Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



Visiting Home

Bassi Gruen

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Question: We are a young kollel couple living in Eretz Yisrael. We left our joint hometown just two weeks after our wedding, so naturally it was an extremely hectic and busy period of time as we tried to organize everything. Admittedly, we spent more time at my house, and generally didn’t treat my in-laws with the proper respect and appreciation they deserved. Yes, we ate meals there, but still the feeling is that we slipped up. Now, months later, any tension or disagreement between my husband and his parents seems to stem from this. They have said that they don’t bear a grudge, however it is quite obvious that, unfortunately, a considerable amount of hurt still lingers. We are traveling home in a few weeks and would appreciate some advice on how to handle delicate and sensitive feelings and hopefully put this behind us.

 

Mrs. Dina Schoonmaker: There are two possible interpretations for what is happening between you and your in-laws. The simple assumption is that this situation is a one-time event that will pass eventually if you make an effort to show that you’re sorry and are careful in the future.

Ironically, as much as Jewish parents hope and pray for the marriage of their children, the leave-taking is bittersweet. Parents may be particularly sensitive at this time as they nostalgically reflect on their relationship with their child and wonder if the closeness will be maintained. This may explain your in-laws’ hurt, and the remedy to these feelings is a lot of love, warmth, and reassurance from you and your husband.

The second option is more complex. It is based on the assumption that the situation is symptomatic of a relationship issue that has patterns that will tend to repeat themselves in the future.

There are a few subtle references in your question that I’d like to point out. You mention that your in-laws were offended despite the fact that there wasn’t extreme offense/negligence on your part (you ate meals by them, but spent more time at your parents). All this was over a very short time period — two weeks — with unusual circumstances (you had just gotten married and were packing up for a big move). And, although you apologized, you still feel that there’s a long-standing grudge.

All of this leads me to suspect that your in-laws may be difficult to please. I’m not blaming them — many people have suffered in ways that make it difficult for them to give love unconditionally. Sadly, such people, in their desire for closeness, end up distancing loved ones due to their excessive demands. The coolness that you feel and the underlying sense that it is not easy to make amends are quite typical, and they can cause wear and tear on the relationship.

Whereas originally your in-laws’ feeling that they were being avoided may have been incorrect, over time, it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy if there’s a lot of tension and guilt when you interact with them. (Of course, it’s possible that your husband has had this kind of relationship with them for years, which may explain why you gravitated more to your parents already in those early weeks. His understanding of his parents and their modus operandi is valuable information in this situation.)

If this is the case, how can you deal with the situation?

We must strive to do “the right thing,” where the criterion is Hashem’s will and not people’s approval. Many people need to work in this paradigm: a woman caring for aging parents who are critical and unappreciative, the parent caring for a difficult teen, a rav sacrificing for a thankless congregant. All these people are accruing a tremendous amount of merit in Shamyaim even though they are unrecognized or criticized by the recipient of the good deed.

The first step in your case is to establish with a rav your halachic obligations of kibud horim. You want to make sure that you’re giving plenty of times to your in-laws and that by objective standards you are not favoring your parents over your in-laws. The biggest paradox is that your in-laws, though they are meticulously keeping score, may never notice how fairly you divide your time. Hidden agendas prompt people to want to keep score, leading to the sad reality that scoreboards are almost always tipped in favor of scorekeepers.

The next step would be to establish an attitude and frame of mind that will allow you to be confident and approach the relationship with positivity. You would like to avoid the two extremes — being insecure, guilt-ridden, and apologetic or, conversely, acting self-righteous and belligerent. Both of these extremes are toxic; they will affect the quality of your life and will make you an active contributor to the negative relationship.

I would recommend a self-imposed naïveté. You do what’s right and allow yourself to feel good about it. When your in-laws tell you that they’re not upset (even though you know differently) take it at face value. It’s possible that over time your in-laws will learn to play the game by a different set of rules and will stop applying guilt and pressure. If not, you will be developing the critical spiritual value that Hashem’s will is the barometer of our success much more than human approval or validation.

Mrs. Dina Schoonmaker is a veteran teacher in Michlalah Jerusalem College and lectures in various other seminaries. She also has a phone service through which she counsels the alumni of Michlalah in matters of shidduchim and marriage.

 

Rabbi Dr. Rechavia Price: You show great maturity and wisdom with your recognition of how you have behaved wrongly and your sincere resolve to change. So many family members keep hurt bottled up, and that can have ramifications on the quality of a relationship for many years. It is refreshing to read that you want to deal with this now, so as to have many years of happiness together.

