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Spouse Choosing In-Laws Over Wife and Kids

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I’ve been married for almost 15 years. This has been an ongoing issue since the wedding day. The latest round is my MIL birthday. Again, he’s been invited out of state to attend her surprise birthday party. In attendance will be my SIL, her husband, and my husband. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, however, my husband wants to leave and miss our children’s activities. Two of our kids have activities on the same night, at the same time. I asked if he could go the following day so he could attend one activity and I attend the other but he’s adamant he must be there on her birthday (the same night as the very important activities). I told him if that’s the case he needs to tell the kids why he will not be attending their activity, he needs to decide which one I will be attending (since he’s putting me in this position), and hire someone to attend the other child’s activity. We have no family where we live so it’s difficult to say the least. He says I’m being unreasonable. I asked ‘why don’t they come to our house for her birthday’ and he said no. I asked ‘why don’t we all fly out there to visit’ and he said it’s too expensive. Honestly, I’m fed up with this as it’s been ongoing. I realized very early on in our marriage it seemed to be a contest between his family and myself. I made it very clear to them it’s not a competition and I will not play that game. We have different roles in his life and can, in fact, co-exist happily, they seem to not get this. He’s not being helpful, willing to make tough choices or anything regarding this. If in-law conflicts are brought up, it’s my fault because I’m a difficult person to get along with….etc. When should I say enough is enough? Am I being unreasonable with this?

Spouse Choosing In-Laws Over Wife and Kids

Answered by on -


Your request isn’t unreasonable, but then again neither is your husband’s desire. There are several factors that impinge on the situation that is normal and not likely to change any time soon. First, the co-occurrence of family events is likely to create conflicts in time and commitment for a modern family. Your mother-in-law’s birthday celebration is just one of many things that will put a demand on the collective family time.

Secondly is the cost factor. Flying four people to a destination rather than one is a very real concern. While flying the family out to have birthday celebrations at your place would be a splendid idea if the family lived close enough, but it seems like the surprise with your mother-in-law and the other family members coming to join her at her place seems the least intrusive for everyone — and your husband sacrificing being at his children’s events also seems like the least disturbing. In summary, him going has the smallest amount of disturbance time-wise, financially, and disruption wise in the larger family system.

That having been said, this is a huge deal for him to leave when he is missing his children’s activities and this is a joint responsibility for the two of you to deal with. Your husband abdicating his responsibility for talking to his children and working with you on the arrangements, and you demanding he alone decide which event you would go to and hire someone to attend the other are both counterproductive. The goal is to work together so that the family system can stay as balanced as possible with everyone’s needs getting met to the best of the family’s emotional, physical, and financial resources.

Grandma having a birthday doesn’t need to be the cause of greater fractionating in your family. I’ll encourage you to talk with your husband about the best way to keep your children engaged in their activities while they too can honor grandma’s birthday and not feel like dad has chosen her over them, you have alienated yourself from their father, and a family surprise celebration doesn’t turn into a source of anger. I’ll encourage you to have this talk sooner rather than later, and if you need help you can contact someone from the find help section at the top of the page for a consultation — or get help from a licensed marriage and family therapist here.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Spouse Choosing In-Laws Over Wife and Kids

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2019). Spouse Choosing In-Laws Over Wife and Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 Dec 2019 (Originally: 4 Dec 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 4 Dec 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.