By: Abigale Hassel
Before I get started with this discussion, let me just say that I have wonderful in-laws. They respect our boundaries. They never insert their opinions unless we ask for them. They never say a bad word about anyone and they are always there when we need them. Most importantly, my mother- in-law always takes my side. In all seriousness, I am very lucky, but a lot of people are not as lucky as I. We all hear in-law jokes. The in-law issue can make for hysterical comedy. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” just happens to be one of my favorite movies and it deals with overbearing in-laws. While it can be funny, it can also cause a lot of problems within the marital relationship. If you are having in-law issues, I hope the following suggestions help.
Be a united front: Just as a couple must be a united front with the children, the same holds true for the in-laws. I will use a family member’s situation as an example. For the sake of anonymity, I will not specify which family member. So the wife married into a very overbearing family. From the planning of the wedding, her husband’s family tried to dictate the terms. It continued through their marriage. It eroded to the point where it negatively impacted the relationship. He never stood up for his wife to his family and then he started to talk about her behind her back to his family, which only added to the intrusion in their lives. They were on the brink of divorce.
If this sounds familiar, let me be very clear. The husband and wife are a team. No one has to cut off his or her family; however, a spouse must absolutely show his or her family that allegiance goes to the spouse first. The message must be clear and consistent that bad-mouthing one’s spouse, criticizing, or undermining one’s spouse’s role by family will not be tolerated. Whatever issues exist in the marriage will be addressed by the husband and wife only. You must make it clear that unsolicited opinions are neither wanted nor appreciated.
Draw clear boundaries: A couple consistently communicates the message that they are a united front with healthy boundaries. Boundaries teach others how you are to be treated and the same holds true with the in laws. As I have said time and time again, we cannot control other people’s behavior nor can we change their personalities; however, we can change our reactions to them. This is drawing a boundary.
Have you ever seen the show “Everybody Loves Raymond”? The wife, Deborah, is constantly dealing with intrusive in-laws who have no boundaries. Again, that makes for good comedy, but in real life, it would cause a lot of strife in a marriage. If Deborah and Raymond were a real life couple, I would help them learn to communicate clear, concise boundaries to Raymond’s parents. They would need to set limits to how often Ray’s parents can visit and they could insist that they call before coming over for a visit. I would encourage Ray to hold his mother accountable whenever she criticized Deborah. He could communicate to his mother that type of behavior will not be tolerated and she could either respect that, or not come over at all. These are just examples of course. Your boundaries may look different, but the point is this. Boundaries must be established by both of you and you must stick to them to affect positive change. By not holding to the boundaries you have set and by not being consistent, there is no protection of the marital relationship. You do not have to be cruel and you do not have to completely cut contact with intrusive in-laws. You can communicate your feelings appropriately and still maintain a loving relationship, but you will have a relationship with healthy boundaries.
Communicate expectations to one another: There is that word again: communicate. Sometimes, what is bothersome to one spouse may not be so to the other. Often, a spouse feels loyalty to both his or her family and to his or her spouse. When we marry, we marry our spouse with all of his or her baggage. Our souse does not suddenly change the way he or she interacts with his or her family overnight, but if something is not working for us, we have to communicate to our spouse what that is and what we expect from our spouse in response. Remember, spouses cannot read each others’ minds.
I will use a friend’s situation as an example. My friend grew up in a home where her parents “knew everything” and her father always solved her problems. When she got married, she slowly learned that while she loved her parents and appreciated everything they had done for her, they were also very controlling and intrusive. Her husband grew more and more angry as they constantly criticized, butted in, or gave their opinions without having been asked. It got so bad that my friend felt like she was being torn in two. Her husband expressed how he felt and communicated how he expected my friend to handle her parents. She agreed to some of his reasonable suggestions and she was able to keep her boundaries. While her parents were not happy with those boundaries, over time, they learned that they had no choice but to respect them.
Try to be flexible: Look, even intrusive families are not all bad. Most of the time, families just want to be a part of each others’ lives. This closeness does not suddenly end just because a member gets married. Sometimes, a spouse does not want to give up the closeness he or she shares with the family and that is ok. The problem comes when it starts to negatively impact the marital relationship. People are different. One spouse may not be used to a big, close family. That spouse may believe that family is only for special occasions. One spouse may find it weird that his or her spouse needs to have constant contact with the family. Remember, just because that type of closeness is something that you are not accustomed to, it does not mean that it is wrong, strange, or inappropriate. Keep an open mind.
