Advice: My in-laws hate me
She has a great relationship with her husband, but his family seem to actively dislike her. What can she do?
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My husband and I were married four years ago after being together for four and a half years before that. Our relationship isn't perfect and we definitely still have disagreements and the odd fight, but we are still in love and have supported each other through some tough times. My family always tell me how happy the two of us look together and how good we are for each other.
His family on the other hand don't appear to be so supportive. Without going into too much detail, my husband and I had different political beliefs before we were together. We respected each other's beliefs and quite often we would debate points of politics and pieces of news. Over the years, my husband's views have changed and our views are now aligned. I was conscious that he was trying to change himself to fit in with my family and told him not to, but he assured me that he came to it himself through ideas and points of view he was exposed to at work and through our travelling.
His family seem to actively resent this and have openly told him "we love you in spite of ..." and "we don't trust ...[people that do what you do]" which they don't seem to notice hurts him deeply. They aren't happy that he doesn't see the world the way that they do and they have no problem telling him about it but then act innocent and confused as to why he would be upset.
They have always appeared to treat me with slight incomprehension for my lifestyle and the work I do, but now I think that they really believe I have 'taken their son away'. We don't see them a great deal, but every time we do, my husband ends up fighting with them about something. I want to stand up for him and I do try to without being antagonistic, but I'm already the embodiment of the devil to them and don't want to excaerbate the situation.
What can I do?
Our beliefs and values have an enormous impact on our relationships and lifestyle choices, and it sounds as if this is exactly what you are experiencing with your husband's family.
The two of you have adapted to each other and now share similar views, but his family have not changed so they are left 'on the outside' in a way struggling to make sense of the change in their son. In some ways, the fact he ends up fighting with them when you meet will just confirm their worst fears and entrench their belief that you have changed him and taken him away from them.
It seems to me you have a number of choices and it would be useful for you and your husband to talk through the options and be clear about which ones fit best for you as a couple. To begin with you both need to be clear how much energy you want to invest in repairing and maintaining the relationship with his parents. It may be much more an issue for you than him, so it would be useful to ask him what support he needs from you in terms of his family. Here are some ideas to start you off;
1. Think of ways to reassure his parents that you have no intentions of taking him away from them and support his relationship with them. They may need help to accept that this relationship is for keeps and he is his own man.
2. Your husband could write to his parents outlining his understanding of the current situation. He would need to be very clear about what decisions he has made for himself and his commitment to you and your relationship. If he wishes to maintain a good relationship with his parents he could state his care and love for them and desire to stay connected, but note that the arguments and their difficulty accepting his new lifestyle and beliefs are getting in the way.
3. You could both agree to sit down with his parents and give them time to express all their concerns about what has happened and why they are so worried. Many beliefs are so strong they threaten our very sense of who we are and what our immortal future may be - to have these challenged is very scary. Some beliefs are a strong part of 'who this family is and has been for generations past' and again a threat can mean you don't know how this person fits any more. Sometimes the fact we haven't listened carefully to someone else's concerns just makes us want to shout the concerns even louder.
4. On the other hand you may both decide, on balance, that distance and minimal contact is the way to go. If this is the case then you both need to be able to support each other through this and to think of the long term implications. You might agree on a strategy that is about exiting conversations or gatherings when the contentious issues or fights begin. For example ' we want to stay connected with you and care about you, but don't want these arguments to continue'. You would then quietly leave unless the situation calmed. You could also agree to disagree and recognise that some topics are off limits.
In all these situations the main thing is for you to create a strategy together for how to deal with different scenarios so that you are both feeling supported, protecting each other and the relationship. I wish you well.
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