Our family has not lived near our extended relatives most of our married years. Since retiring, we have moved closer to the older relatives in an attempt to be a support to them. This attempt has not gone well, mostly because of the family dynamics and personalities already established. My young adult children quickly became uncomfortable in this situation and have withdrawn from interactions with the larger family group. We pay weekly visits to my elderly mother-in-law that have turned into brief and impersonal social conversations. Because of the differences in our life experiences, we have little in common with most of the other family members. These differences in background are the source of tension at family activities where we are made to feel we are outsiders and somehow lacking. I expressed my discontent with the current family interaction in very general terms with one family member who I thought might understand. My attempt was met with a blank stare. She didn’t even get what I was referring to and was not interested in attempting to understand. Should we continue with our current token gestures or just accept the fact that we made an uninformed decision and turn our efforts elsewhere?
Living in families can be surprisingly painful sometimes. Our best intentions might be met with indifference, or worse, rejection. You’ve made your extended family a priority in your life and it’s clearly a struggle to connect with them.
The first thing I notice about your situation is that you had a desire to move closer to family so you could support them. Is this still your desire? Are you willing to continue supporting them even if they have no idea how to reciprocate? These might be difficult questions. However, I believe it’s important that you seek clarity on your true desires and intentions.
Sometimes our loved ones are blind to our longings and desires. Although the neglect is often unintentional, it is still painful. You started out with a sincere desire to bless your extended family. I encourage you to continue in the same trajectory that brought you closer to them. Don’t change course. In fact, if you stay true to those original desires, I trust you will feel more peace, even if’s a struggle to connect.
Elder Robert D. Hales taught that the “Savior was continually reaching out to rescue, love, and nurture people around Him, regardless of their culture, creed, or circumstances.”[i] You’ve discovered that your extended family has a different culture than you, which naturally causes you to feel like an outsider. I encourage you to find ways to connect to them and bless them.
It’s likely that your direct expressions of frustrations will continue to be met with genuine confusion. Each family culture has implicit rules that are unconsciously followed by its members. I suggest you become a curious student of this new family culture and learn what you can about them. Find out what makes them tick and how they connect to one another. Again, if you felt it was important to move closer to them, honor that direction and keep looking for ways to understand them.
Our Savior was born into a specific culture, but he also introduced a new way of living that was met with suspicion and outright aggression. In his final hours of life, he proclaimed those sweet and compassionate words regarding his abusers, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[ii] My guess is that your family members have absolutely no idea how they’re hurting you. And, I’m not sure how much they can understand, since most of their interactions appear to be embedded in their specific family culture.
Your desires to connect can guide your thoughts, prayers, and actions. I trust you can find a way you can fit into their lives. It may be that you change the frequency of visits or what you choose to share with them. These details will become clearer as you prayerfully and thoughtfully approach each interaction with them.
Although your initial decision to move closer to family may have been uninformed, you can still make an informed decision about how you’ll organize your efforts toward them.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children. You can connect with him at: