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Background

I married my wife 2 years ago after we dated for about a year. There has been ongoing conflicts between my wife and my family, which I will elaborate below. My wife is Korean, I am Taiwanese. We both live overseas. My mum lives in Taiwan.

  • During the time of these conflicts below, I had a visa passport issue so I wasn't able to travel overseas to visit my mother-in-law nor go back to my home country.

  • I am now visiting my Korean mother-in-law in 2 days. My mum was originally going too with flight booked but she got pissed off about an Uber incident (explained below) so she cancelled her flight because she doesn't want to recognise my marriage.

Conflicts

Meeting between mums

My mum wanted to visit my wife's mum (her father has passed away) right after we got married. However, her mum originally disapproved our marriage so it wasn't a good time to visit.

After a few months, her mum began to recognise our marriage. My mum, again, wanted to visit her. Her mum's response was that she's very busy with work during summer and it's best to visit during winter since she has no work during that time.

Winter in Korea is very cold, so my mum much prefers to visit in summer even just for 30 minutes. At that time, my wife told me she doesn't want to push her mum too much for the meeting as she's already stressed about work. On my mum's end, she doesn't understand why her mum can't even spare 30 minutes to meet the parent of her son-in-law. My mum felt very offended at that time. I tried to express to my wife that this doesn't really make sense but she was very upset at that time I kept pushing for the meeting. My mum even grew suspicious about why her mum didn't want to meet immediately.

In my opinion, I didn't think it was necessary to push for the meeting, however I also felt weird why a 30 minutes meeting would be difficult.

However, the way I handled this back then was that I tried to make both parties happy (which I know now is wrong). I tried to find explanations for my mum why her mum felt it difficult, and at the same time tried to talk my wife into the 30 minutes meeting. But it didn't work out. I think they both didn't understand each other as a result and the meeting didn't happen.


Learn Chinese conflicts

Ever since I got married, my mum has been pushing me to teach my wife Chinese so she can speak to her. I have told her many times that I will teach her at my own pace, considering she also needs to focus on English as my wife and I live in a English-speaking country. However, my mum would try to call us through chatting app every now and then and request to speak to her. If my wife didn't show much improvement in speaking Chinese, my mum would complain she is not learning much.

My wife actually is interested in Chinese but felt it was too pressure from my mum.

I, again, tried to please both parties. I tried to convince my wife to just 'pretend' you learn few new words each time you talk to her. At the same, try to tell my mum maybe not pressure too much.

In my opinion, I totally think my mum should just back off.


Chatting app conflict

In the second year, my wife started sending some photos of us to my mum and my mum would send some text back for me to translate. I thought it was a good way for them to connect since they have difficulties talking with each other. However, my mum accidentally sent some photos of my ex with my sister traveling in Japan together (my ex and my sister remained friends).

My wife was very upset about the photos and replied to her 'Thanks for the photo but please do not send Ray's ex-girlfriend's photo as I don't feel very good' and deleted the chatting app. My wife also started a huge arguments with me as the first time I said was she probably sent those by accident (maybe she felt I was siding with my mum).

I personally think deleting the chatting app was her way to stand up for herself cause back then I often didn't seem to have my own opinions and I was easily influenced by what my mum said about my marriage. However, the way she handled it was very extreme.

My mum was very unhappy that my wife deleted the chatting app for those photos because she said she didn't send those intentionally. She just wanted to show traveling photos of my sister and she didn't pay attentions to who else were in those photos.

They seemingly apologised to each other last time my mum visited. My mum told her she sent those by accident and if that had offended her she is sorry, my wife told her she was too sensitive and she is sorry too. However, my mum was still upset about it and brought it up many times after that (because she thinks my wife did not apologise first).

In my opinion, I think my wife overreacted but I somehow could understand why she handled it that way to protect herself as often I don't always protect her first between my family and her.


Sister's Uber conflict

Last time we moved, my sister was moving in with us temporarily (she was staying for 2 weeks). Because her furniture didn't fit in her room, she had to put her furniture into a storage bit far from where we were moving to. The weather was pretty bad that day, raining heavily and quite windy. After my sister has put her stuff into storage, she called me up to ask me if I could pick up her as the trains weren't operating and she didn't really want to take the bus.

At that time, I would've gone to pick her up but my wife told me we still had a lot to unpack and she wanted to finish unpacking over the weekend as I will be very busy doing overtime the next week (there was a huge project due at my work at that time) and she wouldn't know how to unpack my clothes.

So I caved in and told my sister to take an Uber. She was not happy of course and questioned me if this is my wife's opinion. I stupidly told her yes. My mum was incredibly upset after hearing the story from my sister and blamed my wife for giving me 'bad' influences. I felt really guilty at that time and apologised to my family.

In my opinion, thinking back, I would pick up sister up because I was happy to and find alternative solution for the unpacking.


Psychologist and books

As you can see, I was often torn between my family and my wife. I was really depressed and didn't know what to do. I started finding helps from books and psychologists. I read a little of 'No more Mr. Nice Guy' and 'Toxic Parents' and 'The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work'.

