Strained In-Law Relationships and Family Gatherings

Do you have any advice for dealing with extended family members who don't get along? My in-laws like to host big get-togethers with all the relatives, but they're always marked by tension and dissension. I don't want to offend my spouse or his parents, but I'm tired of all the conflict. 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 “extremely common” isn’t the same thing as “unavoidable.” You’re an intelligent and morally responsible human being, and you can make choices that will lead to positive change.

One option is to be honest.

Next time you get an invitation, tell your in-laws that you appreciate their thoughtfulness. Then explain that you simply aren’t going to be able to join the party. You don’t need to defend yourself or offer a long explanation. Just state your position and leave it at that. If it’s a holiday gathering, let the folks know that you’ve decided to spend a quiet Christmas or Easter with your own immediate family this year. Naturally, you and your spouse will have to be in agreement on this.

A second choice would be to attend the gathering, but make plans to stay at a local hotel rather than in your in-laws’ home.

Tell them that you’re looking forward to spending time with them, but don’t want to get involved in a feud with other members of the family. If the party disintegrates into a shouting match, politely excuse yourselves and take refuge in the tranquility of your hotel room.

The third options is to approach the next family gathering with an entirely different attitude.

Try to see it as a time for reaching out in kindness and grace. Look for opportunities to extend love to some unlovely people. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, the Lord can give you the patience and forbearance you need to do this. He’ll help you love your relatives sincerely from a pure heart. In the process, you may end up having a bigger impact in their lives than you suspect. Even if you don’t, God can still use the experience to help you grow spiritually.

If by chance you don’t know Christ as your personal Savior, there are people here at Focus on the Family who would love to introduce you to Him. If you’d like to hear more – or if there’s anything else you’d like to discuss with a member of our staff – feel free to call us to speak with a pastoral counselor.


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