Most women who feel that their husband never stands up for them refer to negative relationships with their in-laws. Many men find it hard to stand up for their partners in the face of intrusive or abusive behavior from their families. These relationships can make or break a marriage, so it’s not surprising that they are a major concern for women worldwide.
Early on in our marriage, I got frustrated with my husband for not standing up for me. I often felt his family was overly intrusive and interfering in our marriage. It took patience, compromise, and real communication to figure out how to manage the situation in a way that was acceptable to us both.
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What Does It Mean When Your Husband Never Stands Up for You?
It is tempting to blame this behavior entirely on your partner; however, family dynamics are complex. There can be many conflicting reasons why your husband doesn’t appear to defend you in certain situations. Many men and women find it very difficult to manage conflict. They will go to a lot of trouble to avoid getting into an argument or fight.
Different cultures have different comfort levels with certain behaviors such as intrusiveness, conflict, and teasing. A friend of ours recently married into a very close-knit, raucous family. Initially, she struggled a lot with her mother-in-law’s intrusiveness into issues that she felt were private such as finances and even their sex life.
She came from a background where these topics were considered taboo and rarely discussed. The difference in the couples’ experience of appropriate familial relationships created a tension that they had trouble navigating.
I have always had a strong feminist outlook. Working in a very male-dominated field, I quickly learned to assert myself when necessary. My husband had seen how I could handle myself in the face of conflict, both socially and professionally. He didn’t realize that I needed back-up sometimes when dealing with his family, where the stakes were much higher than in a social or professional situation.
Do Men See Conflict Differently Than Women?
In many cultures, men routinely insult and tease each other as a form of social bonding. Suppose they have grown up in a very patriarchal family or have many brothers and close male friends. In that case, they may see insults and banter as a bit of fun, not realizing that to their wife, it may feel like an attack.
Why Your Husband Won’t Stand Up to His Family
While many relationship experts and religious teachers say that your spouse should always come first, the complex dynamics of family life often make this more difficult in practice. Remember that your husband’s family has an entire history with him that you have no part in.
Often, history dictates power dynamics and precedents that are hard to change. If his family has always required a level of obedience & even subservience from their children, it may be very hard for your husband to stand up to his parents.
Another possible issue is that your husband may feel caught in the middle of a high-conflict situation. They love you, but they also love their family, and they find it difficult to take sides. It is often much easier to stand up for you to a stranger, or even a social or professional acquaintance than to stand up to their family.
The Relationship Between Mothers and Daughter-In-Laws
According to Terri Apter, writer & psychologist, 3 out of 4 couples have problems with their in-laws. Problems between wives and their mother’s-in-law are the most common, with 60 percent of women saying they have a negative relationship with their mother-in-law.
Many women report finding their mother-in-law intrusive, offering unwanted advice and criticism of finances, child-rearing, and even domestic responsibilities. Some mothers-in-law actively dislike their son’s choice of partner, expressing doubt over her character or feeling she is not the right partner for their son. This can cause immense stress for the daughter-in-law, who starts to dread interactions with her in-laws.
In his book “In-law Relationships: Mothers, Daughters, Fathers, and Sons”, author Geoffrey Greif says communication between mother-in-law and & daughter-in-law is key to maintaining good familial relationships.
Greif also recommends finding common interests and taking a long-term view instead of allowing an immediate issue to derail your relationship. He feels that, with communication and effort, there is hope – even for relationships where the mother-in-law & daughter-in-law don’t immediately click. After all, you have a man whom you both love in common and possibly a couple of grandchildren as well!
The Negative Effects of Having a Partner Who Doesn’t Stand Up for You
Trust is very important in a relationship as it allows both of you to feel safe and supported and leads to a deeper connection and a much healthier relationship. If you feel like you can’t count on your spouse to support you, it can breed feelings of distrust.
After all, if they can’t support you in the face of family conflict, how can they be trusted to support you in other matters such as child-rearing, career issues, and in the face of any challenges you will encounter as a married couple.
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How to Tell Your Partner You Need More Support
The importance of communication cannot be overstated. The only way your partner is able to know how you feel is if you communicate your feelings clearly and calmly.
Try to see things from your partner’s perspective. All families have their quirks and differences, and this will affect how we view our familial relationships. It is not crucial for you to agree on every point – in fact, that would make life very boring – but you must be able to see things from the other person’s perspective in order to find a solution or compromise. Even if you disagree on something, you should both support your spouse’s right to have their own view.
We don’t necessarily need our husbands to fight our battles; sometimes, just listening to our point of view and letting us know we have their support is enough. Men have a propensity to want to fix things and get frustrated if they can’t do so, so let your husband know that you don’t expect him to resolve the issue, merely to support your own efforts to do so.
Give your husband strategies to deal with specific situations where you feel undermined. Sometimes direct confrontation is not the only solution. Standing up for you could be as simple as saying, I don’t like the way you’re speaking to my wife. We’re going to remove ourselves from the situation to calm down. We will re-engage when we’re ready to talk again.
Try not to attack their family, even if you feel very strongly about their behavior. Remember that your husband loves both of you, and try not to put him in a position where he has to choose between you and his family unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. Rather focus on your own feelings and communicate how you feel about the situation from your perspective.
Sometimes setting clear boundaries in advance can be a better way of dealing with conflict as you make it clear before you find yourself embroiled in a tense and emotional situation what behaviors you are willing to tolerate and which are dealbreakers. Consider the kind of boundaries you can set that would help you avoid situations where you feel attacked.
For example, agree to avoid discussing your finances if his parents are overly intrusive about money matters. Limit the number of visits you share as a couple or meet at neutral venues in order to limit the stress of these interactions on you.
What to Do if Your Partner Doesn’t Change His Behaviour
If your spouse isn’t able to defend you, it’s OK to set your own boundaries gently & firmly with his family. Remember these boundaries will be new to them, so you may need to gently prompt them to remember your limits. You might need to be more assertive or direct if these prompts are not noticed.
Be diplomatic when setting your boundaries; for example, thank your mother-in-law for her concern, but remind her that you have a handle on things. Tell her you will definitely ask her for help if you are struggling.
If your partner is disinclined or unable to stand up for you, even after you have taken steps to make him aware of how you feel, there is not a lot you can do. Perhaps a professional intervention is required in the form of family or couples counseling. In extreme cases, it might be necessary to temporarily or permanently cut off contact with the problematic family member for your own peace of mind.
It can be very hard in a relationship when you feel like your husband doesn’t support you. However, the only things that are really under your control are your own thoughts, feelings, and reactions.
Remembering that there are many and varied reasons why it feels as if your husband doesn’t stand up for you and communicating your feelings may help you to overcome this issue. However, if these strategies don’t work, you may have to take more drastic action.
After earning his Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto, Stuart gained experience working with families in community mental health settings and in the child protection sector. Since becoming a father himself, Stuart now works in private practice offering psychotherapy services. FatherResource is an opportunity for Stuart to share what he learns on his journey as a father with a larger audience.