My husband and I were married at a very young age of 22 and 20. At the time, we felt so adult and we assumed that everything would come together, just as we had watched everything come together for our parents. We were both lucky, we grew up in strong, middle class, religious families, and by all accounts our parents had raised their children to be successful, independent, and goal-oriented individuals. Although there wasn’t much disapproval surrounding our young marriage, we didn’t realize at the time, that the true test of our marriage would not be our age, it would be our parents.
Describing my parents can be difficult. Although loving to their children, they were not without their flaws. My father, a well-respected cop, had difficulty separating his work and his home life. He was naturally a bit overbearing, and a little too attuned to fine details. I always attributed his personality to the nature of his occupation. After all, seeing the worst in humanity day after day, probably left little faith in the human race. My mom, for lack of a better description, always made sure her kids had all that they needed, despite the fact she lacked a certain maternal instinct.
My husband grew up in a very different environment. Although his father was also very committed to his job as well, he had a certain passion for it that largely kept him at work, instead of at home. He had many friends and hobbies, and spent a great deal of his time out of the home keeping busy. My husband’s mother, was the prime example of a homemaker. Heavily involved in all of her children’s extracurricular activities, and having a certain knack for crafts, she spent countless hours passionately doting over her kids. The one major thing connecting these four very different people was their ability get involved in all of our affairs as a new couple. Everything from buying our home, to raising our kids, to what we wore and bought at the store was heavily scrutinized. I remember some nights being on the phone with my mother for hours at a time; hours in which she tore apart every aspect of my marriage.
All four of our parents were very vocal with their disapprovals, and my husband and I began to notice a rift forming between us. We were constantly trying to implement the opinions of our parents in our marriage, and spent a vast majority of our time venting our frustrations with the other partner to them. At that time, I hoped I could get some decent advices from couples counselling services. What ensued was a long feud between my husband and my parents, and myself and his parents. Holidays were looked at with dread instead of happiness, and anytime we were in a room with our in laws, tension filled the air.
Arguments between my husband and I quickly seemed to become arguments between my parents and his. Although the four of them were not literally interacting with one another, their ideas and opinions were what came out of our arguments together.
The more often we tried to make our marriage the picture of what our parents expected, the easier it became for us to fight. At the time, we just assumed we would never work. We believed ourselves to be too incompatible to be married. I attributed it to our young age and my husband thought we had taken on too much too soon by involving a home and children. It wasn’t until one night when mid-argument my husband grabbed his phone and called his mom and vented about me in front of my face, that I realized what kept escalating our issues.
We never learned how to resolve problems on our own. We never separated ourselves from our parents, and our parents were still too firmly planted in the protective parent role. We couldn’t find resolutions together because the resolutions were never ours. We didn’t know how to make decisions for ourselves, and didn’t understand how to communicate with one another, because we were too busy trying to hold on the families that we had left behind.
We had both allowed our families to become too involved in our marriage and it became evident that we simply couldn’t make a marriage between my parent’s ideas and his parent’s ideas work. I knew we had to take our marriage back, and so one night we decided to sit down and write out all of the flaws our parent’s relationships. had. We each highlighted the faults of our fathers, and then, the faults of our mothers, and at the end of an emotionally exhausting night I told my husband through tears, “maybe neither one of our families has it exactly right.”
We both knew we had to hold on to that idea to make our marriage work. It was a long path towards any improvement and we had many backslides along the way. All we could hold onto was the idea that our family would only work if we could make it our own family.
Our parents had a difficult time when they realized we were pulling away from them. The phone calls became less frequent, and shorter in duration. They suddenly began not receiving calls about our arguments or major decisions. There were plenty of accusations that my husband was controlling me, and I was controlling my husband. We knew that despite the criticism, we had to establish ourselves as our own family.
We focused our energy on connecting with one another. We wrote letters to one another, we went out together often, and spent long hours talking. The more we connected, the more we grew backbones, and when our parents voiced an opinion about how we were handling our marriage incorrectly, we had enough confidence to stand up for one another and for ourselves.
Over time our parents began to see how much better our marriage had gotten without their involvement. They noticed how much happier and self-reliant we became. The more happiness they saw in our marriage, the better they felt about who we chose to spend their lives with. Our marriage became stronger, and our families were slowly integrated back into our lives in a more positive way. Today, we have great relationships with our in-laws, but we know that the issues between us would have ruined our marriage had we not taken a step back and realized our marriage was our own.