My current conclusion after seeing psychologists and reading books:

  • I was too influenced by what my mum or my wife thinks in conflicts like those. I should focus on how I actually feel and express my opinion even that leads to arguments with wife or disappointments of mum.

  • I focus too much on making others happy. I should ask myself if I am happy. Follow what makes myself feel fulfilled and happy.

  • I was too afraid of arguments, divorce, guilt and disappointments from other people. I was always afraid to express my true feeling because I would be afraid to argue, afraid my marriage would break, afraid of the guilt I would feel to stand up to my mum, afraid of the disappointments my mum would have if I set boundaries.

  • I was too afraid to set boundaries.

Current

  • I am not talking to my mum too much and I've told her I am already an adult and wished to handle my marriage on my own. (Before, she would call me often to push for a divorce). She is still upset over what happened before and has told me she won't recognise my wife as her daugher-in-law until she dies because my wife 'bullied' my sister for telling her to take Uber.

    But I am not too afraid of the guilt messages she sends me these days such as 'I cried all night', 'I am so disappointed in you', 'you disappointed me like your father' (my parents divorced), 'I can't believe you married with someone as terrible as that'. I just choose how I react to these comments.

    I still sent her flowers and card on her birthday. She is still my mum and I appreciated what she has done for me, but I felt she was getting way too involved with my marriage.

  • I have been a lot more expressive about what I think is right or wrong with wife and she has been adapting quite well somehow. She would say sorry to me and often we work out a mutual agreement. I feel a lot better because I was no longer afraid and I think expressing would help my wife respect me more.

Question

My question is..

  • Is it actually necessary to help them, some days, see eye to eye? How I feel about it is: If I keep doing what I am doing, my mum will respect my marriage and my wife more and gradually she will accept my marriage and my wife. Also, my wife will respect, accept my family more and feel more protected (since I am now expressing how I feel more, not afraid to stand up to my mum).

    The psychologist said maybe at some point I need to have a conversation about this damaged relationship with my family and my wife, but the timing is very important.

  • If it is important to restore this damaged relationship, am I now doing the right thing? How would I go about it?

UPDATES(6/02/2018):

I went to South Korea to meet my wife-side's in-laws and they were really welcoming and lovely. During the trip, I finished reading Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage by Susan Forward.

The book has helped me tremendously to see that my mother has been making countless unreasonable requests, overstepping boundaries and attempting to control decisions in my marriage... such as protesting about where our baby should be born ( she even made remarks such as "I won't allow my grandkid to be born in Korea, that's not right"), belittling my wife when she quitted her job to focus on studying English for few months (she made contemptuous comments about how the money come from my earning anyway when we gave her some money as birthday gift, which was not true because we already saved it together before she quitted), and disparaging my wife's personality as a cruel, disrespectful person whenever she talked about how she got married with me at the beginning without her family's permission.

Sadly I have allowed her to do so in the past, but no more. I also admit that the cause and continuities of their attitude toward my marriage is also my responsibilities. I did not communicate and express myself clearly where I stand in the whole mess.

Now I can clearly see why my wife has pushed back the way she did because I have been too meek to protect our marriage fortress. I was too afraid to upset my family and putting my family's priority above priorities for my marriage or for my wife's.

Now I am aware that we have rights to protect our own mental health, to express our own beliefs, feelings, opinions, convictions, values, and traditions. To state what we stand for and state what we are willing and unwilling to do.

Allowing yourself to be treated badly is much too high a price to pay to keep people from getting upset with you.

I highly recommend anyone who has in-laws problems in your marriage to read this book by Susan Forward. It has helped me immensely.

5

My background is a first gen CBC (Canadian born Chinese). The context of my answer and observation is based on the generation of my immigrated family members from Taishan/HK.

From what I have observed, you're trying to repair the relationship between two people who may not have reached the point where they willingly want to do this. Not just half heartedly and then bring up past grievances

Since you're actively seeing a psychologist, I would say this places you in a position of self realisation. You came to some good conclusions after reading the books and seeing psychologists. You can change your reactions and actions but you can't force two people to come to an agreement if they are not mentally prepared for it.

Your mother and wife are at odds (and possibly other family members are taking sides). You are in the middle. When your psychologist mentioned bringing it up with your family, I hope they mentioned that it may be possible that neither of them will come to the same realisations you have. Or that it take a very long time.

I think it's necessary for you to continue your growth and to firmly stand your place. You are your mother's son but you are also your wife's husband. You can be both. They seem to be using you as an excuse to continue the conflict.

Example: the uber situation. Is no one questioning the fact that you are your own person and could have gone to pick up your sister or that you could decide not to when you are already under stress at work and moving? Your wife brought up a good point so you decided to stay home. You are not a taxi service and while it's nice to do things for families, you choose your actions, not your wife or mother.

It is unfair for any family member to ask you to take sides when the adversity is between the two of them.

I would avoid bringing up specific grievances as it will derail the situation at hand. All they will focus on is who insulted who rather then just letting it go. Neither of them are bad people but they are making you feel terrible. Likely they will try to blame the other for making you feel this way. Be open and firm that they both play a part in this.

