Question: My spouse doesn't get along with my parents and siblings, and this has led to serious conflict in our marriage. My mom and dad have always enjoyed hosting big get-togethers with the extended family, especially during the holidays, but things have gotten so bad that my spouse is no longer willing to be a part of these gatherings. 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.

Calm discussion is vital

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 lay your concerns on the table and make a concerted 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.

Finding other solutions

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 to 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 with a member of our staff, feel free to call ask to speak with one of our counsellors. They are available Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Pacific time at 800.661.9800. It would be their privilege to assist you in any way they can.

© 2010 Focus on the Family. Used by permission.

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