Keeping Mum It’s great you can be best friends with your parents, but you need to learn to keep some things strictly between you and your spouse. BY FRANCINE KIZNER
It's one thing to have a good relationship with parents, it's trouble when you can't keep a secret you've promised to your spouse.
Is Mom your confidante? Is Dad your best friend? If you’re talking to your parents about your sex life, your money problems, or even your spouse’s bad behavior, it may be time to finally cut that umbilical cord. Or if you’re on the other side of the fence, and your spouse is spilling your personal issues to your in-laws, know you’re not the only one with this problem.
"Early in our marriage, we faced major problems," says Kathy*. "My husband, who is an only child, felt that he was being disrespectful to his mother if he didn’t answer any and all of her many prying, probing questions." To say Kathy didn’t quite appreciate her mother-in-law’s prying and her husband’s full disclosure is an understatement. She felt like she couldn’t trust her husband, and she felt sabotaged by her mother-in-law.
"Betrayal isn’t just for affairs," says Beatty Cohan, psychotherapist and author of For Better, For Worse, Forever. "And once betrayal happens, it’s very difficult to get the relationship back on a path where trust is in place."
This issue also has its roots in respect. "If I were to say to my husband, ‘I would really appreciate if you didn’t discuss… ’ I would expect, out of consideration for my feelings, he would respect my request," says Cohan. And if your spouse continues to disregard your feelings, this problem may be symptomatic of other problems in the relationship.
The main questions to ask yourself, if you think this problem may be a mask for something much more ominous, are "Why would my spouse continue to do something that makes me unhappy?" and "In what other situations would my spouse do this to me?" says Cohan.
If the problem isn’t something larger, you simply need to ask, "What’s so important that my spouse needs to share this information?" says Cohan. You should discuss what specific things are your hot-button issues—and whether it’s reasonable to ask your spouse to keep them on the D.L. The problem here, says Cohan, is "People don’t always have strong communication and negotiation skills when dealing with differences. . . . They may need a coach."
"Counseling was the only thing that saved our marriage," says Kathy. "It was not a quick fix. It took time and maturity for my husband to understand that just because a question is asked, does not mean the asker is entitled to an answer."
And if your spouse obliges your wishes but your in-laws keep putting the pressure on, as Kathy’s did, your spouse needs to learn to separate their childhood family from their new one with you, making the two of you the primary focus. "You need to put the couple at the top of your list of priorities," says Cohan, "or you end up sabotaging the relationship."