Challenge your mother in her opinions and criticisms. Challenge her to ask herself why people can't make mistakes or amends. With your wife trying, it makes your mother look stubborn. Challenge her as to why everyone has to do things on her terms. (Meeting your mother in law, and learning Chinese). You don't want to pick sides but what does she think to gain in this conflict?

Considering the generations, your wife appears more receptive while your mother is clearly dealing with more than just your marriage. If her divorce was messy, she could be using built up resentment to blame your wife for problems. You've already mentioned that she's too involved in the marriage. While I believe that family comes with marriage, there should be a mutual respect and understanding that she can't have everything her way. If she's lonely then she could feel like she needs to make sure you don't end up in her situation or maybe feels like she's losing her son. That's not true at all.

I think if your wife is willing to grow and be amicable towards your mother, then eventually your mother has no leg to stand on. She's being the classic stubborn parent who would rather fester over family conflicts than to flourish and celebrate that she gained a daughter.

Note that there is a difference in making yourself heard versus being understood. Sometimes it is more important that they hear what you're feeling rather than understand it.

Other language I would use is:

When this happens, I feel...

Rather than:

You did this and I'm angry.

You're trying to express how the situation or certain conflicts make you feel rather than lay blame.

Edit: You may encounter defensive reactions if you use the "I feel..." because they may think you are blaming them. That's not the case. I would follow up with "You may not have intended to do that or say that but it still made me feel..."

You're not trying to point fingers but to encourage communication. They may not understand and they don't have to. Your feelings are valid regardless.

7

Well-described problem, Ray.

I think your psychologist was right. You should define boundaries, and not cave in to repeated requests. So, your conclusion after reading all those books was right.

Since you have already managed the boundary issue with your wife, all you need is your mum to respect your choice of spouse.

I think this problem with mums thinking their son's partner choice is not good enough happens quite a lot. A possible explanation why your mum does this is because she wants to be needed. Also, she might feel like it is a competition for your love.

There are solutions to each case:

  • make clear there is no competition. That you love your wife no matter what happens.
  • affirmation: make your mum feel precious by confirming the good qualities she has different from your wife. Do the same for your wife. They both have different good qualities.
  • consequence: communicate to your mum that if she keeps disrespecting your choice, you will break off contact with her.
  • feelings: communicate your feelings not only with your wife. But also to your mum: how do you feel, how does her behavior make you feel. Yeah, she may cry. But aren't your emotions important as well?

If you have your wife and mum meet eye-to-eye you should give a heads-up first.

How I see it talking about the damaged relationship can work, but it can also go wrong, especially if the three of you are in the same room. It can become a war where they both want you to choose sides. Safer would be to talk to them in isolation until things have calmed down.

This is only part of the solution. You have to remember the relationship dynamics between two people is different from that of three or more people. Your sister could also be part of the solution as a 'neutral' entity.

4

I do not fully understand the two cultures involved, however this conflict may be fueled by a mutual misunderstanding of the two I am hopefully as qualified as anyone to answer!

In your psychology reading did you come across the Karpman Drama Triangle? This is a very interesting social model. It says that in any conflict or 'drama' there are three roles: persecutor, victim, and rescuer. In a typical situation a persecutor will cause trouble for a victim, and then someone comes in to rescue them. But the interesting thing about this model is that some people believe themselves to be a victim, and others find themselves unexpectedly in the other two roles.

Your family think your wife is causing the trouble, but your wife thinks they are causing the trouble. You are caught trying to be 'rescuer' for both parties, which is what you are finding so difficult.

It does seem from the information you give that you lean towards seeing your mother and sister's point of view. This isn't surprising, you know them better than anyone else and so you make more allowances for their shortcomings. Actually your mother seems to have the most demands - she wants your wife to learn her language, not the other way around; she has the personal rules restricting when she would travel; she does not accept that sending a photo of your ex-girlfriend to your wife was inconsiderate on her part.

Is it actually necessary to help them, some days, see eye to eye?

Yes. You love them all, you shouldn't give up trying to restore peace.

If it is important to restore this damaged relationship, am I now doing the right thing? How would I go about it?

Yes, it is very important you continue to try, but they need to try too! Everybody involved is an adult and you should expect them all to behave as such. You may need to be a bit tougher. You will likely have more success trying to get your wife to overlook the shortcomings of your mother and sister if you admit that they are in the wrong and you support your wife. Tell your mother straight if she is being unreasonable.

As you know all your family and your wife are good people, you should be able to see the good motives behind their actions. In the 'Uber' incident it sounds like your wife was concerned with your house being tidy and ready for your sister to stay. Rather than a lack of consideration for your sister by making you unpack instead of picking her up, was she not trying to make her stay a more pleasant one? After all, you can't ask an Uber driver to unpack for you.

Remember that you and your wife are a family now. You are in the roles that your parents once were, and they need to respect that. Elderly parents still view us as children (I experience similar issues too, sometimes!) and sometimes need a gentle reminder that we are adults. When you think about it, these conflicts are all a bit petty and childish, and should not really be dividing a family. You must listen to your family members' concerns, never dismiss them, but rise above anything petty. You may find that if you set the benchmark for behaving like an adult that everybody else pulls themselves up too.

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