She Said, He Said: In-laws and their politics — It’s good to know their ‘why’
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
My wife has a very close relationship with her mother. Her father passed away several years ago, and her mother moved closer to us to be near us and our children. She has been a significant help in taking care of our kids, which has allowed my wife and I to keep our full-time careers. However, my relationship with her has eroded due to our opposing political views. I cannot understand how she can maintain certain beliefs as they seem so narrow-minded. She has expressed feeling the same way about me. My wife is not very interested in politics, but is feeling angry for being put in the middle of this conflict. I feel stuck. My kids love their grandmother and we need her help, but I’m struggling to respect her as a person.
Lori and Jeff: The political climate of our country has devolved to distrust and divisiveness. Healing our country starts with healing the relationships within our own homes. It’s hard to find common ground with a stranger who appears to stand for everything that you’re against. It may be even harder to find motivation to try. But as a nation we have to fight the urge to cast all those who see the world differently as our enemy and, with humility, try to understand a broader perspective.
Lori: Our voting system forces us to choose just one candidate, and to disregard all the others. In some ways, this process has influenced how we perceive each other as well: either you are with me or against me. It’s a lens that is black and white, when in reality, we are complex beings full of gray. If the U.S. utilized a Rank Choice Voting system (like the process in Maine and some small municipalities for local elections) our conversations with one another may look differently. We may be more willing to explore with each other all of our values, and to recognize that in the big picture there is much more overlap than we imagined. At the core, we all want to feel safe, to have security, to be free to be ourselves, and to feel loved. Where we differ is in how we define those concepts in our lives, and what we perceive to be the threats to them. Your mother-in-law seems generous, caring and loving, at the very least to your children. Take the time to learn about all of her values, her history and her fears, and you may find that respect for her as a human comes easier than you expected. You may never agree on the values or morals she prioritizes, but taking the time to understand her “why” could be a game changer.
Jeff: Be sure you don’t make this about your wife and put the responsibility to fix things on her shoulders. This isn’t her conflict to be resolved — it’s an opportunity for you to step up and be the bigger person. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with your mother-in-law’s views but it does mean that you have to create space for her to believe what she believes and, at the very least, call a truce (agree to disagree?) so that you can focus on what’s really important.
Current politics, much like religion, pits one view against the other with the belief that if one is right, the other must be wrong. A generation ago, most people adopted religious beliefs that were passed down from their parents without spending a lot of time or energy to figure out how they authentically felt about them. This is true with political views as well. Fast forward to today and we find that many more people are deciding what to believe, both religiously and politically, for themselves, based on their experiences and defined values. This tends to allow for a bit more room for inclusion of other views than in previous generations, which tended to exclude views that were different than their own. Try to understand that your mother-in-law’s views may be based more on her age and generational history than on what those views may represent in current culture.
Lori and Jeff: When you decide to marry someone, it certainly is important that you both share similar values. The reality is that when you get married, you also become part of another family and you’re lucky if that family shares your values as well. If they don’t, you have to decide how important it is for you to accept the differences and, in this case, it sounds like you already know the answer.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column. For more relationship advice, subscribe to our “Love Matters” podcast on iTunes.
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For those of you who follow my monthly missives, and occasionally read between the lines, you may have noticed a trend toward a bit of cognitive dissonance and some internal conflict on my part.