Question: I have been married for over 10 years. I am African American and my husband is Caucasian. I have never been accepted by my husband’s parents, although they say they have tried. My husband has had problems with alcohol and drug addiction. When he is actively using, we have agreed that he would not live in our home. It is not good for our children to see, especially when he stays out for long periods of time.
What angers me is that my in-laws take him in. Although they are marriage mentors and have counseled many other parents not to enable their adult children, that’s exactly what they’re doing with my husband. I feel they do this because of their dislike for me and because he is their son. I feel that no matter what I do or how good I treat their son, all they see is my color. They say hurtful things to me like, I’ll be glad when he divorces you.” Later they apologize but I feel so hurt. I don’t know how to proceed. Please help.
Answer: You have two destructive relationships going on. The first one is with your husband, the second one is with your in-laws. Your question is really geared more to your hurt with your in-laws so I’m going to tackle that one.
You haven’t said what exactly you have done to communicate with your in-laws your concerns but I’m going to assume that you’ve already told them that taking in their son (your husband) when he is actively abusing drugs is not good for him or for your marriage. The goal of marital separation is to bring a wayward spouse to his or her senses in order to bring about repentance and reconciliation. When parents cushion the pain of separation by offering refuge, a safe and warm bed, meals and clean laundry, it doesn’t give a drug user a very big incentive to change his or her ways.
His parents already know that, you’ve indicated that they counsel others that way. So why are they not personally applying this hard medicine with their own son? You indicate that they may feel guilty for some past abuse that they did not stop. You also indicate that they may be doing it because they dislike you. Both may be a reason but you can’t fix them or even make them see it. The only person you can work on is you and how you handle this mistreatment.
My suggestion regarding this situation right now would be to invite a third person to help you navigate through this murky family dilemma. Do you attend the same church? Can you go to your pastor to explain the situation and ask for him to mediate your concerns with them? Perhaps they will hear their pastor where they cannot hear you.
I hear the hurt in your letter. Both your husband and your in-laws have hurt you very much. It will be very tempting to turn that hurt into bitterness and resentment. You will have to guard your heart not to. It will also be important to set appropriate boundaries with your husband on his visitation with the children as well as how you speak to the children about his sinful choices and your in-laws behavior.
It will be tempting to try to make yourself look like the good guy and your husband and his parents the bad guys, especially if you both attend the same church and others see what’s going on. Try not to do that. It won’t help and it will only further divide your family and eventually the body of Christ.
God knows your heart. He knows what you’ve been through. He knows how you have honored your marriage vows through better and worse and how you have attempted to love your husband and your in-laws. However, if your in-laws continue to treat you disrespectfully or talk about you to the children in a demeaning way, you may need to limit your contact with them. You can set firm limits in a clear, neutral voice tone or in a written letter.
If you are going to speak it, write out ahead of time what you want to say and practice saying it. Ask a good friend or mentor to review your letter for you to make sure it says what you need to, without disrespect. Then whether you say it or give them the letter, you’ve done what you can to communicate honestly and in love with them.
Remember, we are to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. The apostle Paul tells us “do not repay anyone evil for evil. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21). Let me know how it goes.