It seems like any family relationship that is normally even the least bit strained becomes magnified or more tense during the holiday season. Some family relationships are so messed up, its easier to not spend time together and maybe even healthier. You do need to ask yourself if you have done what you can do on your side to fix it. Some may never be fixed or take years since you are dealing with other people involved who may never be ok with the relationship or may continue in behavior that keeps it complicated and unhealthy.
There is an article in Christianity Today by Conrad Theodore called Holiday Negotiations – How to divide the holidays so that both extended families are happy.
Theodore writes, “If you’re anything like many of the readers we hear from, you’ve probably experienced some in-law tension that stretches beyond the reach of the holiday battles for time. And these unpleasantries can cause some real damage to your marriage. Here are some tips from Dr. John Townsend, the co-author of Boundaries for Marriage (Zondervan), on how to choose change and create an open, working—if not wonderful—relationship with your in-laws.”
1. Reality-check. Find out if there really is a problem or if it’s merely your perception. Sometimes we react to others based on our experiences, which can cloud judgment. To help gain a proper perspective, ask a trusted friend to observe and verify your perception of the situation.
2. Do a self-inventory. After you’ve identified the problem, ask yourself how you might be contributing to it. Jesus reminds us that we must first deal with our own actions before we help others correct theirs (Matthew 7:1-5).
3. Be direct. If you are passive in dealing with your in-law problems, you may begin to withdraw emotionally from them. Confront your in-laws gently but directly. Though you may need to involve your spouse, don’t avoid dealing with the problem personally. Let them know how you feel and that it gets in the way of being close to them. They may react with hurt, withdrawal, or anger. Or they may be surprised at what they learn and thank you for letting them know.
4. Choose your battles. Choose to end an issue by setting new limits or by simply adapting to it. If the conflict creates havoc in your marriage, you and your spouse may want to negotiate how and when you spend time with in-laws. If the issue is simply annoying, then you may want to let it go and enjoy the healthier aspects of your relationship.
5. Strengthen your role as spouse. Though you and your spouse love your parents, you should be more aligned with each other than with them. When a spouse isn’t loyal to his or her mate, there may be a “leaving and cleaving” problem (Genesis 2:24). This problem is exhibited in behaviors such as needing parental approval or respect, being afraid to confront parents, going to parents for self-image support, being emotionally or financially dependent on parents, or feeling responsible for parents’ emotions. If your spouse struggles with these issues, let him or her know how you feel and how his or her actions affect your sense of safety as a couple.