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Blog: Showing Compassion in the Face of Conflict

By Dr. Laura on January 22, 2024
Two hands are placed on top of each other while cradling a heart-shaped object

I want to share some thoughts on my recent conversation with Dawn – a mom who called me after an upsetting visit over the Christmas break with her newly married son and his wife. I've done a whole Deep Dive podcast about getting along with in-laws because a number of problems can arise when families come together through marriage. It's clichΓ© to talk about in-law issues for good reason; it really can be a challenge to get along with new extended family. And that was what seemed to be happening with Dawn and her husband who called me about feeling very snubbed by their daughter-in-law after driving across four states to spend time with her and their son.


Dawn says her son's wife was grumpy and reclusive. The parents didn't feel welcome, the wife didn't seem to want to talk to them or have meals together or even be in the same room with them. Yikes!


So, what should you do if you encounter a relationship conflict like this? Well, to start, you might want to find out if there's an illness or some mental health issue going on that would help explain the person's behavior. You see, behavior is usually an indicator of something. In Dawn's case, assuming her daughter-in-law wasn't ill in some way, her behavior could have meant that she didn't like them or that's she's just a bitch or that something was wrong.


Their son said his wife was having trouble with work and a rental property, and that she couldn't handle it and shut down. Assuming that was accurate, I advised Dawn to either let the whole thing go OR... show compassion.


Think about how different Dawn might have felt if, instead of calling me to outline and complain about her daughter-in-law's behavior, she would have reached out to her son's wife with sympathy. She could have said, β€œOh my gosh, my son just told me what you're going through. That's a lot to deal with. Are you OK?” If you can give the person the benefit of the doubt that something is wrong, then you can proceed with compassion. And compassion in the face of conflict can change everything.


Here's something interesting – human beings are not naturally compassionate. We're inherently very self-absorbed, and it takes training for us to be able to put ourselves in another person's shoes. Whether you feel it or not. Whether you mean it or not, you have to show sympathy and compassion in order to pave the way for an improved relationship. Dawn's situation required her to be a little more understanding and to share that sense of understanding with her daughter-in-law.


For Dawn, and all the mothers-in-law out there trying to navigate relationships with their children's spouses, please ask yourself how you can show care for that other person. When you want a better relationship, ask yourself what you can do on your end to improve it. We really do have the ability to fill our own mini universes – our network of family and friends – with better things. 


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