I will use my parents as an example. My mother had a difficult upbringing. Her father was domineering and abusive at times. Her mother was a wonderful woman, but she did not engage in physical shows of affection with my mom, like hugging. My mother was very inhibited when she met my father. My dad, on the other hand, was very affectionate and outgoing, as were his family members. My mom shared with me that at first, all the hugging and kissing made her feel uncomfortable. Over time though, she realized how wonderful it was and how much she actually enjoyed it. She challenged herself to open up and not only receive the love, but give it freely and she has lived that way ever since. Had she not kept an open mind, she may have missed out on having all of that love in her life.
The take away is this. Both spouses must communicate their feelings and come to a compromise. It not reasonable to expect your spouse to put up with obnoxious intrusions by your family members, nor is it reasonable for your spouse to expect you to to cut all contact with your family. The middle ground between those two extremes is where you want to be. You achieve that with healthy and appropriate boundaries. Keep marital issues between the two of you and use good judgement. For example, if you know your mother is overbearing and puts in her two cents even when she is not asked, you may want to think twice before telling her about the fight you and your husband had last night. That is just inviting trouble. Basically, with the proper boundaries, family can be such a blessing. We do not marry our in-laws, but we do marry into an extended family. You become a part of a new family and your spouse becomes a part of yours. With healthy boundaries, good communication and a little flexibility, you can enjoy your family every day and not just on holidays! Good luck and God bless!
By: Abigale Hassel
As a modern woman and wife, I have struggled with the concept of submitting to my husband. As a young wife, I had an attitude of independence. I made it clear to my husband that he did not “own me” and I commanded respect. The funny thing was, he always respected me. I never needed to command that. As I matured, as I grew in my faith and as my husband and I worked through some relationship issues over the years, I realized I needed an attitude adjustment. It was time for me to learn how to submit and surrender to my husband. I am not going to lie; I had difficulty. Truth be told, my husband still has difficulty with the concept, because he never thought of me as anything other than an equal. Moreover, there were times he looked to me to be the problem solver and to take the lead in certain situations. He never wanted to be the “head of the household”. He wanted the king and queen of the castle to have equal power, and we do. So now let us look at what submission means.
What submission is:
The Bible has much to say about submitting, both throughout the old and the new testaments. I am referencing the Bible simply to give a foundation of support for the concept of submitting and surrendering, which I will use interchangeably, within the marital relationship. I believe that even if you are not Jewish or Christian, you will still find value in this discussion, so I hope you continue reading. I hope that I will also show how submitting can therapeutically heal a marriage.
In the Old Testament, we are shown how to have a relationship with God and part of that relationship requires us to submit and surrender to His will for us. We trust and believe that He loves us and wants what is best for us. According to Friedman of Chabad.org, the day God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai was symbolic of a wedding day. It was a covenant made between God and His people. God instructed Moses to give these commandments to the people of Israel. He instructed us to have no other god, to honor His day of rest and keep it holy and so on. He also gave us free will, to choose whether we would submit or not. I do not know about all of you, but for me, inside His will is where I want to be and things have a way of working out when I am. When I resist and act too human, that is when things tend to go awry. That dynamic plays out in the couples I counsel. They fight against each other instead of accepting and working with each other’s roles and strengths. The Lord is committed to our wellbeing; He feels a responsibility to us, yet he allows us to choose whether or not we will surrender to Him. This is a very loving relationship. This is the type of relationship we should enjoy with our spouses.
Rebbetzin Twerski, from www.aish.com, says that with surrender, come both intimacy and responsibility. In Genesis 4:1, it says that “Adam knew his wife.” That knowing was not just a superficial understanding of his mate, but a deep spiritual connection. All throughout the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible), the marriage relationship is the focal point of the home. Husbands and wives are to put each other first, yes, even before the children. This is punctuated in Genesis 2:24 where it says that man is to leave his father and mother to be with his wife and they are to be one flesh. The marital relationship is the foundation on which the family is built. This relationship is strengthened with intimacy that is achieved through respect, love and surrender. We can only surrender when we feel love and respected by our spouse.
