Question: We've been married two years. My wife continually chooses her family over me. She's always on the phone with them, helping them, mediating disputes. I keep telling her they take up too much time, but it's like she don't get it. She keeps saying they need her. Then she cuts back supposedly and I catch her sneaking to talk them on the phone. We're all adults. Don't they get she's a wife now. They need to handle their own mess. She's my wife and I'm supposed to come first. Her family has a lot of issues. I don't expect her to cut them off, but I don't expect to have to battle them for time. We argue about it a lot. She keeps saying I'm overacting, but I'm not. I resent her and her family more and more. Something has got to give. What are your thoughts?
Answer: This is a very common problem. While it is true that when we marry our spouse, we also marry the family; however, we must also maintain appropriate boundaries. When boundaries are too loose, other people can intrude in our lives. It sounds to me like your wife's boundaries are too loose. In families, roles are often assigned to each member. This is not a conscious process, but labels are placed such as, "he's the athletic one" or "she's the smart one." Perhaps your wife was designated as the "go to person" of the family. It is a wonderful quality that she has a heart for her family and wants to help them, but you are correct. There needs to be a limit and she needs to put your needs and the needs of the marriage first. Unfortunately, her family does not seem to be respecting the boundaries, but that is because your wife is not setting any.
You have every right to feel the way you are feeling, but try to express your feelings using "I" statements. For example, use this formula, "I feel hurt (feeling) when you (action that hurts you) put your family before me because (reason you are hurt) it makes me feel like you do not care about me." I imagine when you try to address the issue with her, she may think you are attacking her or criticizing her. If you use "I" statements, you are expressing your feelings. Feelings are not wrong and she cannot argue with how you feel. If you believe that your wife is not setting appropriate boundaries, perhaps she does not know how to do that. If you are willing, perhaps you two should seek marriage counseling to learn to communicate and set healthy boundaries with her family. This problem can be resolved. Just be patient and communicate without attacking. Good luck and God bless!