose to not have it treated, or to ignore it or to mask it with medications or alcohol. Each person needs to know that the other will work to clear any obstacles that come along to the best of their ability. If the marriage falters, will you go to counseling with me and stick with it to work it out? We all need to know that our partner is action-oriented as opposed to being a person who sweeps things under the rug or just says, ‘This is me, deal with it.’” ― Becky Whetstone, a marriage family therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas

The “what’s your ideal marriage?” talk.

“Every premarital couple needs to clearly outline their expectations for themselves, their partner and the marriage they desire early on in the relationship and continue that conversation well into the marriage. Resentment creeps into relationships when you feel you are owed something, have been treated unfairly and is a mixture of disappointment, anger and fear. To that end, be vigilant: Set the bar high for your marriage and for yourself and stay in constant conversation about how you are staying the course. ― Laura Heck, a marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah

Original article posted on July 19, 2017 by Brittany Wong at Huffington Post.

When your partner makes a request about something that is important to them, it is crucial that you take it to heart.

When your partner makes a request about something that is important to them, it is crucial that you take it to heart.

When a spouse pleads with their mate to go to marriage counseling, you can bet they’re frustrated – trust me, people don’t just ask their partner to go to counseling if they’re only a little annoyed. Instead, when your partner says, ‘Hey, can we go to marriage counseling?’ it’s pretty indicative that they’ve already made repeated unsuccessful attempts to improve the relationship on their own, and failed.

Yes, your spouse needs change and has cajoled, nagged, bribed and suggested, only to find their requests either ignored or met with delays and excuses. At the point they seek counseling they’re not looking for divorce – yet, but that will probably be on the table later if nothing is done.

Spouses seek the services of a therapist to help persuade their partner that the situation at-hand is serious, and once in my office, here’s what I’m likely to hear:

“I asked him to look into why he has a very low sex drive and he hasn’t done anything.”

“Her obsession with cleaning leaves me and the family with no quality time. I ask her to give us some time but she won’t sit still, so what am I to do?”

“He promised me he would look for a better job after we got married. It’s been four years and he hasn’t done one thing.”

The common dominator in all of these situations is that the unhappy spouse has made an important request regarding something they need or want, and their partner hasn’t been responsive. Get this if you get nothing else from this blog post: It is impossible to exaggerate how much damage being unresponsive to requests does to relationships.

Once your spouse has made a request, and then reminds, and asks, and asks again, and still nothing happens, they will enter the Frustration Zone, and at that point your marriage has entered into a negative spiral that could very well end in, well, The End.

So what about you? You’re the recipient of the complaints. Do you get a say? Of course you do! As we ponder what’s going on between you and your spouse, I will want to know two things:

1. Is the request your spouse making reasonable? Sometimes our spouses ask us to do the impossible or even things that make no sense, other times what they ask of us is entirely doable, and within the realm of reasonable expectations, such as regular sexual activity or spending time together, so which is it?
2. What is the obstacle that makes you unable or unwilling to meet the request? Be honest with yourself.

If your spouse is making an unreasonable request of you a Marriage and Family Therapist will be your new best friend. They will tell your partner this and kindly ask them to back off. If the therapist sees that the requests are reasonable, however, you’ll soon find out that your lack of response will eventually move your spouse from frustration to the much more serious level known as being fed up.

A person who has fallen into in the Fed Up Zone got there by passing through four phases that unfolded over months or years. They are:

1. A request was made.
2. If the request was not responded to, an angry plea was made.
3. If the request was still not responded to, an anguished plea for change will be made such as, “I don’t how long I can do this, I’m barely hanging on here,” or “This is very serious!”
4. If the request is still not responded to, the disgruntled partner will stop asking, and quietly watch and wait for a response. They give up and enter the “fed up” phase characterized by a dismantling of their emotional connection to the other and allowing the relationship to die.

The fed up phase has several characteristics that will end when the disgruntled partner completes their disconnection process and an emotional divorce takes place. When that happens, the mate will be mostly apathetic about their partner and the relationship.

The metamorphosis of disconnection will be apparent by the following signs.

1. Ambivalence sets in and the partner both wants to and doesn’t want to be in the relationship. “I can take it or leave it,” is the idea.
2. A new life blossoms away from the partner. The disgruntled one finds joy and meaning in life somewhere else, and sometimes with someone else.
3. Language changes … references to the future together will be few and far between.
4. Brutal honesty. No longer exhibiting political correctness, you will now hear for the first time how he always hated your sister and mother.
5. New boundaries. Before he was willing to do things he really didn’t want to do with you, now you can forget it.
6. Warnings. If you haven’t been contributing to the family finances, your partner may suggest you take up activities that will lead to you being able to support yourself – “I think you ought to be thinking about getting a job or going back to school,” or “You may not want to be counting on me to support you forever.”

People show signs when they begin to disconnect from a partner. It happens because needs weren’t met, respect wasn’t given, the relationship and time together wasn’t cherished. Unhappy people almost always speak up and tell their partners when they’re feeling disillusioned in whatever way. They turn on their flashers, set off flares, dance around and wave their arms, and then they give up. All because the other person wouldn’t, or couldn’t, respond to the need.