It’s not at all uncommon to embark upon marriage with one or both sets of parents causing problems. I’ve heard it time and time again from couples even before they made their way down the aisle. Already they dread the years and years to come of Sunday lunches and Christmas celebrations. The why to each story varies. Situations from abuse to manipulation to dislike for the new son-in-law and a hundred things in between have a way of making center stage in the early days of marriage. And as attractive as pretending those tensions aren’t present until they truly do disappear, it’s a lot better for everyone if a deliberate approach to tackling the elephant in the room happened sooner rather than later.
Here’s a four-step plan to gracefully excusing yourself from those not-so-pleasant parents in your life without calling it quits on the relationship all together:
Your first line of defense in any situation involving another person is prayer. As much as I’d like to tell you that you alone hold the power to change him or her into a more ideal individual, you don’t. And I know this first hand. The only things that can begin to soften away the challenging aspects of another person is prayer.
In my own life, I have seen prayer do incredible things. I will admit that I need to work on being more consistent, but when I have intentionally lifted up the individual (or individuals) who was causing the issue, I quickly saw physical, spiritual, and emotional shifts in that individual’s life. As much as I wish praying someone into greater existence was an overnight process, it isn’t, but the little victories, slowly over the course of time, are what ultimately lead to a life change.
Be Upfront and Talk to Them About It
As hard as it is to hit the nail on the head, sometimes a situation calls for direct measures. This isn’t the time to bring out a list of offenses to use as a weapon, become hostile, accusatory, or attack. The goal of a sit-down is to openly communicate the issue and why it is a problem. It is possible that the person on the other side of the table had no idea that what they were doing was causing an issue and will immediately set out to make a change!
In the more likely chance that they don’t immediately accept your heart to heart with grace, know that by clearly stating the issue, you will not be acting in poor judgment by moving to more drastic measures. By more drastic measures, I don’t mean initiating an all-hands-on-deck assault on the character, reputation, or personhood of the parties involved. As much as you may want to use their poor behavior as a public tool to force their hand, it will only put further tension into the situation.
Just remember, the end goal here is for reconciliation, not excommunication from the family. If you poorly handle this step in addressing difficult parents or in-laws, you may find yourself with one less Thanksgiving dinner to ingest this next holiday season (or babysitter, if you have children).
Distance & Boundaries
As the old saying goes, distance makes the heart grow fonder.
In this case, distance is the means through which you will minimize your exposure to whatever is going on in your situation. However, don’t take this as your pink slip to entirely segregate yourself from your family. Though many people do choose to totally separate themselves from the difficult people in their lives, that permanent separation does nothing to mend the situation at hand.
By taking the stance of limiting your time with the parents or in-laws, whoever may be causing the problem, you are subtly signaling that until they take you seriously, your time together will be a lot less than it could be. This can be especially effective if you have children. Grandma and Grandpa want all the time possible with their precious little bundles of joy and they will probably take the hint pretty quickly that things need to change in order to keep them longer.
You may even find yourself in a difficult situation where you have to decline invitations to engage with them. If that is the case, then it’s important to be clear about why you are not going to participate. Of course, you can always attend, but limit your time with them by setting a drop-dead time to leave or scheduling an actual appointment back-to-back with the event. Clearly defining the boundaries of parents-time as a couple will help you better respond to those less-than-welcome invites and handle them gracefully.
Pray, Pray, Pray Some More
If you’ve gone through all these three steps and have reached number four, then I encourage you to seriously pray for a change. Not only in their hearts, lives, and interactions with you, but also how you view them and approach them during this difficult time. There is nothing more difficult that feeling the pressure of one set of parents. But as much as you may want to entirely separate yourselves from them on a permanent status, know that choosing that option will never result in the favored outcome: reconciliation. Inevitably, there will come a time in your life when you wish they were present. You might not think so now, but I can guarantee that it is so much easier doing the hard thing and dealing with the situation at hand than allowing it to be buried for years to come.
In the long-run, fighting for your relationship with the parents (whether they are yours or his) will result in a happier marriage. You might think that the tensions at hand are too great to overcome, but I can promise that time will not help the situation if you aren’t proactive in approaching it. By putting your foot forward now and honestly opening up about what’s going on, you position yourself to be excused from taking blame if things get worse. Of course, my hope and prayer is that your situation does not escalate to something more difficult than what it already is now. However, there will be some instances where the parents choose to shut you out indefinitely if you don’t bow to their demands. Please don’t take their decision to negatively respond to you as grounds for permanently separating yourself from them. As difficult, frustrating, and painful as it may be, I encourage you to continue to keep them in prayer, trusting that the Lord will one day bring about reconciliation.
Parent problems don’t have to be forever and you have the power to begin the healing process. If you have entered into your marriage with brokenness from your youth or sustained such after, I encourage you to seek out a counselor or mentor who will provide you with Biblically-based wisdom. In my own life, I have seen significant growth and healing toward my parents through the blessing of a mentor. My life has changed for the better, my marriage has become stronger, and my relationship with my parents has grown so much since going through mentoring. Yes, it is vulnerable, but ultimately letting go and working through things took off weights I never realized existed.
Pray, communicate, distance, and pray some more. That is the formula that will help you manage difficult parents for the better.