John Schmoe from Idaho writes:

Do you ever answer questions from men?

I've been married for nearly three years to a great woman, but it seems that she puts her mother before me. They are always on the phone together, my wife goes to her house at least three times a week with our baby daughter, they go to lunch and shopping regularly. But most of all I have a problem with the fact that she tells her mother things that I think are private and if we have a disagreement, she tells her mom. My mother-in-law knows more about my marriage than I do!

We've tried to talk about it, but it doesn't ever go anywhere, so I want to ask some other women for some insight into the matter. Is there any hope of cutting the apron strings? I hope you can help. I'll be watching the web site. Please don't use my name!

Alison says:

Brother Schmoe, we love getting mail from men, even if they use pseudonyms!

I'm not sure if you want solutions or validation. But I'll be happy to throw out the latter. The key here is loyalty in marriage. Husbands and wives are to cleave to each other not to their parents. To be honest, I don't know how much time is “too much” for a married woman with children to spend with her mother. I suppose that would depend greatly on all sorts of factors, particularly how it affects her family. But when it comes to sharing personal details with anyone (mother, sister, friend), I will be the first to get up and scream my head off. Your wife owes you loyalty in your marriage.

We addressed a similar issue in the column on gossip. That's all it is…gossip. And to gossip to chat idly about someone else as a form of amusement about one's own spouse is clearly wrong, disloyal, and hurtful. And it damages marriages terribly.

What I don't know, is how to get your wife to discuss the issue, if she is unwilling. That's another issue altogether.

Kathy says:

Brother Schmoe, we have a cadre of loyal readers representing your sex. My perspective is the biblical advice to leave your parents and bond with your spouse. Obviously, there's a continuum of grey stretching in both directions to infinity. How much extended family togetherness is too much? The only equation that works, here, is a shifting, flexible sense of balance that allows both partners to support the solution.

I'm sure you have read about men who keep their wives completely isolated in order to control them. Clearly these men are abusive and probably nuts.

You have also heard of, and probably know personally, men who spend all their free time with their buddies or brothers, obsessed with sports or hobbies that exclude their wives or children. In this case, the wives may be the ones who are nuts, tending young children 24/7 without the help of the kids' daddy. Wives in either situation have a valid problem.

The problem transcends gender: How much companionship and support can a spouse expect from his or her mate?

Any answer that is not two-sided is the wrong answer. “As much as your spouse requires” doesn't work if that amount is completely unreasonable. Personally, I like gradual change. Rather than saying, “This feels lopsided to me, and I have to insist that you spend at least as many hours doing things with me as with your mom,” I would approach it in small steps. “I miss you. Can we plan something fun this weekend?” If she says “Not this weekend. I'm going to Disneyland with my mother,” then you can explain, “Sounds fun. In fact, that's exactly the sort of thing I would like to do with you and the kids. Can we rethink the way we spend our spare time, starting the Saturday after next?” If you continue to get stonewalled, then I think it's time to bring in a professional to help cut the apron strings.

Sharing intimate details about your marriage with anyone other than a professional counselor is simply a betrayal of your spouse, in my book. Your mother-in-law is not a party to your marriage and can do absolutely nothing to improve it. If your wife values her marriage, she needs to be talking to you and nobody else. Let's be realistic, though. This is a value that many married people learn only with maturity and effort. I hope you will be able to turn this around.

Thanks for reading Mormon Momma.

Tracy says:

Obviously, your wife has a good relationship with her mother. That's a good thing. But, there are lines that should be drawn, it just depends on the “where.” If your wife is a stay-at-home mom, and the time she's spending on the phone and/or visiting her mother is during the day, when you're at work anyway, I don't really see where the amount of time they're spending together should be a problem. If she's at a friend's home, the grocery store, at a playgroup or at mom's, what difference does it make?

But, let's say you get home from work or school around six o'clock. She has all morning and early afternoon to visit with and/or talk to mom. So if she's waiting until you get home, to call her mother or go visit her, then I'd say you have a problem. If her mother is working and doesn't get home until five or six, then going over to mom's in the evening once a week is acceptable, but that could be done on weekends as well. But it certainly shouldn't be three times a week, if she's leaving you at home. Those apron strings are way too long. And she shouldn't expect you to go with her, either. You, she, and your daughter are the primary family now.

It's the first commandment ever given to mankind, regarding relationships! “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and he shall cleave unto his wife.” Genesis 2:24

And the same thing goes for the woman!!!

Incidentally, have you noticed what it is that your wife is spending so much time talking about with her mother? Is she talking about her day? The baby? Her family (grandma, brothers, sisters)? It's possible that whatever it is she's talking about with her mother, is something that, for some reason, she thinks you wouldn't be interested in. So a suggestion would be to pay attention the next time your wife is chatting on the phone with her mother, and make a mental note of the things she's talking about. Then you can try to spark a conversation with her about those things. If the problem is simply that she's thinks you aren't interested, then showing interest, by asking about those things may help to correct the situation.

