In-law relationships are some of the most notoriously difficult relationships – but we can have healthy relationships with our in-laws and we can have healthy relationships with our own parents, siblings, and adult children “as far as it depends on” us (Rom. 12:18).
We don’t have to engage in toxic relationship dynamics and dysfunction. We are no longer slaves to sin and we are now daughters of the King of kings and Lord of lords! We can choose to treat our extended family members with respect and honor.
When Christ is in us, His character shines through rather than our old sinful nature. He can give us victory to act in ways that please Him in all of our relationships!
Note – if you have very severe issues in your relationships (major uncontrolled mental illness, abuse, violence, threats of violence, drug/alcohol abuse, etc…) and you or someone else is not safe – please reach out for appropriate help from your church, a godly counselor, the police, a doctor, etc… whomever may be appropriate for the situation.
And also, always compare anything I say (or any person says) to scripture and seek to obey God. His approval is all that ultimately matters. (If you don’t have a relationship with Christ as your Savior and LORD, please check out this post.)
Helpful Principles for Extended Family Relationships:
- It is not my job to “fix” other people.
- God knows best – I do not. I need to be sure Jesus is squarely on the throne of my life, not self or anyone or anything else.
- God is sovereign over people and circumstances, I am not. And God, in His wisdom and sovereignty, gives people free will. His sovereignty and their free will work together in ways I can’t begin to fathom. I can trust Him – even when I can’t trust other people.
- I can’t change other people. I can’t open their eyes to spiritual things. I can’t even change myself or open my own eyes apart from the power of the Holy Spirit working in me.
- I want to honor other people’s marriage covenants and not try to get them to put me or my opinions/advice above their marriage.
- I need to be sure I don’t expect others to put me/my approval above Jesus in their hearts.
- I need to make sure I don’t put others or their approval above Christ in my heart.
- I can honor Christ on my end and make sure I allow Him to continually purify and refine my motives, thoughts, words, and actions.
- I can be sure I am taking my thoughts captive for Christ. I can’t afford to hold onto any sinful thoughts.
- I need to abide and rest in Christ so that I am overflowing with His power and love in all of my relationships and circumstances.
- God measures my love for Him by how I treat other people. (Matt. 25:40) Difficult relationships are often spiritual tests. Satan wants to use these things to destroy me and my witness for Christ. God wants to use these tests to prune and purify me.
- I am responsible to God for how I treat others and how I think. Other people will be responsible to God for how they treat other people and how they think.
- I can learn to respect and love others in godly, healthy ways as I allow God to regenerate and transform my heart and mind (Rom. 12:1-2).
- Healthy boundaries and biblical thinking are critical for me to have healthy relationships with others as far as it depends on me.
- It is not any person’s place to override another person’s free will.
- Some relationships are not going to be healthy even if I am doing everything right. Other people may choose not to love me and not to like me. Or they may not even know how to love in a healthy way. That is going to have to be something I can accept if I have done what God desires me to do. I can’t make other people like me or want to be with me.
- Some relationships are so toxic and others may continue in unrepentant sin so long that my husband and I may have to prayerfully decide that we can’t fellowship with those family members until they are willing to change and rebuild trust. (Matt. 18:15-17)
- God wants to use me to shine for Christ even in difficult situations.
- God can and will use difficult relationships to refine me and to help me grow in spiritual maturity if I am open to Him and teachable.
- God may use my witness for Christ to draw my family members to Himself as I allow Him to love them through me.
- If godly love is not my motive, whatever I am doing will not count for Christ in eternity. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
- I have a covenant with my husband, not with my parents or in-laws. Marriage is to be the priority relationship in God’s design. (Gen. 2:24)
- I am responsible to God for myself spiritually and emotionally, others are responsible for themselves spiritually and emotionally.
- I can influence people but I can’t control them.
- I want to live in total submission to Christ as Lord in all of my relationships so that I am seeking God’s will far above my own will.
- I want to guard my own motives from sin and get rid of any bitterness, resentment, pride, self-righteousness, control, fear, selfishness, people pleasing, and any other toxic thought patterns.
- I can seek to better understand those who think differently from me. It is much easier to avoid unnecessary conflict if I can understand their perspectives.
- I can seek to be flexible (unless someone is asking me to participate in or condone sin) and ready to extend much grace, compassion, understanding, and mercy.
- God promises to use everything in my life – good and bad – to accomplish His good purposes in my life and His glory if I belong to Jesus. (Rom. 8:28-29)
- I can rest in God’s sovereignty, goodness, and love no matter what circumstances I may be facing.
- I can take problems and other people to God in prayer and invite His Spirit to accomplish His purposes in their lives in ways I can’t even begin to imagine.
- There are times I may need to confront sin in others – but, I need to be sure my heart is right first. And, if it is my husband’s family, I may want to allow him to handle the confrontation if possible – as God prompts us both.
A lot of the principles we learn as we seek to become godly wives carry over into other relationships, as well – like respect…
Ways I Can Respect Extended Family Members :
I can choose to
- Speak in a respectful, pleasant tone of voice.
- Honor any requests they make of me – i.e.: not to bring up an embarrassing story from the past that they don’t want me to share with others.
- Have friendly facial expressions and to smile genuinely to bless others because of the joy I have in Christ.
- Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
- Accept people as they are and seek to see them as God sees them, loving them with His love.
- Respect other people because they are created in God’s image and God loves them (that doesn’t mean I have to respect sin, of course).
- Enjoy them and be warm and welcoming.
- Give space to those who need more space out of respect rather than resentment.
- Seek to understand the needs of different people with different personalities and temperments.
- Lay down most of my expectations. (other than for things like safety, for example)
- Accept that different people have different backgrounds, personalities, filters, and perspectives so we will not think the same way or all agree on everything. That is okay!
- Approach others with humility rather than looking down on anyone.
- Allow people to make their own choices without me interfering. (There may be exceptions in the case of someone truly abusing another person or doing something illegal where I may have a legal/ethical/spiritual responsibility to step in.)
- Avoid giving unsolicited advice.
- Avoid having a critical or judgmental spirit.
- Immediately confess any bitterness or resentment in my heart to God and refuse to give in to Satan’s temptation to get me to give him a foothold in my life.
- Allow God’s Spirit to speak life through me rather than allowing my sinful nature/the enemy to use my thoughts, words, and actions to destroy and speak death to my family members.
- Listen when others are talking without interrupting.
- Treat others like they are important and precious.
- See other people with God’s eyes and love them with His heart.
- Repay evil with good. (Rom. 12:17-21)
- Not allow anyone to steal the joy, peace, and power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus has given to me.
- Respond gently and with self-control. (Prov. 15:1, Gal. 5:22-23)
- Extend patience, kindness, and blessing to others – not so they will approve of me or like me, but so that God is pleased with me and just to bless them.
- Allow others to talk about the things that are important to them rather than me dominating the conversation. Although, there is balance here – I can also feel free to bring up topics at times, as well, unless God shows me I need to remain silent at a specific time.
- Seek to be a godly influence and to use my position and relationship to pour the love, healing, and truth of Christ into my extended family members’ lives as God prompts me to by His Spirit humbly, gently, and respectfully.
- Take up my cross, dying to my sinful nature, seeking only to honor Jesus. Some of the little issues are just not that important – where we eat, how we handle a gift exchange at Christmas, etc…
- Be open to God’s suggestions for me about how to show His love to the particular people in my family.
- “Win them without words” if they don’t want to hear me talk about Jesus.
- Respect people’s decisions and choices and honor them. (If they don’t want to talk with me about God or don’t want to see me, I can choose to respect that without bitterness.)
- Love with a 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 kind of love not with conditional, worldly love that has strings attached.
- Speak in positive ways about my family members to them and to others.
- Avoid gossiping (to family members and about family members), quarreling, divisiveness, and strife.
- Be a godly example by my attitude, words, non-verbal body language, and actions.
- Seek to promote God’s Spirit of love, peace, and unity.
Identifying the Lies We Have Embraced – about God, ourselves, others, and relationships
Healthy VS Unhealthy Relationships
25 Ways I Can Respect Myself – or “think rightly” about myself
Handling a Controlling Mother as a Team
My Disrespect and Controlling Behavior Don’t Just Hurt My Husband
Respecting Your Husband around Extended Family
Some Conflict is Unavoidable
For those with very toxic relationships, you may need more specialized help. www.leslievernick.com may be helpful. Please weigh anything any human author says against Scripture and seek to honor Christ and God’s Word above all.