Girl on girl

Family — with benefits

I’m one of those people lucky enough to have a marriage with benefits. No, I’m not talking about THOSE benefits. I’m talking about the benefit of gaining new family members. The thing is, suddenly having new family members is a lot like the benefits you get when you open a new account or stay at a hotel: The benefits are there; it’s up to you if you choose to take advantage of them.

It can be easy to feel the strain of loyalty when you get married. “Why should I commit any time and energy to these new people? I already don’t have enough bandwidth to attend to my own family,” you might say to yourself.

But it isn’t really a matter of whether or not you “should.” It’s a matter of whether or not doing so is good for you and your relationship with your wife (or husband).

I don’t think it’s ever beneficial to “should” all over people. It’s not helpful. No one can really know what anyone “should” or “shouldn’t” do in any given situation without really knowing the situation.

The question you want to ask is, “Will opening yourself up to having relationships with your new family be good for you and your marriage?” If not, let it go.

Seriously, let it go.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. Just like you have family members you love and family members you could do without. Just like you have family members with whom you feel a kinship and with whom you do not. Just like you have family members who are healthy and who are toxic. So too will it be with your new family by marriage.

Here’s my rule to live by: What you do owe everyone is kindness and respect. What you do not owe everyone is you — your time, your presence, your help, your guidance, etc.

Granting those things is based on the relationships that you choose mutually to build. And that, honestly, is based on whether you have a connection. In other words, you don’t have to invite them all to your house for a week. You do have to send them all a holiday card.

I say I’m lucky because I love my new family so much that I visit them even without my wife when I’m traveling for work or my volunteer gig. I text with my second cousin Emily about 10 times more than I text with my own sister.

I am glad that it makes my wife happy that I have that relationship. But I have that relationship not for her, but because I want that relationship. The former is just gravy. Emily came with her mom, Sean, for a visit last spring, and it was a blast. This year, Emily and her kids came for Spring Break, which was WAY more work because of the kids of course. But also a blast.
Here’s the secret I’ve learned: It’s fun to take advantage of the benefit of having new family when it comes out of desire and not out of obligation. Sure, if my wife had an Uncle Hank who I didn’t much care for but needed a place to stay for one night on his way to

Oklahoma, I would happily make up the guest room and cook up my best pasta dish.

But I would not invite him for the week. I wouldn’t. I’d be a grump, and I’d feel resentful, and I don’t have my own Uncle Hank over for a week. And if my wife adores him? Well, I can visit my own family, and she can host hers. Problem solved.

There are lots of solutions. But you feeling like you have to bend over backwards for people just because they are “relatives” will only lead to bad feelings. Trust me.

Like I said, I feel lucky. I have a really good relationship with so much of my wife’s family.

I genuinely love them. I invite them and take care of them because I want to. And that makes all the difference when you have two kids bickering over the remote in your living room and five people who all eat different things and you are desperate for a hour of quiet with your new second cousin but would have to get up at the crack of dawn to get a word in edgewise.

To have family you love and who loves you is a really, really lucky thing. Enjoy it. Treasure it.

But don’t let having family members who are not your cup of tea ruin it for you.

Just like with everything else in life, limit your time with people who don’t fill you up.

Don’t let vampires suck you dry — even if they are now “family.” We live in a time of self-care and self-respect — thank goodness. So remember, because you love your spouse, you owe her family kindness and respect but never to your own detriment.

And that includes knowing when to open your heart — and your front door — and when to guard it.