Dear Dr. Darcy:
I met my wife a few years ago. Her husband at the time committed suicide. Her father helped her with some unpaid bills. Now he holds that over her to get her to go to his home when he beckons. They never had a relationship until approx four years ago when he found out he has a rare blood cancer. It's treatable and not life threatening, but he also uses that as [a way to maintain control over her]. Needless to say I am left behind all the time. This is putting a stain on our relationship. [Her] kids are finally leaving the home but it seems like don't get time to have our relationship, because either [her father] is demanding she come there or her daughter calls and says I am coming home. [Her daughter] doesn't ask - tells us she is coming home. What shall I do?? I love her but feel like there are always going to be problems between us.
You are in a tough spot. You married a woman who is likely still grieving the loss of her late husband, and unless she’s been in serious therapy, that loss is likely coupled with anger, confusion and a sense of betrayal. And that’s the least of your issues.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I would generalize this sentiment and suggest removing the word inferior and inserting any emotion of your choice. In your wife’s situation, that emotion is guilt. As frustrated as you may be with her father for wielding the guilt without hesitation, she is the one who is responsible for reacting to it. The fact that she had no relationship with this man until 4 years ago just underscores her personal vulnerability to feeling this way. It’s not as though he held an unwavering place by her side throughout her life.
Your wife is unavailable to you. Period. Whether it’s her father, her daughter, or the loss of her husband she is chronically pulled by her unresolved issues. The good news is that this isn’t her problem. It’s yours.
Just as her father isn’t responsible for her reaction to him, she is not responsible for the feelings she stirs up in you. If they are your feelings, they are your responsibility.
I agree that there are always going to be problems between your wife and you. That said, there’s a reason why you were attracted to a woman who is unavailable to you. You can lose the wife, but unless you get to the bottom of why you were attracted to someone who is unavailable, I can virtually promise that you’ll find yourself in a similar situation before long.
The only move you should be considering is which therapist to call. Do not ponder exiting this relationship until you’ve done some work on yourself, because of all the things you can leave behind, the one thing you’ll certainly bring to every subsequent relationship is yourself. Therein lies the change that is warranted.