Self-Awareness and Validation: Key Components in Marriage, esp When Living with Parents or Adult Children

Feb 23, 2020

5 years ago when my mother in law asked my husband if she could come live with us, there was zero hesitation on either of our parts. My husband did a great job of repeatedly asking me if I was sure about this decision as he understood that this was a huge commitment on my part. At the time she was fairly healthy and independent but lived in Kansas and we were in Virginia. She didn't want to be alone anymore and we were excited and ready to have her join our household. We built out the garage into a master suite and got her all moved in.

I would not have my mother in law living anywhere else and I am glad she is here where she is safe and cared for.

BUT.....this has been a huge growth process for us all and we continue to find our way as situations arise.

My husband and I had only been married for 3 years when this happened and I had only met my mother in law twice before she moved in.

We knew in theory what to expect but if I am honest, we were not prepared for how issues would affect us individually and as a couple given our backgrounds and individual baggage (which everyone comes to a marriage with, BTW)!


Everyone brings background and baggage to the table and there are many situations in a marriage that can cause us to react a certain way based on that background and baggage.

My husband grew up in a household where his dad was verbally abusive to the entire family, especially my mother in law. She was a wonderful mother and her boys were her priority. Understandably, they are all very protective of her because of this history that they all share. Also, understandably, the entire family will do anything they can to avoid any sort of conflict - and this includes the normal minor arguments that happen in any marriage.

I grew up in a household with divorced parents and a mother who was an active alcoholic until I was in my mid 30s. Given this history, I have a need to CONTROL everything in my environment since I had no control over the chaos that existed when I was a child. To the point where I can drive myself and everyone around me crazy trying to control and plan every little detail. (More on that in future posts.)

My mother in law is a saint - truly. She is a really good person who wants to be as little trouble to everyone as possible. But, she lives with us and there are small things she does that are annoyances (which is to be expected). When I first starting broaching these things with my husband, his immediate go to was "why can't we just let her do ______ because it's unimportant and she's never gotten to just do what she wants and live her life." Valid point, right?

And I'm coming at it from the control side and wondering why it has to be done THAT WAY????

And a discussion about minor annoyances suddenly became a fight.

My husband and I both have had to do a tremendous amount of work in terms of our communication with each other, our awareness of what is triggering our reactions within ourselves, and most importantly VALIDATING THE FEELINGS OF THE OTHER PERSON, regardless of how trivial the issue may seem. And validating means active listening and appreciating where the other person is coming from.

For me, validation is huge. I know intellectually that the things that I complain about are mere annoyances. However, to me they are important at the time for whatever the reason. I don't need my husband to change them (which has been a huge learning curve for him since his instinct is to just "fix" everything). I just need him to say, "I realize that this is annoying you and I don't blame you" and to MEAN IT!

He has become really great at this over the years and it has made all the difference. And I, in turn, often validate that I realize that his mom has had a rough existence and is finally in a place where she is safe and happy (it's about time - she deserves it for sure) and that I'm really happy that we are in a position to be able to provide that for her. This realization often causes me to stop and think about why a certain thing is an issue for me at this moment in time and look within to see if I'm being unreasonably controlling about something that doesn't matter. Sometimes, after introspection, the situation is worth mentioning and other times it isn't.

The standard advice on making sure to establish a date night and time away is important and good advice as well. But, for us, it's the everyday living and communication that are most important. If these aren't working well, they won't work well when you're out on a date night! Being aware of what triggers you and why as well as validating your partner and being aware of their triggers are KEY!!!