by Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine via 

Ask a Muslim couple to give you a challenge in their relationship and many will say “family interference.”  The stress that family and in-law interference brings to a marriage can be so overwhelming that for some couples it can lead to divorce.  In a recent study by Sound Vision, it was found that ten percent of divorces were a result of family interference. The parent-child relationship, like the husband-wife relationship, is a special bond that encounters challenges when the child moves into a marital relationship, causing everyone to learn how to navigate their new roles.  In order for couples to maintain healthy relationships with their parents, while simultaneously nurturing their own marriage, there needs to be communication and a clear understanding of the changing relationships.

Parents and extended family are vital in that they provide the new couple with stability and support.  However, if boundaries are not clearly defined, it can overwhelm a couple and erode their marital bond. The collectivist cultures many immigrant families come from have begun to clash with the individualist society we live in and many families are not able to find peaceful co-existence in their newly formed families.  Discussions about problems with in-laws and family interference in our community are met with two common arguments: that “children” need to remember to obey their parents and that parents just need to stop “meddling” and allow the new couple space to grow and nurture the relationship. However, neither of these arguments addresses the core issue that is causing in-laws to interfere in today’s nuclear families.

Most immigrants, who arrived in the U.S., left behind villages and generations of extended family. Starting a new life and beginning a family in the U.S. has often occurred in isolation and without family support.  The isolation immigrant parents often feel in the U.S. has manifested into a desperate need to hold onto their nuclear family. Immigrant parents left behind their siblings and parents and now hold strong to the only “family” they have in the U.S. – their own children.  Children may be seen as not only preserving a cultural lineage but as an emotional bond that is lacking in the parents’ lives.  Therefore, the strong emotional attachment a parent feels to their child may be difficult to let go of once their child gets married.

Feelings of insecurity and fear are what are causing many parents to meddle in their children’s marriages.  Many parents have a fear of losing their child when they get married and that they may no longer be important in the child’s life.  Their behaviors are not necessarily coming with malicious intent; rather the parent’s unconscious feelings of insecurity drives them to interfere as they try to cope with “losing” their child to a spouse.  In addition, parents of children who are overly dependent on them for emotional or financial support may have a harder time allowing their child to become independent decision makers once they get married.  There are some subtle signs in the early stages of the marriage where the parents may position themselves to hold onto the relationship with their child.  Parents may “test” their child’s loyalty to the family by making demands, threats and even withholding support of the new couple. Parents may also be critical of the spouse to see how their child will react in order to determine where loyalties lie. Parents may be insensitive to the couple’s need for physical and emotional privacy.  They may give unsolicited advice and give their approval or disapproval of all decisions the couple makes. All of these behaviors may be seen by the parents as showing their care and concern, however the new couple may see it as interference and may not know its causes or how to deal appropriately with their parents.

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