A Divorce Attorney/Coach Walks Into a Wedding… Welcome to the Famdamily!

“I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life being judged by your mother.”

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Genesis 2:24

Welcome to my 4th and final blog post series entitled, “A Divorce Attorney/Coach Walks Into a Wedding.” In this post, I’d like to welcome my readers to the Famdamily! We’ll be discussing mothers, daughters, mothers-in-law, and step-children. Why are we only discussing female relationships? Because like the 12-year-old in this scene from Say Anything so artfully says, “bitches, man!”

In this post, I’m going to speak from my experience dealing with the top complaints from people going through divorce that involve family members. First, let’s discuss the most infrequent complaint to get it out of the way: mothers and daughters. I’ve had the occasion where a male divorce client cites his wife’s relationship with her own mother as the reason for the divorce. It’s usually that the wife involves her mother in the marital problems of the husband and wife. The husband’s mother-in-law then meddles and the husband feels powerless to do anything about it because he’d have to break up that alignment and typically, it’s impenetrable. So after years and years (men tend to endure more of this than women), he finally hits a breaking point and divorces both women.

The dynamic at play here is that the mother and daughter view themselves as “best friends,” which is just wrong on many levels. The mother/daughter best friend dynamic is wrong because boundaries can become blurred and an enmeshment can occur. That enmeshment can become co-dependency. When the daughters are young, the co-dependency can stifle the daughter’s independence and can parentify the child, which can hurt the child’s ability to remain age-appropriate. As a married woman, a BFF who is called “mom,” can signal a lot of problems for the marriage. The husband’s mother-in-law’s needs will come first and the disruption in the pecking order will wreak havoc on the marriage. This is assuming that the daughter and mother are getting along. It’s a safe bet to wager that when there’s conflict between the mother and daughter, the conflict will take center stage and receive a great deal of the wife’s time and attention. My best advice for men is to look at how your girlfriend speaks of her mother while dating. If she refers to her mother as her “best friend,” steer clear. On the other hand, if you see that she cannot stand up to her mother and set an appropriate boundary, also stay away. I once had a client who said that his future mother-in-law’s ideas for the wedding and the control over the guest list and his bride’s refusal to stand up to this controlling behavior should have been his first clue that the marriage was destined for failure. Guys, pay attention to what you see because I loathe to say this, but unless a wife realizes her relationship with her mother is inappropriate, then the marriage is doomed because there is nothing you can do to fix it. If you bring it up, the mother/daughter will view you as controlling and even abusive in that you are trying to isolate your wife. I can’t see any solution for a husband with this problem. You just have to avoid it.

Now, let’s talk about the husband’s mother. Like my advice above, ladies, pay attention to the mother/son dynamic. If the mother calls her son more than once a week when there’s no family crisis, then she may have a hard time letting go of him. I’ve counseled many wives who have talked about a meddling MIL, a critical MIL, and a husband who’s answered a call to leave the house to open a pickle jar for his mother living twenty minutes away on a moments notice. As a mother of two sons, I recognize that my sons’ wedding days will be bittersweet. Bittersweet because my role as the lead woman in my son’s life will forever change. I will want my son’s wife to do things the same as I do or did. But I also know that it’s my son’s job to take care of his wife, not me. Not only will I lose a son, but my future DIL may not keep the house as I do, raise the kids as I did, work as hard as I did or work too much, etc. My sons’ wives will not be a “mini-me” and I must accept that. Is there hope for a marriage with an overbearing MIL of her DIL. Yes, there is, but only if the son takes a kind, yet firm stance on the intrusiveness of his mother, outside the presence of the DIL and iterates that if the unwanted behavior doesn’t stop, then she is no longer welcomed to come over to their home and he will only visit her (the mother) at her home outside of his wife’s presence. That task is hard. It’s easier to tell your wife to forgive her or to stop being so sensitive because she doesn’t mean what she said. Please hear me: this is only fixed between the son and his mom. DILs don’t write letters, emails, send texts, or have the lunch yourself. Just don’t. If your husband is unwilling to stand up to his mother, then all you will accomplish is a triangulation and the peace you may get is only temporary. Your husband’s divided loyalty will not continue long and ultimately, if he is weak, he will choose his mother over you.

Last, but not least, step-children. This is near and dear to my heart. Divorcing spouses often tell me the step-kids broke up the marriage because the natural parent refused to put the subsequent marriage first. Here’s my advice: if you are marrying a spouse with minor children, take it SLOW. Please be slow to take on the role of parent. Support your spouse’s parenting through warm reinforcement, but do not discipline your spouse’s children in any way for the first 1 – 2 years. This is especially true when the children are school age and above. Arguably with teens, I’d recommend not disciplining a teenager at all unless you have been married to the natural parent for at least 5 years. A blended family can be a stressed family with an enormous amount of change in a short amount of time. If you are marrying s spouse with adult children, then my advice is to observe the relationship the natural parent has with the children. If the parent provides a lot of financial support to an adult child, that’s a red flag. If the parent provides a lot of hands-on help and emotional support, that too can be a red flag.

My final point is this: marriage is the creation of a new family independent from the family of origin. Healthy relationships and connection with family members is helpful and needed. But unhealthy relationships and dysfunction will adversely impact a marriage. This adverse result can be avoided if you have taken the time to get to know your spouse prior to the marriage. It can be fixed in some limited circumstances. One of the saddest divorce cases I’ve had was a divorce filing by a 92-year-old husband after a 60-year marriage who said his breaking point was that his wife’s sister wouldn’t stop meddling in their marriage and had said to him that their mother had been right, “that [he] will always be a loser.” This man was no loser. He’d built a multi-million dollar business and gave his wife a nice life. The chronic criticizing from his wife’s family had just proved too much. I asked him how long this had been going on. He said the entire marriage. First by his mother-in-law, then by the older sister after the mother-in-law passed away. So sad, yet so avoidable.

I’ve finally been kicked out of the wedding and in my next blog post series, we will discuss the four statistical phenomena of a long-term marriage.

For divorce coaching services, you can reach me through this site. For legal representation for a Florida divorce, please visit www.sharpdyelaw.com or call 321-951-7600.

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