I have been married for less than two years. My wife and my mother don’t get along. My mother thinks that my wife does not like her and is now threatening to cut off all ties with me so that I will not be stuck in the middle. My wife does not want to be too close to my mother. How do we strike a balance between leaving our parents after marriage and honouring them at the same time? I am really stuck and praying that God will bring peace to my family.
When trying to work out the redrawing of personal boundaries and loyalties, the biblical principle for newlywed couples is to “leave and cleave”. This means, husbands and wives should re-evaluate which relationship is of primary importance, and do the necessary to leave old loyalties and make space for their spouses.
So much for the easy response. But what happens when the conflict between the two women does not make it easy for parties to renegotiate new roles? Perhaps your mother is worried of your wife’s acceptance of her and your wife fears getting too close will result in more disappointment and conflict.
May I suggest two things that may help? Firstly, let time do its job. Two years into a marriage is still very early days. New routines need to be worked out and any reassurance of devotion needs time and action to take effect.
The second and more important ingredient, is you. You need to work out your relationship with both women independently and collectively. The former is about how you, on a one-to-one basis, show your love and loyalty to each. Mother and wife need to know that they are each important. Not necessarily equally important but important when and where it counts. If and when there is a conflict of interest—for example, do you attend to mother’s complaint about a leaky tap or respond to your wife’s need to help her with her work—you will have to decide. A useful principle, and not the rule, to keep in mind is that the wife’s interest often comes first. You can then attend to mother’s needs later. The latter—”collectively”— means doing family activities together. If during these times, both women choose to sit apart, so be it. You cannot force them to come closer but you can provide opportunities for this. It is hoped that with time, both women will feel more assured of their standing with you and each other.