It is never too late for you and your husband to say, simply and openly, that you are sorry, and ask them point-blank for forgiveness. It would be best to have this conversation as soon as possible, particularly since we are now in Chodesh Elul a time of teshuvah and mechilah. As your family grows, im yirtzeh Hashem, your in-laws will want to share in the lives of their grandchildren, so they will probably be eager to reconcile. Once you ask for forgiveness, and it is granted, you’ll feel that a heavy burden has been lifted; you’ll be able to move on and have the loving relationship you want to have with your in-laws.

Realize that it is natural to make mistakes. Your in-laws will grant you mechilah, but it is also important to give yourself mechilah and let go of the guilt. We ask Hashem to protect us from the yetzer hara in front of us and behind us. The yetzer hara in front of us tries to cause us to sin in the future; the one behind us tries to keep us mired in the mistakes of the past, allowing the past to cast a shadow over the future.

It sounds like both you and your in-laws need to let go — they of the hurt, and you of your guilt. Once they forgive you, treat them normally and act with warmth. If you are clearly moving past your mistakes, then your in-laws will respond in kind, and your relationship will have its equilibrium returned.

Rabbi Rehavya Price, MD, is a Yale-and-Columbia-University-trained diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology specializing in a Mind-Body-Spirit Approach to Healing. He is on the faculty of Cornell Medical School/New York Hospital, and has a psychotherapy and psychopharmacology practice for teens, adults, and couples in Monsey, New York.

 

Mrs. Leah Shifrin Averick: Because most newlyweds are busy focusing on each other, I commend you for your sensitivity to your husband’s parents’ feelings. Your ability to focus on your in-laws and see how your actions impacted them shows a great deal of maturity.

On Yom Kippur we admit our mistakes; that’s the first step to growth and change. The next step is to rectify our mistakes. Here are my suggestions to rectify yours.

When misunderstandings occur between a couple and a set of parents, the biological child should talk to the parents. Parents more readily understand and more easily forgive their offspring, particularly during the first year of marriage when a strong relationship has not yet been formed.

Your husband might say, “Daddy and Mommy, we appreciate all that you have done and continue to do for us. We love you and are thankful for your ongoing generosity. Please forgive us. We know we did not spend much time with you when we were in town after our wedding, and we’re sorry for the oversight. On this trip and future trips, we plan to spend more time with you.”

 Often, competition can exist between “his family” and “her family.” Each set of parents may wonder: “To whom will the new couple be more responsive — the other family or our family?” Each family, furthermore, has varying expectations and behavior patterns. For newlyweds to become familiar with each other’s family patterns takes time and effort, as does developing close ties. Hopefully the parents-in-law are also expending time and effort, and that will help speed up the process.

Remember that hakaras hatov, appreciation and gratitude, are the underpinnings of happy relationships. Let your parents and in-laws know with word and deed that you appreciate them, whatever they give — be it material or emotional. Verbalize your thanks; don’t assume that it’s understood.

Another principle to remember is that each of us needs to be cared for, respected, and acknowledged. At the end of her wedding my daughter-in-law said, “Thank you very much for Benjy.” That recognition of my efforts in raising my son meant so much to me. Acknowledge aloud all that your in-laws did to help your husband become the person he is today.

If, despite your efforts, your in-laws do not respond to your apology, realize that this may have little to do with you and more to do with other stresses in their lives. It may also have its root in unhappy relationships in their past. You need to remain pleasant and warm, and hopefully things will thaw quickly.

I hope your overtures will yield warm, positive results and you have a peaceful, happy New Year with much hatzlachah.

 Mrs. Leah Shifrin Averick, AM, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker. She is the coauthor with Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerksi MD of In-Laws / It’s All Relative (ArtScroll).

 

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


 
Out with the Girls
Yonoson Rosenblum Another progressive revolution that eats its own
And I Will Glorify Him
Eytan Kobre Herman Wouk “made G-d a bestseller”
What You've Learned
Alexandra Fleksher Allow me to let you in on what school is all about
Going Broke
Mishpacha Readers Reader feedback for “The Kids Are Going to Camp..."
Top 5 Ways Jews Try to Lose Weight
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Gaining weight and talking about losing weight
He Soaked Up Our Pain
Rabbi Yaakov Klein A tribute to Reb Shlomo Cheshin ztz”l
Leaving on a High Note
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman And then it happened. I knew it would
Family Matters
Baruch S. Fertel, MD, MPA, FACEP Not the answers they teach in medical school
Play the Night Away
Riki Goldstein May we all share simchahs, no strings attached!
Fast Thinking
Faigy Peritzman How we react when we're exempt from a mitzvah
Baalat Teshuvah
Rachel Karasenti Don’t ask, “So how did you become frum?”
Confessions of a PhD Graduate
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When it comes to parenting, we’re always learning
Dear Favorite Little Sis
Anonymous I ended up wanting to be like you
Who's Making My Phone Calls?
Sara Eisemann Should I be upfront that I’m calling for myself?