How should I respond to my spouse's dislike for my parents and siblings? My mom and dad have always enjoyed hosting big get-togethers with the extended family, especially during the holidays, but the conflicts have become so intense that my spouse doesn't even want to go anymore. I'm tired of dealing with all this tension and dissension. Can you suggest a solution?
The situation you're describing is extremely common: in home after home, family gatherings that are supposed to be filled with love and warmth end up turning into tense, uncomfortable confrontations. But that doesn't mean that you or your spouse have to regard this kind of conflict as acceptable or unavoidable. As intelligent and morally responsible human beings, you are both capable of making choices that can lead to positive change.
The first thing you need to do is sit down together and discuss this problem in a rational manner. Find a time – perhaps over coffee or after dinner at a nice restaurant – when you can talk over your concerns and make an effort to hammer out some kind of solution. It's vital that the two of you find a way to get on the same team and come to a meeting of the minds over this issue. Relationships with extended family are an important and inevitable part of every marriage. This is a fact that you're going to have to face together if you want to build a marital relationship that will go the distance.
Perhaps it would be possible to work out a compromise of some kind. For example, consider the option of skipping certain holidays or planning alternatives to the big family gatherings every other year. When the next holiday is approaching, tell your parents that, while you appreciate the invitation, you and your spouse have decided to spend a quiet Christmas or Easter with your own immediate family this year. This may have the effect of removing some of the stress and tension and making it easier for your spouse to face the family gathering the next time around.
A second choice would be to attend the gathering, but make plans to stay at a local hotel rather than in your parents' home. You might explain that while you're looking forward to spending time with them, you'd also like to have the option of reserving some time and space for yourselves. Then, if things become absolutely unbearable for you or your spouse, you can always politely excuse yourselves and take refuge in the tranquility of your hotel room.
If you'd like to discuss these suggestions at greater length, feel free to call and ask to speak with one of our pastoral counselors.