Family Talk: Love your mother, but make wife No. 1
I have written in the past about the importance of prioritizing your spouse over your kids. It feels a little unnatural, but trust me, it's absolutely essential. And trust me on this one, too: Men, you must prioritize your wife over your mother.
Harder done than said. A lot of guys reading this column will say to themselves, “Of course. I do that.” But the truth is, many of us don't. In subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways, we men don't always cut the umbilical cord with finality and decisiveness.
Take me, for example. Growing up, I had a great relationship with my mom. She was caring and fun, and we had a special bond. For years, she was the No. 1 woman in my life, even when I was dating girls. I always took my mom's needs or preferences into account over my girlfriends'. Hey, those girls were likely to be temporary. Moms are forever. But they can't stay No. 1 forever.
When I married, I didn't realize the need to decisively prioritize my wife and to communicate that to my mom. But, there came a time when I had to make it clear. I don't even remember the incident, but I remember telling my mom, “I love you so much, Mom, but I'm married now, and Diane has to be the No. 1 woman in my life.” Mom took it well, although I think it probably stung a little. But because I was clear, we had no further issues.
There are plenty of wise advisers who see this the same way. For example, Kris Wolfe, on his blog, Goodguyswag, gives this advice:
Winning a girl's heart doesn't end at marriage. It's a never-ending quest for a never-ending treasure. When you marry, she takes priority and preference over your family. It's important that she understands she is first and foremost, and it's also important to establish the new boundaries with your parents.
And Jenna Barry, author of “A Wife's Guide to In-laws: How to Gain Your Husband's Loyalty Without Killing His Parents,” says this:
When you choose to become a loyal husband or wife, you will have a stronger marriage and a more adult relationship with your parents. Your behavior will also help to improve the relationship between your spouse and parents. ... once you make it clear to your mom that your wife comes first, they will probably get along better because you will have eliminated the need for them to compete over you.
So how do you do it, men? Here are a few suggestions:
• You must “decide, not slide.” It's safer and easier to duck the decision to prioritize your wife and communicate that to your mother. But it must be done. Suck it up, and look for a good opportunity to have that crucial conversation.
• Communicate your continuing love for your mom, but clearly state that your wife is now your first priority. Let Mom know you don't love her any less. You will just be putting your wife's needs first.
• Stick with it. Once you've had the conversation, be consistent in applying the priority principle. No back-peddling allowed.
Trust me on this. Happy marriage principle No. 1: Prioritize your wife over you mother.
Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at email@example.com.