My main concern though is that she's divulging private husband/wife information to her mother. That is totally and completely inappropriate and unacceptable and needs to stop now! The disagreements that you and your wife have are private family business your personal family business that shouldn't leave the walls of your home, unless it's in discussion with a counselor, family therapist, or a Bishop. She probably doesn't realize it, but she's being disloyal and very disrespectful of you. That's a horrible breach of trust. I can almost guarantee that if you went crawling home to Mommy to tattle on your wife with each marital disagreement, your wife would hit the roof.

Unless there is actually physical, sexual, or substance abuse going on and a spouse needs to actually leave and get help, there's no reason for a husband or wife to tell their parents their private issues.

Referring back to the very same scripture, what exactly does it mean?

I don't think it's a coincidence that it says we are “leaving father and mother” and should “cleave unto our [spouse].” A similar scripture is found in the Doctrine & Covenants: “Thou shalt alove thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt bcleave unto her and none else.” D&C 42:22

This is Heavenly Father's command regarding the unique and wonderful bond between a husband and wife. The marital relationship is not supposed to be compromised by any other relationship, including the relationship that either spouse has with their own parents. I think too many people automatically think the “cleave unto thy wife” is talking about being sexually faithful and not having emotional or physical affairs. It says “Leave the father and mother…. cleave to the [spouse]”. That's not talking about sex! How much clearer can it be?

In Faith Precedes the Miracle, President Spencer W. Kimball said:

The words none else eliminate everyone and everything. The spouse then becomes preeminent in the life of the husband or wife, and neither social life nor occupational life nor political life nor any other interest nor person nor thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse.

This would include speaking about private marital issues, outside of the marriage.

In the Marriage & Family Relations Instructor's Manual (pdf), Lesson Two: “Developing Unity in Marriage, subsection “Husbands and Wives Should Be Loyal to One Another, we read:

?speak lovingly and respectfully about each other in conversations with family members and friends.

Your mother in law is only getting your wife's side of the story and her side may or may not be entirely true. And, naturally, a mother-in-law is going to form opinions and prejudices based on whatever information your wife is divulging, which will most likely come to haunt your wife one day.

I've witnessed this myself in the marriages of some family members. The wives' complain, and sometimes berate their husbands to their parents. They speak ill of him, “he's too hard on the kids,” “he's never home,” “he doesn't help around the house,” “we got in an argument and he said such-n-such.” Now their parents have horrible opinions of their sons-in-law. And a lot of that is because of what they've heard from their daughters. What's really frustrating is when the wives complain about how their parents “never give him a chance” and “always assume the worst.” I find myself holding my tongue ?but in my head I'm screaming, “Hello! They only think those things about him because that's what you told them!” In both cases that I'm thinking of the husbands, over time, have changed and grown, and the problems really don't exist anymore. But the parents still hold nasty feelings about their sons-in-law.

Don't we usually get over our disagreements with our spouses? We apologize, make up, and life goes on. It's same-old, same-old. We go to church, go on dates (when we get a chance), cuddle on the couch after the kids are in bed, continue to be physically intimate ?but Mom and Dad are still left with the bitter words spoken about the spouse! Each time a spouse disparages their companion to a parent, the bad feelings and resentment build and build, making a parent more and more suspicious and critical of their son- or daughter-in-law, long after the couple made up!

Your wife would probably say that she “just need[s] to talk to another woman,” or she “just want[s] advice,” but she could do that with a family therapist. If your wife was actually looking for a solution, she'd be talking to a professional or her Bishop. But what's she's looking for is validation for her feelings, her anger over whatever the argument was about she wants someone to agree with her, tell her she's right. Jane good. Tarzan bad. So she's going to a very biased source her mother. She's not going to your mother, right? And wouldn't your mother probably know better how to deal with you? She raised you! She probably knows exactly how you argue and would probably be able to offer better advice (if she could remain unbiased). But your wife isn't going to your mother. She'd naturally assume that your mother would take your side. She's going to her own mother because she knows that it's the place she'll get the validation she's looking for. Most likely, this is all very subconscious for her. She probably hasn't thought much about it, and doesn't realize that this is what she's doing.

I'd also be concerned that she's sharing this info with people other than her mother. If she's the type of person that thinks she has to talk about her private marital problems with her mother, then it's possible that she's discussing it with close friends or a sister, as well.

And even if she isn't, her mother might be telling others. “Did you hear about the fight your sister had with her husband?” Maybe she is, maybe she isn't. The truth is, you don't know.

And you shouldn't have to be worrying about it, either.

I'd suggest that you sit down with your wife and tell her your concerns. Tell her how much it hurts you that she discusses your private business with her parents. It's disrespectful and is a betrayal. Ask her how she would feel if you did the same. See if she'll agree that if she's so concerned about something that she feels she needs to talk about it with someone other than you, that she'll only discuss it with a therapist or Bishop, not her mother. If she doesn't see your point, and continues, than an appointment with your Bishop might be necessary anyway. He'll counsel her and let her know how inappropriate it is.

If that doesn't work, call your mother and complain about your wife so loudly that your wife can hear from the other room. I'll bet she'll never fuss to her mother again.

Just kidding! But man, I bet it would work. Too bad we can't really do what we'd like to do sometimes!