What submission is not:
Before I continue speaking about what submission in a marriage is, please allow me to explain what submission is not. This is extremely important, because a lot of good people erroneously apply this concept to their marriage and that can have terrible consequences. Submission is not abuse. Let me stress that you never have to stay in an abusive situation. That is not what God intended. Remember, the marital relationship is a mutually satisfying union in which each spouse has different, yet equally important roles. Spouses are to put each other first and have loving concern to meet each other’s needs. The one who has the authority is not to abuse that authority or lord it over the other. In short, love should never hurt! Submission is not the absence of responsibility; quite the contrary! Each spouse has a responsibility. Both contribute to the household decisions and both have a responsibility to make the other feel valued. Finally, submission is not yielding one’s personal power or self-worth. While it is true that both spouses need to let go of ego and self-centeredness, neither must let go of his or her sense of self or his or her sense of morality. Each can have an opinion, but the surrender comes not by giving up completely, but it comes from true love and concern for the other’s well-being, from a desire to maintain peace and harmony, in a spiritual sense, within the relationship, and it comes from the desire to honor one’s spouse.
What submission looks like:
Now that we understand what submission is and what it is not, let us now examine how wives should submit to their husbands and what responsibility husbands have to their wives. Let us look to the New Testament for some instruction and examples. Again, those of you who are not Christian may still find this valuable, or at least, interesting. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul gives examples of relationships in which submission is necessary. He basically says that one submits to another the way one would submit to God. He uses the marital relationship as an illustration of our relationship to God. He says in Ephesians 5:22, “wives submit to your husbands.” Again, he goes on to say that they are to do this as they submit to God. Submission is a loving act that tells the husband that he is trusted, respected and loved. We really could not submit if these elements were not in place. Just as I trust in God, just as I know He loves and cares for me and wants me to have joy, so does my husband. I trust him with my life. I know he respects me. I know he appreciates my contributions to our family. I know he would never take advantage of my love; therefore, I have learned to submit to him. Ultimately, I know he will never put himself or his desires before me, so submitting is my gift to him and a symbol of my trust in him.
Husbands have a big job. They are the head of the household. Do not misunderstand what this authority means. Husbands are to emulate God in this role. Let us go back to God and Moses for a second. Friedman explains that God “came down” from the mountain to meet the people. Although He was the ultimate authority, He made Himself vulnerable for His people, He presented His commandments and He sincerely hoped that the people would submit to Him, because He loved them and wanted what was best for them. He wanted them to trust Him. He showed us an example of humility in authority. Husbands, your position does not enable you to take advantage of your wives. Your authority, according to Miller, from www.todayschristianwoman.com, is meant to be used to serve your wives. Paul said in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives just as Messiah loved the Messianic community and gave himself up on its behalf”. He wants you to lovingly serve and protect your wives and sacrifice so that she always has what she needs. In many respects, your task is much more challenging.
Benefits of submission:
Hopefully by now you are seeing the benefits of submission and/or surrender in a marriage. It is a loving act by wives to their husbands. It is a choice. As I have said in other posts, men need to feel respected in a relationship. When their wives submit to them, instead of resisting or challenging them, it shows a tremendous amount of respect. Women, on the other hand, primarily need to feel loved. When husbands choose to essentially lay down their lives daily for their wives to meet their needs, wives feel safe, secure and loved. Submission brings the type of intimacy into a marriage that both spouses desire. It is a spiritual and emotional bonding that reinforces the two are of one flesh. Submission frees both spouses from having to be right, from having to win, and from engaging in power struggles. It is mutual, in that, both spouses have responsibilities as one submits to the other. Both spouses benefit from this. Burdens are lifted when both spouses know their roles, their different yet equal roles. Submission is a practical way to ensure harmony in the home. Although the concept of submission is not something we readily see in today’s culture, it does not mean that it is outdated or irrelevant (Miller).
This was a lot to digest and I understand that for some of you, the concept of submission is a difficult one. You may not even be buying into it, but I have shown you all the myriad benefits submission provides. If we look at the divorce rate, which is about 50%, we can see that without a deeper understanding of what marriage entails, marriage is too easily devalued. Remember, marriage is not just a contract; it is a covenant. It is a spiritual and emotional promise that two will be forever joined. Perhaps it is time for society to start looking to ancient ideas of marriage so that marriage is considered to be a sacred union as it was intended to be. So wives, are you ready to submit to your husbands? That is the question. Good luck and God bless!
Friedman, M. (retrieved 2015, Dec. 8). Surrender and Responsibility: Virtues Essential to an Intimate Relationship. Retrieved from www.chabad.org.
