Anger and Stress Management Tips for Satisfying Relationships
The power of a mother-in-law to interfere in a marriage causes intense negative feelings that can destroy the spousal bounds
Angela and Josh a newly married couple were at logger heads about Angela’s mother telling him how to treat and take care of her daughter. She kept calling and texting him about Angela’s food needs, her anxieties, her need to get pregnant and the need for child to be a son. Josh tried to talk to Angela about his distaste for being told how to be a good husband by his mother-in-law, but Angela secretly smiled. She was thrilled that her mother was on Josh’s back to do the ‘right thing’ by her, because she was too scared to do it herself. She loved that her mother was her champion, and whipping up her husband to do the same.
What Angela didn’t appreciate was that Josh was feeling emasculated and furious. He was angry about the temerity of his mother-in-law to tell him what to do, as if he knew nothing of his wife’s needs. He was fuming that he wasn’t given a chance to find his feet in his new role as a husband., But most of all he was livid that his wife enjoyed seening him as a puppet controlled by her mother. Lurking underneath all that rage was shame – making him feel small, powerless and inadequate.
Caught Between His Bossy Mother-in-law and His Uncaring Wife, Josh Buckled Under the Stress
Josh’s anger made him want to punish Angela. He wanted her to feel the threat of losing him, and he withdrew. He couldn’t take the feeling of being helpless to manage his mother-in-law without upsetting his wife and feeling like he was to blame for causing friction in his new marriage.
Feeling Trapped Between a Rock and a Hard Place Creates More Stress Because Josh Keeps His Anger Hidden
Telling his mother-in-law nicely to back off didn’t work. She was too strong a personality and insisted that she needed to help him be a good husband – and that without her he would fail – just like her husband failed her – and she wasn’t going to let that happen to her precious daughter.
Getting his wife to speak up on his behalf didn’t work either. She didn’t see why it was such a problem, and told him that he should be grateful to her mother for giving him such good advice!
What are Josh’s Options?
1. He can continue keeping silent and seethe inside as he allows himself to be disempowered.
Risk – he might cheat or take a mistress who allows him full control. He may conquer his shame by feeling his power in another relationship.
Benefit – he doesn’t upset the applecart of mother-daughter alliance against his entitlement to be a full partner in the marriage, excluding the third party of his mother-in-law.
2. He can let the stress get to him by getting sick – then his wife might refocus her lens on him and their marriage.
Risk – the shift in focus will probably be short lived. His wife and mother-in-law may join forces and continue their close relationship, leaving him on the sidelines.
Benefit – he doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, and still hopes that Angela would choose him over her mother.
3. He can decide that he isn’t going to be ousted from his rightful place in the marriage, and reclaim his position and power by telling his wife what he wants
Risk – his wife may have a small tantrum, and his mother-in-law may have a huge tantrum. He might feel guilty and scared that he won’t be able to pull it off.
Benefit – he gets his wife to redraw the boundaries between her mother and herself, committing to Josh and their marriage.
WHICH SOLUTION DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO WORK BEST?
Yes, you are right, the one where Josh reclaims his wife and makes the marriage a priority.
What shoud have happened before the marriage?
Mothers-in-laws can’t intefere in a marriage unless there is a huge hole through which she can enter and divide a a couple that wern’t really a strong and united coulple in the first place. Ideally the couple should have formed a bond that made their union solid and made it known to all other family members that no one could come in and operate with either of them in ways that they had done before. Josh and Angela had not shifted their allegience from family to each other fully enough, so Angela’s mother had a wide berth.
HOW DOES IT WORK OUT?
1. Once Josh takes ownership of his role in taking care of Angela, his demeanor and attitude will give off the message that his mother-in-law is no longer the boss.
2. Then Angela receives the same message and invests in her husband as a good partner and care taker. She relinquishes her primary tie with her mother and makes it with Josh.
3. Next Josh and Angela work on making their union water tight. They agree to express their needs, fears, wishes and disappointments directly to one another, so they can fine tune their relationship while it is still new and maleable. They get to avoid resentment and hate building up and making them sick or tearing the marriage into a battle zone.
4. Josh and Angela give each other the chance to repair hurts, understand and empathize with each other’s unfulfilled needs and frustrations, while navigating their way towards a more wholesome connection. That enables them to grieve their losses and move on.
5. The couple learn to read each other’s body language and signals for care and become the go to people for one another. They learn from their mistakes rather than bury them.
6. Both Angela and Josh make a pact to tell each other what they feel, need, want and expect at the time that they are aware of it. That’s how they avoid building up anxiety and stress related insomnia.
7. Finally, Josh and Angela make sure that any holes that might appear in their relationship are noticed and promptly sewn up by attending to the issues – underlying negative emotional experiences that are bubbling beneath the surface. Taking preventive action rather than waiting for a crisis is a fool-proof method of never having to deal with the anger and stress of an interfering mother-in-law.
copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2014
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Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond
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