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competing with your man's mother

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One of my guilty reality show pleasures is the drama that occurs every Sunday night on TLC’s 90 Day Fiance. For the past five seasons the show has followed couples who have applied for or received a K-1 visa (available uniquely to foreign fiancés of American citizens) and therefore have 90 days to decide to marry before the visas of the foreign half of the couple expire and they must leave the United States. Of course the one thing all of the couples have in common is that there is at least one friend or family member of the American partner that believes their fiancé is only going through the motions for a green card and not for true love. So ultimately viewers spend most of the show questioning the intentions of mates that have met usually on exotic vacations, fallen in love and gotten engaged a short time later.

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One couple that is constantly defending their union is Chantel Everett and Pedro Jimeno from season four. Everett met Jimeno while vacationing in the Dominican Republic and being introduced by a Spanish teacher. The two fell for each other after Everett visited the Dominican Republic several times afterward they initially met and eventually the pair got engaged. Unfortunately, the relationship started off with deception after Everett lied to her family saying that Jimeno was in the United States on a student visa, out of fear that her family would suspect that the only thing Jimeno was interested in committing to was U.S. citizenship. After several family feuds, a crap load of culture shock for both families as they visit one another’s countries and the adjustment to one’s another’s traditions and practices, the two eventually married in the Dominican Republic and ended up residing in Atlanta, Georgia.

What I notice most about this show that truly irritates me, no matter how entertaining it may be, is the resistance of the American spouses to understand and truly try to blend their two different cultures. Nicole and Azan are another couple featured on the show that experience conflict regularly due to Nicole’s refusal to abide by the customs and rules of Islam, the faith that fiancé, Azan abides by as a native of Morocco. Similarly, Everett can’t seem to comprehend that a huge part of Jimeno’s Dominican culture is him continuing to support his mother and sister financially in the Dominican Republic. Jimeno regularly sends his mother cash and yes, even gifts like flat screen TV’s and repeatedly explains to his fiancé that as the man of the house he is obligated to support his family regardless of the fact that he is living in America. Now maybe it’s me, but if you’ve ever had friends who had family living in another country, the idea of them sending money home isn’t all that foreign. Still, it seems every time Jimeno wants to send something as small as a bag Doritos home to his family, Everett (whose spoiled and entitled behavior is all that more enabled by her close-minded family) starts complaining and comparing as if they’d be able to move into a luxurious penthouse instead of a modest one bedroom apartment if not for Jimeno regularly sending money and gifts to his home country. And this is the part that really makes me scratch my head and question if people truly know what they’re signing up for when they’re signing that marriage license.

Even when my husband and I were just dating, I was aware that he regularly gave money to his parents and paid their bills because they are no longer working and outside of social security and disability, don’t really have a whole lot of extra money. Luckily, his income has always been enough to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for himself while paying a bill or two for his parents every now then or sending them on a vacation for a few days out of the year. When things became serious and we got engaged, although the finance conversation isn’t very sexy and often awkward, we had to have it in order to get a clear understanding of how we’d manage the bills that we’d now be making together. Of course, I had questions: Was I expected to help support his parents too? Will we have a joint account to pay bills? How will we go about saving? These are the kinds of questions you ask way before walking down the aisle. It’s also important to pay close attention to your partner’s financial personality. Is he the type of person who will put off is car note to pay his mother’s past due rent? Does he mail his bills or have everything on auto pay? Are savings important to him or would he clear his account if the latest version of PlayStation dropped tomorrow? I was pretty clear that my husband was the type of person was the type to take care of his finances first and then see what he could manage with any leftover income last, so for me it was easy to accept him supporting his parents as long as he took care of home first. So I can’t understand why Everett has issues with her fiance’ buying nice things for his family, if for the most part their living situation isn’t all that affected.

It’s never fair, or all that smart, to put your partner in a position where he feels like he has to choose between you and the women he’s been raised by or grew up with. It’s one thing if you truly see your partner being taken advantage of by women who are able to work and support themselves but choose not to. But to constantly guilt trip your partner for exercising loyalty and love to the women in his life when he is clearly making an effort to take care of all of you is selfish and inconsiderate. When you marry a person, you have to also realize you are marrying into a family. Namely, a family that were used to routines and practices for some time before you were even in the picture. A spouse has to learn how to adjust some those routines so that they don’t conflict with the marriage and balance everyone’s wants and needs, but ultimately family is about supporting and caring for one another collectively. Not just demanding gifts and attention to balance out the scale between their love for you and their love for their family members. When you create that kind of tension, not only are you making things difficult for your spouse but you’re also competing with the very people you should be connecting with and depriving yourself of an extended support system of women who could also potentially support and care for you when they don’t feel the need to compete for attention.

In addition, it is important for spouses to establish clear boundaries between their marriage and the relationships they have with family members. Another issue that often occurs on 90 Day Fiance’ is that every time an issue arises, one spouse may turn to their family members for support or just to vent and inevitably end up bashing their spouses to siblings or parents. It’s understandable to need confide in family members about conflict that may occur in a marriage, but you must realize that your family members may not be as flexible with their feelings for your spouse as you are. For many family members their instinct may be to defend and protect you and there’s only so many times you can break up, bash your spouse to your mama and make up before her affection doesn’t bounce back so easily for you partner, even long after you may have gotten over the disagreement. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to your support system, but boundaries have to be clear. At the end of the day, a marriage shouldn’t consist of a panel of your blood relatives to work out every spat.

Poet, D.H. Lawrence once wrote a mother is a man’s “first great love”. Trying to compete with a lifetime of love and memories is futile, so it’s important to know your role and don’t allow yourself to get caught up in comparing who has the bigger TV or the better apartment.  If your spouse is playing their part going through what can all too often be the daily grind of marriage (keep in mind that Jimeno has completely moved his life to another country and left his family in Dominican Republic only to find himself defending his intentions for his wife on a daily basis to her family) then the least his family can get is a 40” Samsung LED out of the deal.

Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about  everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.

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