Q. I have been married for 12 years. There is one large thorn in my side--my in-laws. They are controlling and dominating. They think they're the authorities on everything and expect me to do as they say. My husband and I have to visit every Friday. They even insist on taking group vacations! I feel so resentful, and as a Christian I know this is not right. How do I handle this situation and still hold on to my sanity?

A. Your in-laws should certainly not be trying to control you. Perhaps this is their way of "taking you into the family," but it is not acceptable, because you are not being treated as an equal. However, there may be no way to get through to them without a confrontation. And that might make you feel more isolated and alone within this family.

Have you talked with your husband about your unhappiness? It would be much easier if he could treat your distress as his own. Then you may be able to find a joint solution, as we did some years ago when we had a similar situation in our family.

Once a week, our problem in-laws would invite us to go to their favorite restaurant, where they would drink heavily, talk down to the waiter, and offer us endless "constructive" criticism. These evenings would leave us irritated and depressed.

Even though the dinners were harder on one of us than the other, we looked at these outings as a shared problem. As partners, we began to try anything that might make the dinners more bearable. Turning down the invitations altogether was not an option because that would have precipitated a family crisis, but we could and did make an occasional excuse to lessen their frequency.

The plan that helped the most was a fantasy game we invented. We pretended that we were volunteers at the outpatient ward of the local mental hospital. Our current assignment was to go to dinner with this older couple once a week. Their mental illness was that they thought we were their children. We were told by the psychologists to just humor them and agree with whatever parental criticisms they handed out.

This not only gave us a way to enjoy these occasions by admiring each other's performance, it also made the evenings more enjoyable for the in-laws, because suddenly everything they said was taken as wise advice. A game such as this can be played by one as well as two.

The key is to accept what we cannot change (in the well-known words of the "Serenity" prayer) and to focus instead on taking responsibility for our own responses. Know too that because the Divine is offering happiness at all times, it is always possible to find a way to partake of that happiness and peace. It entails making efforts to see the people around us gently and being open to small gains.

Hopefully your husband will take your unhappiness to heart and work to find ways to lessen his family's pressure on you. If, however, he does not, God can still lead you to peace. Ask for God's help. Be quick to forgive. Be creative and willing to try new things. Taking spiritual actions like these will help you to reject the status of victim in your own mind, which is the only place it can find lodging.

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