Q&A with Geoff: How do I create peace with my critical in-laws?Jul 27, 2022
My in-laws have done so much to damage my reputation. For example, they have called my church leader on multiple occasions. One time it was before he even had a chance to meet me. They tend to share the worst things they can come up with about me.
They also gossip about me to the point that no one in the extended family likes me or respects me. They have participated in harming my children as well. We have discontinued contact except maybe once a year. My husband is supportive of me, but when we discuss his parents’ actions, he almost can’t help himself and he defends or makes excuses for them even if it’s morally wrong.
I know the Bible says we are supposed to love our enemies, but I have so much fear and anxiety when I think about contacting them that it’s crippling. This situation haunts me every day because since the beginning of my marriage I have wanted a strong family connection with my husband’s side of the family.
I have made numerous attempts to talk with them and offer anything I can change that will help aid the repair of this family relationship. Usually, these attempts are met with name-calling, belittling and more hurt feelings. I have even tried a mediator. That also did not work. Please help! I’m looking to find a peaceful resolution for all.
I can hear the fear, sadness and confusion you’re experiencing as you try and make sense of your in-law’s treatment of you over the years. I can also imagine how easy it is for you and your husband to lose your connection with each other as he grapples with this hurtful dynamic that impacts your marriage, family and extended family.
In a situation like this, it’s important to get recentered as quickly as possible so you can operate from a place of clarity and truth. Let’s talk about how you can move forward with integrity and find peace.
First, it’s critical to identify where you can access true peace. Your peace isn’t going to come from convincing your in-laws to treat you better. It’s not going to come from convincing your husband or children to have your back.
It’s not going to come from tirelessly shaping other people’s perceptions of you. You could spend the rest of your life trying to defend yourself and still never feel peace. Your personal peace cannot depend on the actions of others.
You’re a spiritual person, so I recommend starting by seeking the deep personal assurance from God that you’re going to be okay even in the face of relentless opposition. Your peace will come from knowing the truth about who you are regardless of what anyone else thinks. This isn’t easy to do, but you can know this about yourself.
Of course, it’s common to balance the scales by protecting your good name. While I certainly believe there are times when we need to speak up and defend ourselves against false reports, most of the time it pulls us into an exhausting search and rescue mission that never feels finished.
Plus, if we believe our peace comes from how others see us, then we’ll have to constantly monitor those perceptions. It chains us to an invisible measuring stick that leaves us more insecure than ever. Remember that a life spent trying to prove something to other people is a wasted life.
I know how overwhelming it can be knowing there are people in your life who are committed to misunderstanding you. Sadly, there are individuals who make it their life’s mission to negatively influence other people’s perceptions about those they do not like.
However, it’s my experience that most people will eventually discern when they’re being used and manipulated by those who seek to tear others down to build themselves up. Can you trust that your church leader, children, family members and others can discern the bitter fountain of criticism that flows from the mouths of your in-laws?
I believe others can see these negative patterns and act on the truth they’re observing about how your in-laws treat you and others they don’t agree with. They might be fooled for a time, but as they develop more emotional maturity, they won’t want to participate. In fact, they’ll correctly worry that they’ll someday be treated with the same contempt.
Make sure you don’t retaliate and publicly criticize them for their actions toward you. It’s easy to participate and get caught up trying to defend yourself by putting them down. You can become so consumed with trying to vindicate yourself that you then become the aggressor. When you’re being persecuted, it’s tempting to seek power over the person who is harming you.
Getting yourself to safety and speaking the truth, where appropriate, doesn’t require you to dominate someone else. Seeking power over another person, even if you feel it’s justified, will never bring peace.
Ask yourself what you will do if you’re unable to clean up the damage they’re inflicting on you and your family. How will you stay anchored in the truth of who you are? How will you treat other people? Do you want to be a person who is constantly on the defensive and telling anyone who will listen that you’ve been misrepresented?
I recommend that you design a life that you feel good about and allow others to experience the truth of who you are. Not only will you create more personal peace, but you’ll also begin to focus less on yourself and how you’re perceived by your in-laws. You’ll begin to have a deeper compassion and awareness of others.
The digs from your in-laws can excavate your ego and allow more room to be filled with compassion for others.
I also want to emphasize that this is an important opportunity to look more closely at yourself and how you’re showing up in these relationships.
Todd D. Christofferson taught, “Even when we encounter mean-spirited criticism from persons who have little regard or love for us, it can be helpful to exercise enough meekness to weigh it and sift out anything that might benefit us.”
I recognize that I don’t have all of the information about your situation, but make sure you stay open to ways you can grow and improve.
You can make requests to your in-laws to treat you more respectfully. You can set sensible boundaries to calm your nervous system and protect your peace. You can continue to clarify where needed. There will be an ongoing need to seek unity with your husband.
However, all of this will be more effective when you access the peace that comes from knowing who you are while showing up in healthy ways for others. This will help guide your thoughts, emotions and behaviors. You can’t change them but you can continue to live a healthy life without getting derailed by their choices.
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