Q&A: Dealing With Extended Family

We recently had a woman write us and ask about some issues she was encountering with her mother-in-law. Specifically, her husband’s mother tends to butt into their relationship and act as though she has some sort of vote over how they conduct their lives, even in issues of intimacy.

To be honest I really can not relate to the horror stories I hear like this because my in-laws are fantastic and we generally get along very well with both sides of the family.  Having said that, there are some values that I have which apply to this situation so I’d like to offer a few suggestions.

First, it is important that you and your husband get on the same page as far as how the two of you want to conduct your lives. Even without your parents voices in the mix, it can be hard enough to work out differences of opinion on different matters so establish that first. The other thing is to respectfully set up boundaries and let your parents know when they are pushing past them. If they go in your room without permission or ask you about personal matters that you have decided are not things you will talk about with them, respectfully tell them that you need them to respect your boundaries.

The most important thing is to always remember that you are in charge of your own actions and attitude, and they are in charge of theirs. Let’s be honest, it is hard enough to remain in control of ourselves without worrying about trying to control someone else. You have no authority over how they act or what they say, and the sooner we learn to take responsibility for our selves and completely accept that we can not control another person, we can walk through life with more peace. If your parents are making a habit of saying or doing something that causes you to feel disrespected, tell them what you need from them in order for them to have a relationship with you. In the same way that I communicate to my kids that in order to be with the rest of the family, I have expectations on how they will behave, I would do the same with parents who acted in a way that disrespected me or the rest of my family.

This is actually something I have done with my father. He lives a lifestyle that is harmful to himself and which ends up negatively affecting me so we have hardly any contact. In order to protect my children from his destructive lifestyle, I have reduced my contact with him to almost nothing. Boundaries like these are important sometimes. Other times it is enough to simply have a loving conversation and explain that the person’s actions or attitude are having a negative effect.

Sometimes when there are frequent conflicts arising it is because there is a core issue feeding your interactions that needs to be resolved. In this case, pray for revelation of that core issue so that it can be addressed. Sometimes it is an issue where the parents have not let go of the authority they had when you were growing up in their home. Sometimes the problem is that the person you are married to has not fully left them and cleaved to you. Or it could be any of a hundred other things. Whatever it is, once you have clarity, you can work at resolving the core issue, first with your spouse and then with his or your parents as a united couple. Don’t make it a passing comment. Set up a time to meet with them and let them know at the outset that there are some important things you need to share with them from your heart. This is more likely to result in positive change.

Relationships with our parents as adults can be complicated, but it is important to figure out how to handle them. Sometimes the solution is less than ideal due to that factor of not being able to control them so just commit to doing the best you can. Remember that verse in the Bible that says as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. And remember all the grace that has been shown to you by the Lord and others in your life. It will help you to live with more grace for others.

If you have a specific issue that you would like feedback on from us and our readers, please feel free to post it in the comment section and we will interact with you on it. We will give you honest responses to what you say.

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