My in-laws use ecclesiastical means to damage my reputation. For example, they have called my bishops on multiple occasions. One time it was before he even had a chance to meet me. They tend to share the worst things they can come up with about me. They also gossip about me to the point that no one in the extended family likes me or respects me. They have participated in harming my children as well. We have discontinued contact except maybe once a year. My husband is supportive of me, but when we discuss his parents’ actions, he almost can’t help himself and he defends or makes excuses for them even if its morally wrong. I know we are supposed to love our enemies, but I have so much fear and anxiety when I think about contacting them that its crippling. This situation haunts me every day because since the beginning of my marriage I have wanted a strong family connection with my husband’s side of the family. I have made numerous attempts to talk with them and offer anything I can change that will help aid the repair of this family relationship. Usually, these attempts are met with name calling, belittling, and more hurt feelings. I have even tried a mediator. That also did not work. Please help! I’m looking to find a peaceful resolve for all.
I can hear the fear, sadness, and confusion you’re experiencing as you try and make sense of your in-law’s treatment of you over the years. I can also imagine how easy it is for you and your husband to lose your connection with each other as he grapples with this hurtful dynamic that impacts your marriage, family, and extended family. In a situation like this, it’s important to get recentered as quickly as possible so you can operate from a place of clarity and truth. Let’s talk about how you can move forward with integrity and find peace.
First, it’s critical to identify where you can access the true fountain of peace. Nik Day, composer of the beautiful song, “Peace in Christ”, points us to the reassuring reality of finding peace in Christ:
He gives us hope
When hope is gone.
He gives us strength
When we can’t go on.
He gives us shelter
In the storms of life.
When there’s no peace on earth,
There is peace in Christ.”[i]
Your peace isn’t going to come from convincing your in-laws to treat you better. It’s not going to come from convincing your husband or children to have your back. It’s not going to come from tirelessly shaping other people’s perceptions of you. You could spend the rest of your life trying to defend yourself and still never feel peace. Your personal peace cannot depend on the actions of others. Instead, allow the Savior to provide you with the deep assurance that you’re going to be okay even in the face of relentless opposition.
It’s common to balance the scales by protecting your good name. While I certainly believe there are times when we need to speak up and defend ourselves against false reports, most of the time it pulls us into an exhausting search and rescue mission that never feels finished. Plus, if we believe our peace comes from how others see us, then we’ll have to constantly monitor those perceptions. It chains us to an invisible measuring stick that leaves us more insecure than ever. Remember that a life spent trying to prove something to other people is a wasted life.
It’s overwhelming to know there are people in your life who are committed to misunderstanding you. Sadly, there are individuals who make it their life’s mission to negatively influence other people’s perceptions about those they do not like. However, it’s my experience that most people will eventually discern when they’re being used and manipulated by those who seek to tear down others to build themselves up.
Can you trust that your bishop, children, family members, and others can discern the bitter fountain of criticism that flows from the mouths of your in-laws? Moroni, quoting his father, Mormon, taught the following: “For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water.” And, then we receive his assurance that we are given the power to discern truth: “It is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.”[ii]
I believe others can see these negative patterns and act on the truth they’re observing about how your in-laws treat you and others they don’t agree with. They might be fooled for a time, but as they develop more spiritual maturity, they won’t want to participate. In fact, they’ll likely worry that they’ll be potentially treated with the same contempt.
Make sure you don’t retaliate and publicly criticize them for their actions toward you. It’s easy to participate and get caught up trying to defend yourself by putting them down. You can become so consumed with trying to vindicate yourself that you then become the aggressor. When you’re being persecuted, it’s tempting to seek power over the person who is harming you. Getting yourself to safety and speaking the truth, where appropriate, doesn’t require you to dominate someone else. Seeking power over another person, even if you feel it’s justified, will never bring peace.
Ask yourself what you will do if you’re unable to clean up the damage they’re inflicting on you and your family. How will you stay anchored in the truth of who you are? I love Elder Marvin J. Ashton’s wise counsel about how to respond to those who bash us. He says:
When we truly become converted to Jesus Christ, committed to Him, an interesting thing happens: our attention turns to the welfare of our fellowman, and the way we treat others becomes increasingly filled with patience, kindness, a gentle acceptance, and a desire to play a positive role in their lives. This is the beginning of true conversion.
Let us open our arms to each other, accept each other for who we are, assume everyone is doing the best he or she can, and look for ways to help leave quiet messages of love and encouragement instead of being destructive with bashing.
Not only will your personal peace and confidence come from turning to the Savior, but you’ll also begin to focus less on yourself and how you’re perceived by your in-laws. You’ll begin to have a deeper compassion and awareness of others. The digs from your in-laws can excavate your ego and allow more room to be filled with God’s charity. The protection you’ll receive from His perfect love cannot be measured or explained. You won’t need to fixate on them anymore as you focus on Him and others, thus keeping the two Great Commandments.
I also want to emphasize that this is an important opportunity to look more closely at yourself and how you’re showing up in these relationships. Elder Todd D. Christofferson taught, “Even when we encounter mean-spirited criticism from persons who have little regard or love for us, it can be helpful to exercise enough meekness to weigh it and sift out anything that might benefit us.”[iv] I recognize that I don’t have all of the information about your situation, but make sure you stay open to ways you can grow and improve.
You can make requests to your in-laws to treat you more respectfully. You can set sensible boundaries to calm your nervous system and protect your peace. You can continue to clarify where needed. There will be an ongoing need to seek unity with your husband. However, all of this will be more effective when you access the fountain of peace that will help guide your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. You can’t change them but you can seek to be changed.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
Download Geoff’s FREE guide to help you quickly end arguments with your spouse: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/3-steps-to-end-your-marriage-argument
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[ii] Moroni 7:11, 15