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Help! My Fundamentalist In-Laws are Driving Me Crazy


Guest Post by Lydia who blogs at On the Other Hand

In-laws can be an ongoing source of tension in extended families that haven’t established or don’t respect appropriate boundaries. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. With a few adjustments religious differences do not have to be the focal point of your get-togethers.

Make Sure You’re on the Same Page as Your Spouse.

Each spouse should be responsible for communicating potentially tricky messages to their own family of origin so that the person who married into the family isn’t seen as an interloper. You two are a team and nothing should separate you under these circumstances.

Also consider picking code words or non-verbal signals ahead of time that will let your spouse know that:

– You’re ready to leave.

– You’re ok.

– They need to step in.

Visit on Neutral Territory.

By that I mean spend time at a park or restaurant instead of at your extended family member’s house whenever possible. It helps to eliminate the this is my home and you’ll do things my way syndrome. Plus, spending time in public spaces reduces the likelihood that they will push the conversation into religious topics.

Keep Visits Short and Sweet.

My Fundamentalist extended family members are usually ok for a couple of hours. Any longer than that and they tend to slip back into bad habits.When in doubt it’s better to leave a little prematurely than stay too long and risk ending the visit on a sour note. You can always come back later.

Have an Itinerary.

Pose for professional family photos. Go for a walk in the park. Play a game. Show them that cute thing your kid or pet learned how to do. Eat out. Do anything other than sit quietly and stare at one another.

Visit Less Often Than They’d Like.

People who miss you are less likely to bring up potentially divisive topics (especially if they know that you’re only visiting for a few hours today and that they won’t see you again for X number of weeks/months/years).

Make a List of “Safe” Topics

…and stick to them.

I imagine that I’m actually speaking to, say, a stranger I just met on public transportation. In those cases am I going to talk about God, politics, or my sex life? Hell no!

I’m going to talk about neutral stuff like the weather or ridiculously cute animal videos on YouTube.

Choose Your Battles.

Sometimes sticking to neutral topics doesn’t work, though.

“The Bible says…”

“Come to church with me this weekend.”

“I want to teach your kids about God.”

“You’re going to hell!”

There’s nothing wrong with ignoring statements like these if your in-laws do bring them up. Not every thread in a conversation needs to be tugged on.

Remember the acronym J.A.D.E. If you don’t want to talk about something, never Justify, Argue, Defend or Explain yourself. Someone who refuses to let a topic die will never be satisfied by any reason you give for not wanting to do, say, or believe X.

It’s also a good idea to decide ahead of time what your hill to die on is and how you will respond if the in-laws go there.

Topics I haven’t covered because I don’t have kids and don’t like to debate :

How do you argue politely with Fundamentalist in-laws?

How do you raise non-religious kids when their grandparents want to convert all of you?

Readers, what would you recommend?


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    Thank you for the guest post! I haven’t had experience with this particular situation, but I will say that some variance of your methods has worked for me in dealing with difficult family members, such as my dad. He loves to pick verbal fights with me by pressing all my hot buttons. I have learned two coping techniques: one that I call “limitation,” and the second of which is keeping my mouth shut. When I call him, I have a time limit in mind that I will not exceed. I know from experience that we can keep the discussion light for that number of minutes; beyond that, it will devolve into an argument. When I strictly adhere to that limit, our phone conversations are surprisingly easy to handle. When we are together in person, I have had to resort to technique #2: when he goes off into forbidden territory, at some point I just shut up and refuse to respond to his comments. This is very disconcerting to him, but he ends up giving up, and I don’t leave feeling like, “Why did I let him drag me into a meaningless argument yet again?” And you are correct: when they don’t see or hear from you as much as they would like, they are more inclined to behave themselves to avoid running you off.

  2. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Mom-in-law’s Christianity is Evangelical in background, though she hasn’t been to church in years and tends not to proselytize. But she’s had trouble coming to terms with atheists in the family, and the fact that we love her, don’t want to argue with her, and still reject her religion. At first she just picked up on my unbelief; perhaps she thought I had “contaminated” her son, though in fact he gave up on religion before I did. At one point she blasted me with a cranky email about me disrespecting her religion. I attempted to explain that my problems with Christianity were not a problem with her. Then she had fits about her daughter becoming a Mormon, and her grand-niece becoming Catholic. Then she finally discovered that my husband and our nephew (son of the Mormon) are solid atheists. Finally she threw up her hands, decided she loved us, and she’d accept us as we are. SUCCESS! And in turn, we don’t try to argue her our of her religion, and we all get along splendidly now.

  3. Avatar

    Good suggestions here. I’m from fundie Christian stock and my significant other’s parents are Catholics who might as well be fundie–they go to Mass literally every day and hate the current Pope because he talks about climate change and the poor instead of spending all his time condemning abortion and gays–and we have been navigating these minefields for about ten years now. It’s definitely not always easy, but doing things like minimizing visits (birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas only), avoiding hot-button issues, (smile, nod, change subject) and meeting on neutral territory (or at least meeting at siblings’ houses instead of the parental lions’ dens) all help keep the peace.

    Also helpful: never, ever sleeping over at relatives’ houses, no matter how often the invitation is extended. We always stay at a hotel, so we can have privacy and our own space to decompress after a long day of dealing with people who think we are going to hell. S.O.’s parents wouldn’t let us sleep over anyway unless we agreed to sleep in separate beds, since we aren’t married. My folks always invite us to sleep over, but we always refuse. Officially it’s because S.O. is allergic to cats and they have two, but in reality it’s because we don’t want to spend any more time than necessary in a house where the TV is always tuned either to TBN or Fox News.

    Another helpful tip: control your families’ access to your social media. Lock down your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. accounts with all possible privacy settings; block or un-follow relatives who pollute your feeds with unhelpful internet “Jesus Junk” and offensive memes; and if they ask to follow you, decline. They may howl and scream that you are “violating their free speech rights” or “censoring” them (well, at least some of our more obnoxious relatives do!) But last I checked, the Constitution says only that the Government can’t censor your speech; it does not say that your obnoxious fundie relatives have the right to post Bible verses on your personal Facebook page or Tweet “You’re going to hell!” on a daily basis.

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