Q. I am a 26-year-old man and an only child. Last November, I finally married my fiancée after seven years. My wife has never been big on socializing, but when I lived with my parents she would visit nearly every day.
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When I finally moved out of my parents’ house, her visits to my parents decreased. Now that we are married, my wife has visited my parents with me just twice. Both my parents love her and miss her. They always ask how she is and why she doesn’t visit more often.
My wife doesn’t like my parents much, mainly because my father is of a “grouchy” nature and they speak little English. My wife feels uncomfortable around them. She does not like to visit and says I should go alone.
I prefer not to go alone, because not only do I feel like I’m missing time with my wife, but I don’t know what to tell my parents about her absence. I am always there for my wife when her family invites us to gatherings, even when I don’t want to go. I feel it is my obligation to be supportive and accompany my wife on these occasions.
Is it wrong of me to feel it is my wife's obligation as a supportive wife to accompany me to see my parents once a month?
A. No, it isn’t wrong at all. You are correct that your wife should accompany you when you visit your parents, even if she is not thrilled about going.
This has nothing to do with whether she is a big socializer. Some people have social anxiety, but this generally takes the form of meeting new people or being in large groups, not visiting in-laws whom you visited almost every day for years.
Supportive spouses do things for each other. You go to see each other’s relatives not because you will necessarily have a terrific time, but because you are married and you love each other.
Your wife’s failure to visit has already caused a rift between you and your parents, and it will continue to do so as you keep making excuses for her. There will be many future family occasions, like holidays and birthdays, and there might be grandchildren. Your wife is being selfish by creating awkwardness between you and your parents. You are building a future together, and parents are a component of that.
One important issue is to find out what “grouchy” means. Make sure that “grouchy” isn’t a euphemism for something else, like your father criticizes, undermines or teases your wife. If this is the case, you must tell your father that doing so hurts your wife’s feelings and you need him to stop.
But if it is merely that your wife doesn’t especially enjoy these visits, and the language barrier makes it a less-than-ideal situation, you need to explain to your wife that her actions affect you badly. Marriage involves both negotiation and compromise. Making an effort to see each other’s parents is part of the deal, unless you together agree you want little interaction with one set of parents.
Again, remind her that these visits are not for your parents. They are for you. She should be supportive, just as you are toward her. How would she feel if you refused to accompany her on her family visits?
Meanwhile, set up visits that make things easier. Don’t plan to come over for an entire afternoon where you sit around the living room staring at one another. Center your visits around a meal. That way, if nothing else, you can talk about the food. Or go to a restaurant.
It also helps to plan activities. Watch a video together, go for a walk, run an errand, visit a local site or go to the zoo. This gives you something else to focus on.
There are definitely ways to bridge this gap and make these visits less uncomfortable for your wife.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Spouses should do things for each other that they don’t want to do, just because they love each other.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.
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