It's possible to heal past hurts and work towards mutual understanding.
If you’ve never struggled with your in-laws, then, well … move along. Struggling with the in-laws is a common human experience, but what is often lacking in the conversation is that there’s always the possibility to have a real and beautiful relationship with the people who raised your spouse, despite the challenges.
Whether your relationship with your spouse’s parents is a little strained or way off track, it’s possible to start healing past hurts and work towards better understanding in the future. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Take a look at your boundaries.
Healing might mean making some space to protect wounds that keep reopening. If you’re continuing to try the same approach with no new results, it might be time to step back and consider a different strategy. Or working to repair a relationship may mean loosening the very tight boundaries you have made already. Each situation is different, but if you haven’t thought about how much or how little you let your in-laws into your life recently, take a minute to really ponder the situation.
Forgive them out loud in prayer.
Saying out loud to Jesus that you forgive someone is very powerful. It is similar to why confessing your sins out loud to a priest is helpful — it makes what happened more real to you and forces light and clarity on something that would be easier to avoid thinking or doing anything about.
Forgiveness is something we have to work at over and over again, so making your desire to forgive someone audible and bringing it to God in prayer is an immensely helpful next step (or first step!). It might be that you are in a situation where you can’t interact much with your in-laws (incarceration, memory loss, distance, history of abuse, etc.) so praying might be the only way you have to promote healing.
Try a new way to connect with them.
I have had relationships that stagnated when something changed (like a move or switching jobs), but then that same relationship came to life again when we tried a new way to communicate. This might require a little trial and error on your part, but the renewed life in the relationship will be worth it. Try writing a letter every month, or sending short video messages weekly if you live far away. If you live near your in-laws, look at a different way of spending time with them in person than your normal experience. Perhaps take a walk or go out for coffee.
If you have trouble coming up with things to talk about, consider what blocks you may have in that area. Do their interests irritate you? Do you even know what interests they have, or have their polemic view on religion or politics (or whatever) kept you from ever trying or wanting to get to know more about them? Doing an activity together (like walking, doing a puzzle, buying groceries) might break some of the ice or let you see a different side of them.
Realize their brokenness — and your own brokenness — rather than focusing on how much they have hurt you.
This is a huge perspective change, but it’s so necessary for forgiveness and building future healthy relationships.
If you’ve ever resolved a difficult situation with a loved one, you know that your loved one had his or her own side of the story and backstory (as you did too) that all played into the conflict between you. If you had only focused on your hurt and pain, and ignored your part in the tension (or refused to acknowledge their hurt and pain) then you would never reached a resolution. Sitting in our own pain is more comfortable but much less freeing than looking at the whole picture and realizing we play a part in the dysfunction.
Holy Family, pray for us! Come, Holy Spirit, and heal our wounds; teach us forgiveness.