Miller, K. A. (2008, Sept.). What’s So Scary About Submission? Retrieved from www.todayschristianwoman.com.
Twerski, F. (retrieved 2015, Dec. 8). A Jewish Wife: Practical Advice on what it Takes to Build a Jewish Home. Retrieved from www.aish.com
By: Abigale Hassel
I need to start this discussion with a couple of disclaimers. Firstly, feminists may not want to read any further, because I will be reinforcing the notion that men and women are in fact different and some may consider this to be politically incorrect. I am far from PC. Consider yourself warned. Secondly, there are always exceptions to the rules. Men can have more feminine traits, while women can have more masculine traits. The purpose of this discussion is to help married couples understand one another more. Having said that, let us now look at the many ways men and women are different.
1) We think differently. I once read the perfect description of how the minds of men and women operate. Bill and Pam Farrel wrote that men think in boxes, while women think like a plate of spaghetti. That basically means that men tend to compartmentalize. They put things in figurative boxes and think about one thing at a time. Sometimes, they file the box away and avoid thinking about certain things. This can account for how our husbands sometimes forget things that seem easy enough to remember.
Women, on the other hand, think like a plate of spaghetti. Think about that for a second. A plate of spaghetti consists of many, many noodles overlapping. Sometimes, one noodle may not be distinguishable from another. It is a pile of jumbled mess. In other words, we women think about several things all at once. We do not compartmentalize very well. We tend to remember much more than our husbands do. We multitask better than our husbands do and we are reluctant to just file away our thoughts, like our husbands can do at times.
How this can affect your relationship: Men, when you compartmentalize, it can make your wives feel as if they are “out of sight, out of mind.” If they do not feel that you are thinking about them, it can make them feel unloved, forgotten or dismissed. Knowing this, you can make extra effort to let them know that you are thinking about them and the things that are important to them. Take a minute and send an “I love you text”. Give a quick phone call to let them know you are thinking of them. Pay attention to what your wives are saying and let her know that what she has to say is important to you. Women, thinking about everything all at once can be exhausting and anxiety provoking. Just because something seems important to you at a particular time does not mean that your husband is thinking about it. If he is not, it does not mean that he does not care. It simply means his mind was occupied by something else. Remember, he thinks about things one issue at a time. What you are thinking about may be in another box in his mind. Just communicate with him and he will pull the proper box.
2) We express our emotions differently. In spite of popular opinion, men do have emotions. They simply manifest differently in men than they do in women. My husband and I are a perfect example of this. True to form, I am very emotional, while my husband is, well, not. Do not get me wrong. When things are good, he is a loving, attentive and affectionate husband. When things are not so good, his inner Spock comes out. He is all logic and he is very calm. That can be a very good thing, especially when I am so upset and can barely think straight, but it can also be a source of difficulty for us. I have recognized this trait to be a defense mechanism for my husband. He simply must allow logic to kick in so he does not fall apart and so he can be my rock when I need a stabile force; however, it can also inhibit him from really dealing with some tough emotions and it has made me feel alone at times. If I am the only one in pain, it can feel very isolating. It can also be frustrating, because, sometimes, I just do not know what he is feeling and I just hate that!
I, on the other hand, am very emotional. My husband never has to guess what I am feeling. I am basically an open book. I am passionate, expressive and open. That can be good, because my husband knows how loved he is by me. He delights in watching me pursue the things about which I am passionate. I amuse him with my humor and I make him feel secure with my nurturing ways. However, my emotionality can be very intimidating. My anger can be very overwhelming to him.-When I am upset, it can render him paralyzed. Sometimes, my emotions can be so strong, I may not even seem rational to him. As you can imagine, this has gotten in the way of our communication in the past. We have been together for a long time and we have done a lot of hard work together. Now that we know each other so well, we have learned how to compensate for our differences and work with them, rather than against them.
How this can affect your relationship: If these types of differences resonate with you, please keep this in mind. Ladies, just because you are not immediately seeing emotion from your husband, that does not mean he is not feeling any. You need to pay attention, because his emotions manifest differently for them. Rather than making assumptions or trying to read your husbands’ minds, ask him what he is feeling. Be patient if he struggles to identify his feelings. Men tend to struggle with the more vulnerable emotions, such as fear, sadness or shame. Often, anger is a shield for those more vulnerable emotions. There is always something under anger, so you may try to help him identify those feelings. Men, remember this and practice this often: VALIDATE YOUR WIVES’ FEELINGS. Whatever you do, do NOT dismiss their feelings. You may not agree with or understand why your wives are feeling what they are feeling, but her feelings are not wrong. Allow her to feel what she feels and ask her to help you understand why she feels the way she feels. A little understanding and validation goes a long way for us women.
3) We have different needs. The things that motivate men and women can be very different. I always tell the couples I counsel that in their relationships, men need to feel respected and women need to feel loved. In my infidelity recovery work with couples, and this is just my observations, I see that men have affairs to build their egos, while women have affairs because they want to feel loved. Men are socialized to be the strong providers for their families. They want to know that their hard work and sacrifices are noticed and appreciated by their mates. They feel pride when they are able to provide for their families’ needs. Conversely, they feel emasculated if they believe they have failed in any way.
Women need to feel loved, appreciated and respected too, but love is our number one need. No matter how difficult things get, no matter what stresses from life are thrown our way, if we feel loved by our husbands, we can conquer anything. The happiness we feel from being loved fuels us and helps us to face everything from financial hardship to drama with the children, and more. Conversely, if we do not feel loved, no matter how great the rest of our lives are, we feel a sadness that simply does not allow us to fully enjoy the blessings in our lives. The feeling of not being loved by our husbands becomes a shadow cast over everything and sends us into a state of despair.
How this can affect your relationship: Remember what I said previously about how we express emotions. If a man does not feel respected by his wife, he may start to feel like he has failed somehow. His pride in himself is diminished. He starts to feel shame and may become depressed. He has difficulty with these vulnerable emotions, so his feelings manifest as pure anger and resentment. Although he may not be happy with himself, he projects this onto his wife and then starts to resent her. This leads to poor communication, a rift in the relationship and, sadly, it can leave him vulnerable to infidelity. If a woman does not feel loved, she feels lonely within her relationship. This loneliness turns to sadness, emptiness and despair. She starts to question her self worth and her self-esteem takes a big hit. This can cause resentment, which can lead to her feeling distant from her husband. She too can be vulnerable to infidelity if she feels all of the above. Ladies and gentleman, you must love, honor and cherish your partners. You must make every effort to speak their love language. I highly recommend The 5 Love Languages, by Dr. Gary Chapman (www.5lovelanguages.com). Learn your own and each other’s love languages and speak them!
4) We have different roles. Another disclaimer: the following may not be considered politically correct by some. There are some things men cannot do that women can and there are things women cannot do that men can. Yes, we are different. We have different strengths, we have different gifts and we are built differently. More than that, we each fill different needs and different purposes. This is not something to be fought, to complain about or to resist; this is something to be embraced and celebrated.
In my marriage, my husband and I have settled into our roles. We have learned to accept and even celebrate each other’s strength and we have learned to work around and support each other in our weaknesses. I do the cooking, because, quite frankly, my husband would burn water! He does the mowing of the lawn, because I am highly allergic to fresh cut grass. One whiff, and my face looks like Rocky after a fight. Plus, I really hate yard work! You and your spouse need to figure out your roles and work with each other’s strengths, and support each other in your weaknesses.
How this can affect your relationship: Roles can be a tricky thing, especially if one or both partners feel as if they are not succeeding in their roles. For example, men tend to be the breadwinners in the relationship. If they are not financially successful, they may feel inadequate and that can lead to depression. Depression in men often presents as anger. Remember, they have difficulty expressing the vulnerable emotions. Women are typically the caregivers. If they feel they are not doing well with raising the children, their self-esteem can be negatively affected. Their sense of self-worth may suffer. When women feel inadequate, it can adversely affect her expression of affection. These are just examples to illustrate how the roles we fill can affect how we see ourselves. It is ok to ask your spouse for help and it is essential for spouses to offer words of encouragement. Remember, you are a team.
God created men and women differently for a reason. Marriage is so sacred. When a man and a woman come together as one flesh, it is a representation of who God is. The man represents the authority part of God. He is the provider. The woman represents the life giving part of God. She is the nurturer and giver of life. If you think of it in these terms, is not that a beautiful concept? Our roles are not more important than our spouses’. They are different, but equally important. Our differences are not something to fear or resist. Once we understand these differences, our assumptions and the ways we interact can change. We can have more patience for our spouses, more empathy and more love for them. Remember, different does not mean unequal. Enjoy each other! God bless.