Taking the high road when in-laws go low
Monday, February 14, 2011
Adapted from a recent online discussion.
I have in-law problems. My husband and I are newly married. His family doesn't approve of me and was trying for a few months to persuade him to get an annulment. Now they have backed down. Would it be appropriate for me to write them a letter sticking up for myself or should I just keep quiet? I feel like I've been steamrolled and can't seem to get over it.
No no, don't write a letter like that - especially now that they have backed down.
Your hard feelings are completely justified, but acting on them is not the way for you to make peace with the situation. For one, they may still feel justified in their objections to you, and sending them an angry letter just as they've taken an important step toward acceptance might just give them all new ammunition against you.
And . . . even if you don't set them off on a whole new round of lobbying for annulment, your decision to go on the offensive will postpone if not kill your prospects for reaching some kind of truce with them eventually.
Unless you are an abuser, there's no excuse for your in-laws' decision to interfere in their son's marriage. Still, it's not unheard of for couples and their disapproving parents/in-laws to reach a point where they accept each other - and some even become quite close. But they don't get there without tremendous effort and restraint. It means you bite back the nasty aside, the reproachful comment, the airing of doubts at the others' ways of doing things.
And it means you have the self-discipline to look for the good in them, and to express any positive thoughts you can muster.
You can't make this family do its half of that effort, obviously. But you are completely in control of your half.
So, a letter might be just the thing - but with an entirely different purpose than the one you had in mind. Consider writing to tell them that you are sorry you got off to a bumpy start with them, and that you understand they love their son and were trying to do what they felt was best. Say you love him, too, and hope to get to know the people who raised him, perhaps when everyone has had a chance to regroup.
By going that route, you will in fact be sticking up for yourself. Whether they choose to reciprocate your courage and forgiveness is, again, up to them, but whatever they decide, you'll be on the record on the high ground.
To stay there, follow up your letter with patience as they process your words - I'm talking months or years, not days or weeks - and openness to any overtures they make. It won't mean anything if you make this big statement only to slap them down when they make an effort. Even if their initial efforts seem lame or grudging, it's in your and your husband's interests to welcome them.
Tomorrow: What would you do if your in-laws regarded you as a mistake?
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