June 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Feeling Ignored By My Wife at Her Family’s House

Dear Dr. Chani,

I am approaching the coming Yom Tov with mixed emotions. I usually look forward to a relaxed mood, great meals and family time. Yet, since I got married this past year, I have learned that holidays can trigger lots of resentment towards my wife.

Last Pesach, I looked forward to going to my wife’s family for the first days. I get along pretty well with my in-laws so I thought it would be a great opportunity to kick back and enjoy hanging out with everyone. Instead, my wife seemed to retreat from being married to me and became absorbed with spending time with her family. During the meals, she took part in lots of insider family jokes and discussions, without filling me in on what was going on. She also told personal stories about me and about us that I thought should have remained private. Then, after the meals, she regularly disappeared to talk with her mother or one of her sisters.

I felt like I was just a person who happened to be there because I was married to her. She did not make me feel like I mattered. I was disappointed, uncomfortable and lonely almost the whole time.

One night, when all of my pent-up frustrations became too much to keep quiet, I told my wife how I felt. She seemed shocked and told me that I was being self-centered and needy. I totally did not expect the conversation to go this way.

Since then, I try to avoid going to my in-laws for Shabbat as much as possible. When I go, I make sure to bring great books to read so that I can have something interesting to do and to distract myself from being so lonely.

Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with my situation?

Sincerely,

Lonely

Dear Lonely,

It sounds like this is a long-standing issue that you have faced in your relationship. You feel like your wife is so excited to spend time with her family that she ignores you when she is there. This is a painful experience and ruins your entire Yom Tov. It is possible that it even affects your whole relationship. The resentment that you feel might not leave when Yom Tov departs, leading to a feeling of distance that festers in your marriage.

This issue is so important that you need to discuss it further with your wife. Understanding what makes it a hard conversation can help you also understand part of the issue that you are facing.

Many married spouses feel that they are the representatives of their own families in their marriage. That means that they see it as their solemn duty to protect the interests, needs and requests of their family of origin in their interactions with their spouse. This can create a natural tension in a relationship. In a conversation between a husband and wife, the unstated goal of the conversation can also be to address the requests and desires of their own families. It can make discussions more difficult and not completely coherent. Each spouse seems to be saying what they want, but part of that is influenced by family, without the husband or wife even saying so. This can be a cause of a lot of marital stress.

Looking at the situation from your wife’s perspective can help you both in your communication with her and in lowering your resentment towards her. It is possible that part of the reason your wife spends so much time with her family when she is there is because she senses that they expect it. She may feel that she needs to fulfill her usual role in her family’s dynamic. Consequently, when you broach the issue with her, she can instinctively become defensive. She will find it hard to hear what you are saying because she is caught up with what she senses are the needs of her family.

Although you already spoke to your wife about your feelings, one conversation is sometimes not enough. Understanding each other’s perspectives and feelings is a process, not an event. It can take many conversations over time to really understand each other and figure out how to resolve the issue.

Also, when you originally spoke to your wife, you described how you unleashed your “pent-up” frustrations. It sounds like you might have told her many of the things she was doing wrong, which made her feel attacked. In her effort to defend herself, she responded by attacking you back.

In order to help your conversation proceed smoothly this time, use two techniques: a soft start up and speaking from your perspective. Your start up, the way you begin your conversation, sets the tone for your discussion. Tell your wife that you would like to discuss something on your mind. Ask her if it is a good time and calmly explain that you would like to share something you are thinking about regarding Yom Tov. The way that you begin can foreshadow how the rest of the conversation will take place.

As you continue, express your feelings. Be careful not to blame your wife. That can trigger your wife to defend her actions, especially if she senses that you are criticizing her family. Instead, talk from your perspective. Explain to her that when you are away for Yom Tov, you sometimes feel alone and out-of-it. Keep your explanations focused on yourself and what you are missing. That can allow you to express your issues without directing the blame to her.

After you express your feelings, ask your wife if she understands what you said. If she says yes, ask her to briefly summarize what she heard you say. When she summarizes, you may be relieved to hear that “she gets you.” Let her know that you are so happy she understands. But if it sounds like she missed your point or she does not understand your perspective, let her know that she did not 100% get what you meant and then explain it again. Keep the conversation focused on your feelings and needs, and repeat the process until she understands you.

Once your wife understands what you are experiencing, focus your attention on understanding your wife’s feelings and needs. Your goal is to figure out why she is acting this way so that you can understand her better as well. When you both understand each other’s feelings and needs, brainstorm ways that the two of you could meet the needs of everyone involved so that you, your wife, and her family will truly have a happy Yom Tov.

Wishing you much success,

Chani


Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships and provides free relationship resources at chanimaybruch.com. Learn a step-by-step method to improve your ability to emotionally connect with her online course: The RELATE Technique™—Seven Steps to Emotionally Connect Through Conversation. Reach out to her at [email protected]

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