Who Comes First After Marriage: Your Parents or Your Spouse?

It's an awkward situation—we're here to help.

Photo: Archive Photos/Stringer

Is there any situation more uncomfortable than being asked to choose between your parents and your spouse? (Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.) And yet, almost every newlywed finds herself smack in the middle of this terribly awkward situation, unsure of which side to choose-or who should come first.

"Once married, the definition of 'family' tends to shift and expand, including both family-of-origin and the new family that began with your vows," says John Duffy, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent. "And conflict will inevitably arise about who takes priority in some circumstance or another."

Luckily, you can keep your internal conflict to a minimum by putting your spouse first after you tie the knot. "By-and-large, barring a crisis, I would say that your partner should come first, and know that he or she is the top priority," Duffy says.

Why? As Duffy explains, you're building a life with your spouse now, "and you will make decisions every day that are laying a blueprint for that life, especially early on." As you build that life together, your blood relatives need to take a supportive role-and step back from making decisions and demands of their own. That's not to say your parents aren't still very important. But, Duffy explains, "Marriage truly is the most important relationship in our lives, and we diminish it when we complicate or mix priorities."

Your partner must be your first priority now and it's critical that your parents "support the sanctity and priority of your marriage," he adds. Of course, it may sometimes still be difficult to pick your partner over your parents. However, after 20 years spent counseling children and their parents, Duffy says he's confident that putting your spouse first is (almost) always the right move.

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