Although I didn't officially start dating my husband until my third year of law school, our friendship began when I was 11 years old. Now we've been married for over 20 years, and to this day when my husband tells someone he is married to a divorce attorney, their initial reaction is, "Oh man, you are so screwed." The irony is that my profession as a divorce attorney has actually helped my marriage, and reminds me on a daily basis what not to do.
I've learned that coming from or marrying into a close-knit family has huge benefits. Or perhaps I should say coming from or marrying into a close-knit family has huge benefits, so long as you remember that your spouse has to take priority. This is not to say there won't be situations when your relationship with your parents and siblings trump what's going on with your spouse. It means that in general, if you don't put your spouse first, he or she may not be your spouse for long.
I recognize the importance of this both personally and professionally. From a personal perspective, I've always had a very strong relationship with my parents, and although I didn't tell them everything, I definitely told them a lot. As a result of knowing my husband since I was 11, my relationship with my parents came as no surprise to him. However, knowing I was close to my parents and having to live with that closeness once we got married were two different things. It became clear fairly earlier on in my marriage that we needed to establish boundaries. These boundaries weren't about alienating my parents, rather they were about preventing my parents' input from becoming more important than my husband's. This wasn't something that happened overnight, and there was certainly resistance. However, this was definitely something that was essential for me to have a healthy relationship with my parents and my husband. It also provided me the opportunity to have some moments when my parents did come first, but enabled my husband to recognize those moments were the exception, not the rule.
Professionally, I see the toll that a close-knit family can put on a marriage, and how parents of an adult child believe their input is helpful, when in fact, it's actually destructive. While sharing knowledge or providing opinions regarding child-rearing may be normal, it is the situations when a parent's input trumps a spouse's that problems arise. Similarly, when a parent's opinion is actually a directive, trouble frequently rears its ugly head. I have witnessed adult children who allow their parents to navigate them toward a divorce they don't want, while admitting they will proceed with the divorce but reconcile with the "ex-spouse" after the conclusion of the proceedings.
A close-knit family is wonderful. However, it can also be too much of a good thing. While a parent's input may be a rite of passage, interfering -- intentionally or not -- with an adult child's relationship is not a "right." Witnessing the result of a parent being overly involved in a client's life continues to be a reminder to me that for a relationship to remain healthy, it is essential to establish boundaries and to ensure a spouse's role or input is not minimized.