Focus on the Family

Meddling mother-in-law puts strain on newlyweds

Q: My mother-in-law won’t leave us alone. My husband and I were just married a few months ago, and she comes by all the time and calls constantly. My husband is afraid to talk to her because he doesn’t want to make her mad. I’m so disappointed in him and feel like he should be handling this. Do you have any advice?

Jim: Your situation is troubling because it involves two issues: 1) your mother-in-law’s interference, and 2) the wedge that this has created between you and your husband. We’d suggest that it’s critical to deal with the second issue before tackling the first.

More than anything, you and your husband need to be “on the same team” here. As a couple, you can’t expect to enforce appropriate boundaries with his mom while you’re simultaneously at odds with one another. So spend some time alone together and make sure you can agree on an appropriate plan of action. You’re right; the issue is with his mom, and he needs to take the lead in addressing it. If he can’t find the courage to do that, we’d suggest that you seek the assistance of an experienced family therapist. Contact Focus on the Family for a free consultation and a referral to a qualified counselor in your area.

Once you and your husband are prepared to operate as a united front, our counseling team suggests that you sit down with his mom and lovingly but firmly let her know that her constant interference is not healthy — for her or for your marriage. Again, your husband should take the lead in this conversation. He should reassure her of your mutual love and respect for her, but also be firm about keeping healthy boundaries in place.

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Q: My husband was just offered a job in another state. Due to the economy, we’re struggling financially. I’ve tried to find a job in the same area, but nothing has opened up. The only solution we can come up with is to live separately for a while until one of us can find a job where the other person is living. But I’m afraid that we’ll grow apart. How we can remain close during this transition? I know military families face this all the time.

Dr. Greg Smalley, Executive Director of Marriage and Family Formation: Your analogy to military families is a good one, although at least military families usually have a set date when the tour of duty ends. Your “reunification date” remains up in the air.

Author Erin Prater has written extensively on the challenges couples face during times when they have no choice but to live apart. Here are a few of her suggestions for helping your marriage thrive during this period:

— Assemble a support network of same-gender friends and married couples. Enjoy regular fellowship and accountability with this group.

— Develop a new interest. Audit a college class, join a book club, start exercising, etc.

— Keep a journal of your daily activities — challenges, funny stories, etc. — and then share it with your spouse when you talk.

— Send “care packages” to one another.

— Pen an old-fashioned love letter. Don’t use it to discuss the budget and other business. Write solely for the purpose of conveying your love.

— Have a pizza or takeout delivered to your spouse.

— Call your spouse when you know he’ll be unavailable and leave a sweet voicemail. He’ll be able to play it over and over when he misses you.

For more tips and ideas, visit the Marriage section of our website at Best wishes to you and your husband!

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(Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at or at

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