Focus on the Family

Son’s graduation brings up old family tensions

Q: I've never gotten along with my in-laws. Three years ago, there was a huge argument and we haven't spoken since. At that time, they told my wife they'd pay for a divorce if she would end the marriage. Now my son is graduating and he wants my in-laws to be there. I want to forgive and get along for the sake of my son, but I'm just so angry. What should I do?

Jim: Situations like this one are extremely common. In home after home, family gatherings that are supposed to be filled with love and warmth end up turning into tense, uncomfortable confrontations. But "extremely common" isn't the same thing as "unavoidable." You're an intelligent and morally responsible human being, and you can make choices that will lead to positive change.

One option is to be honest. Let your son know that it would simply be too awkward and uncomfortable to invite the in-laws, and that for his sake, you don't want the graduation to turn into a family debacle. Naturally, you and your son (not to mention your wife) will have to be in agreement on this.

A second choice would be to invite them, but ensure that all graduation-related activities take place at a neutral location, such as a restaurant or community center. If the party disintegrates into a shouting match, politely excuse yourselves and take refuge in the tranquility of your home.

There is a third option. You could approach the graduation with an entirely different attitude. Try to see it as a time for reaching out in kindness and grace. Look for opportunities to demonstrate love to some unlovely people. Take the initiative to extend an olive branch. You might be surprised at how well your peacemaking gesture is received!

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 Q: My wife doesn't communicate well with me. I work long hours, and when I get home I want her to fill me in on what is going on in the family. I try to make time so we can talk about any issues, but she always just tells me everything is fine and then later I find out things that I never knew about. How can I improve our communication with each other?

Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: In many cases it's the other way around — the wife wants a deeper connection, while the husband is uncommunicative. But in either case, the frustrations are very real.

To encourage more meaningful communication, ask your wife if she'd be willing to try the "Ten-Minute Plan." Three times a week, you'll spend four minutes reading a recommended marriage book together. After that, take four additional minutes to have a positive discussion about what you've read (no criticism allowed). Then, finish with a two-minute prayer.

In addition to trying the Ten-Minute Plan, keep the following in mind: — Communicate your need for conversation in a clear, respectful and honest way. Don't assume your wife knows what you're thinking.

— Be sure to take notice when your wife does make an effort to talk with you. Reinforce this behavior by expressing your appreciation with sincerity and kindness.

— Look for opportunities to turn routine activities — shopping, cooking or yard work, for example — into times of meaningful conversation.

— Maintain a sense of humor about the unexpected challenges that may arise during the course of your conversations. Be patient and persistent.

— By employing these ideas, you'll create an environment where it becomes comfortable to talk. This, in turn, can easily lead to a desire for more interaction and even more minutes together.

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(Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at or at .)

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