Dear Family Advisor

My husband is choosing his mother over me.

Three years ago, my husband's mother had leukemia, which has since gone into remission. She's forgetful, but since her sister lives nearby and they've been in the same small town all their lives, plenty of church and community people check on them. The problem: My mother-in-law's cancer scare was so bad that it changed my husband.

He stays with her almost every weekend (she lives three hours away, and he still works). He's even passed on cruises and vacations, saying, "I just can't go off and have a good time knowing I don't have much longer with my mother." This sounds loving, but it's gone on a bit too long. His mother manipulates him, too -- something always needs fixing and she calls him four or five times a day. He doesn't even call me that much!

How do I convince him that our marriage is important, too?

Sounds like it's time to reclaim your territory -- your marriage! Before giving up, I hope you'll give one heck of a fight. Marriages are like marathons, and some miles are just longer and tougher than others. But there's something amazing about going the distance.

Your husband sounds scared, and not just for his mother. He's facing his own mortality by "trying it on" through his mom. Facing that life has perhaps turned out different from how we thought it would and that our loved ones are going to die can send us in a dozen different directions, from depression, to living on the edge, to holding onto one person while letting go of someone else.

There's something affirming about having someone who's willing to get in your face and refuse to give up. It's easy to get complacent in a relationship and forget what we have, especially in stressful times. Muster the strength and courage to really look at your marriage and to do what you need to reclaim it.

Start by keeping a journal. It will give you a safe place to vent instead of dumping all of your emotions on your husband, who can hardly face his own. Also, write down what your husband says to you, to his mother, and to anybody else he talks to. It's time to listen and look for clues. He probably doesn't know how he really feels or what's bothering him, what he's avoiding, or what he's replacing it with. This journal isn't so you can drill him later; it's a possible roadmap to begin to find a way back to a healthy marriage.

I also suggest going with your husband on the weekends. Yikes! I hear you saying. I just heard on the Today Show that most women would rather go to the dentist than spend time with their mothers-in-law. But use the time as an opportunity to really consider why your husband is drawn to her. Does he consider her home a safe haven? Does she praise him? Demean him? Does he need to be needed? Is it a mostly healthy relationship? Or is she "playing dirty" and inflicting guilt and shame over her son in order to keep him all to herself? You won't know until you stop railing against her and start paying attention.

Your drives together to and from your mother-in-law's house might reveal a lot on their own. I noticed, for example, that my husband communicates how he's feeling by the music he listens to. I can tell a lot about where he's at by what he's playing on his iPod.

Or riding together might take some of the mystique out of those weekend visits for him, making him want to go less.

And also consider this: Might he also be feeling that he needs a break from you? How's your home life? Does he feel relaxed and safe? Are you unreasonably demanding? Do you have good conversations, or does he need more privacy than you do? What about your sex life? Is he grappling with E.D. (erectile dysfunction) and avoiding you because he doesn't know how to tell you? And I really hate to have to ask this, but do you know for sure that he's at his mom's? I'm not trying to stir up trouble -- honest--but if you're serious about saving your marriage, you have to look at the whole picture. Sometimes this includes facing difficult and complicated things you might not have wanted to look at before now.

The bottom line is that if you've had a good marriage up until now, and you believe it's worth saving, then get proactive. Reach out to your husband and show him that you're here to stay. * Literally love your mother-in-law away.* There's really no comparison between a wife and a mother. As wives, our intimacy, womanhood, companionship, friendship, and all you've built together is the foundation of adult life. Reach out with tenderness, consistency, and confidence. Be the woman you'd be proud to be married to. When we know our own worth and exude that, we have the best chance of attracting healthy, loving relationships.

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