Hey Carolyn: I’m writing from the mudroom of my house, to give you some perspective:
My wife has always claimed she’s much better friends with her family – her parents and grandparents – and prefers them over friends. I thought this was an exaggeration until I realized she doesn’t maintain friendships at all!
Anyway, her parents came into town today, and even though she talks to them almost daily, they’ve taken over the family room discussing medical directives and other extremely personal family matters without a worry about me. I’ve been playing games in the mudroom for at least 25 minutes and they don’t even realize I’m missing!
I know my wife will say it’s because she doesn’t get to see her family often (true). But every time we do see them, she ditches me to discuss family matters while I fend for myself. I love her family, but I feel marriage should be a lot more inclusive.
I grew up in a very impersonal family so maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion.
Vaping in the Boys’ Room
I don’t have great news for you on the “should” front, because people don’t do what they should, they do what they do.
It sounds as if your family didn’t serve you well in this regard. Their detachment left you to figure out on your own how families get and stay close, and when kids in your position become adults, it’s common for the outcome to look a lot like the one you’re living now: one with expectations built on an imagined version of how things are supposed to be.
You didn’t do anything wrong, necessarily. You just believed in your vision over what reality tried to say.
That would explain why you expected your wife to maintain typical friendships even as she told you herself, outright, that she preferred family to friends. And why you expect to be included in family visits even as your wife “ditches” you “every time.”
The good news is, a marriage – a life – built around reality is so much more satisfying than whatever we think “should” happen, messier though it may be. Your wife doesn’t have to have outside friendships for a happy marriage. You don’t have to be included in the medical-directives conversations for a happy marriage.
The more important thing to have is always available: awareness of what you can and can’t change. You can’t make your wife cultivate outside friendships, but (BEG ITAL)you(END ITAL) can cultivate them. You can encourage your wife to join you when you see these friends, and choose not to mind if she opts out.
Likewise, you can’t change how she conducts family visits, but you can choose to make an effort to join their discussions; to tell her you feel shut out instead of hoping she’ll notice you’re gone; and/or to treat her family visits as your chance to do your own thing.
Couples don’t need 100 percent shared interests, they just need love and support for whatever those interests are.
Good family therapists can help with this process.
In a memorable part of “Apollo 13,” engineers have to build a carbon dioxide filter only with material on hand. That applies to marriage, too: Understand what you need, see what you actually have, then try to build something that works.
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