• Weena Cullins

“We Married Two Families, Not Just Each Other”: Managing In-Laws Then and Now


14 years and 3 children later, we sit back from time to time and consider the amount of joy we feel for the family we’ve created. Time allows us the space to see the things that we would have done differently when we first became one. As a newly married couple we were naïve to believe that we would naturally become one big happy family. Our first and most painful lesson learned was that we would have to set boundaries with our families.

Her Perspective

I love my husband. I loved him from the first day I laid eyes on him. However, It never dawned on me when we were tying the knot that I was marrying his entire family. I wasn’t told that. The Cosby Show, my reference guide for positive black marriages, only showed great and healthy in-law relationships.

Like many young couples starting out, we faced financial challenges and shared too much information about our marital struggles with family members. Before long, our personal struggles became fair game for family members who were interested in offering their opinions and giving unsolicited advice. I was embarrassed when our newlywed growing pains came up at inappropriate times. However, due to my desire for my new family to like me, I turned a blind eye to this unfamiliar family process and tried to ignore how it made me feel. I smiled at the family gatherings but I would often come home and cry myself to sleep. One of the most complicated parts of making sense of how to move forward was dealing with the fact that most of my in-laws are lovely people. Learning to manage feeling criticized and undermined by people who probably didn’t mean to hurt me was confusing and annoying; especially since my husband considered their treatment to be normal. It had been his reality long before I came into his life. If things remained the same, I too would be subjected to unsolicited advice about my career, breast-feeding, money management and more. This later played a crucial role in the deterioration of our connection and ultimately, a ten-month separation.

His Perspective

When it came to marriage I discovered that there were some lessons you had to learn on your own, ‘cause mama didn’t say there’d be days like this’. Being the new guy on the block didn’t feel so good; especially when I had the impression that my wife’s family liked her ex better than me and considered my marriage to their daughter an act of theft-I stole their baby from them.

Some research studies suggest that nearly fifty percent of marriages fail. Two major contributing factors are money and communication. It seemed like the odds were stacked against us as we faced challenges in both areas without even factoring our family backgrounds into the equation. Our future looked less than bright at the outset to say the least. My upbringing included a two-parent household. I had been exposed to alcohol abuse and control issues in my family. I married into a family of single parents stretching back for generations. My wife was exposed to drug abuse and lack of control issues in her family. The dynamics of her family were much less impactful to me. Perhaps it’s because I’m a man, or maybe I simply learned how to compartmentalize other people’s issues. In either case, my family’s influence took a serious toll on my wife. I wanted to protect and provide for her, however, I was trying to protect her from the things that she had grown accustom to, instead of protecting her from the things I had grown accustom to. Ignoring behaviors and tolerating mannerisms was how I learned to live with my family. I expected her to deal with my family’s issues the way I had. My solution was to simply ignore them. I had to discover that wasn’t the correct strategy. It was when she reached her breaking point that I learned that some spouses don’t need their partner to rescue them from their world. Some partners need protection from our world, and it’s our job to recognize that and set the appropriate boundaries. Creating space for your new family to grow separately from your family of origin may be the only way you and your spouse can truly become one.

Our Perspective

This year will mark our 14th Wedding Anniversary and to say we have learned so much over the years would be an understatement. We gained perspective during our separation and realized we would have to face some challenges we hadn’t initially prepared for. We did the hard work of learning to speaking up for ourselves as well as each other. We sought God together and invited him into all areas of our lives. We now acknowledge that He is our source of validation. Everything and everyone else is simply a resource. When that became clearer, we no longer sought validation from our families. Creating those healthy boundaries helped us see a change in our lives and the lives of our children.

In 2014, we recommitted ourselves to each other and the children. Together, we set goals that would benefit us as a unit. Having protocols in place that would protect our children and us has provided some much-needed balance. Family is still family. We pick and choose our battles with them. We can honestly say that we haven’t had any recently. We discuss and vote as a family on trips and social gatherings we would like to be a part of with our extended family, and offer our well wishes when we decide to pass on some. This is just one example of how we took control of our marriage and our household. We are still learning as we evolve as individuals, as a couple, as ministers and as a brand. Our love for each has increased to a level that words cannot explain. You can continue to follow our journey by visiting us on Instagram.


Buster and Kesha Tyson are the owners of ShoeTaboo, a styling boutique based in the Baltimore, MD area. Our ministry is in our marriage, and our mission is inspiration through faith, family, fashion, and footwear. We can be reached on all social media outlets @ShoeTaboo or check us out on our website at ShoeTaboo.com


1401 Mercantile Lane, Suite 200-G 

Largo, MD 20774 

Weena Cullins

Marriage & Family Therapist

MS  |  LCMFT

Washington, DC Metro Area

Tel: (301) 592-7244

weenacullins.com

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