"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
July 31, 2014
Go to the Family Reunion
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

Four years ago, I got involved in my wife’s brother's divorce, and I did something that hurt him. I sincerely apologized. Over the past four years, I've attempted to re-connect with him, but he says he's still not ready. We have an upcoming family reunion and he refuses to go if I'm there. 

Again, I apologized, fully acknowledged I was wrong, said I was sorry for hurting him, and asked his forgiveness. He didn't accept it. He says he wants to see my wife, but not me. She won't go without me. What should I do?

Answer:

I wish your brother-in-law had asked this question from his perspective.

I would have suggested that even though you were wrong to interfere in his divorce, and even though he was legitimately hurt by your actions, (a) he ought to forgive you, especially for something that happened four years ago for which you are truly sorry, (b) he had no right to try and bar you from a family gathering to which you were both invited, and (c) he should not cut himself off from his family because of the anger he feels towards you.

I also would have suggested that he attend the reunion whether or not you attended, too. Especially in a large gathering, it is easy enough to stay on the other side of the room, table, pool or patio. And to make pleasant conversation with other family members that does not touch on past hurts or related gossip.

As an alternative, he could have attended part of the reunion or some few of the activities. He might have stayed in a hotel, and sought refuge there when he needed an escape. He would not have be the first person to require some private time in the middle of a family reunion.

Then, I would have extoled the benefits of being civil and contributing to a pleasant family atmosphere for the few days of a reunion. It would have (a) made him look good, (b) made him feel better, (c) gratified whoever planned the reunion and (d) gratified his parents, be they living or dead.

You, however, are the person who gave offense and who has not been forgiven. You want to see your brother-in-law and reestablish the relationship. But he has refused. Further, he has informed you that he will not attend the family reunion if you are there. You are worried that if you go, you will be cutting him off from the family and causing him further harm.

But the real issue here is not whether you will harm your brother-in-law by attending the family reunion. The issue is whether you should distance yourself and your wife from the family because her brother is angry with you.

I don’t think you should. Absent a specific impression that you should stay home, I suggest that you attend the family reunion, despite your brother-in-law’s ultimatum, for three reasons.

First, family reunions are for all family members, even those who are angry with, resentful of, peeved at, irritated by or hostile to each other. Indeed, repairing relationships and softening hearts is one of the purposes of family reunions. The whole point is to build family relationships through positive interactions and not just at funerals.

In your case, both you and your brother-in-law belong at the family reunion. You are both family members, even though he is blood and you are an in-law. Your wife also belongs at the family reunion, as does his spouse and all of your children.

Your brother-in-law does not get to kick you out of the family or bar you from family events because he is angry. He cannot tell your wife to attend without you. You are all family members, you are all invited and you all belong.

In fact, I suspect that this reunion was organized, at least in part, with you and your brother-in-law in mind. Your question does not mention a rift between you and the rest of the family, which suggests that whatever you did four years ago was hurtful, but not catastrophic.

Doubtless, the rest of the family wants to see both of you. Children grow up, and people die. Neither you nor your brother-in-law should sacrifice the opportunity to establish family relationships and enjoy family time because of the lingering conflict between you. You will both regret it in the end.

Second, you are not responsible for your brother-in-law’s decision to stay home. He has not yet forgiven you for whatever you did four years ago. He doesn’t want to see you, and that’s fair enough. But if he refuses to attend the reunion just because you are there, then he is choosing to cut himself off from the family.

You are not isolating him from the family or preventing him from participating. He is choosing to stay away, and you are not responsible for his decision. He has no right to push responsibility onto you or your wife by telling you that he will only go if you do not. (And you don’t actually know whether he will attend even if you do stay home.)

Even if you had never apologized, it would still be his decision to attend or not attend the reunion. If he cuts himself off from the family because of you, that is his decision, no matter how unfortunate.

Third, you can’t stay home from an important event just because someone is mad at you. If that were your approach to life, you’d miss a lot of work and a lot of church. You should be sensitive to a person you have hurt or offended, and that might mean keeping a reasonable distance. But you are not required to give that person veto power over your activities.

In your case, you are not required to skip family events until your brother-in-law decides to forgive you. You have apologized to him and tried to set things right. You must continue to show him kindness, consideration, patience and acceptance. But you should not cut yourself — and your wife and children — off from the family until he is able to forgive you.

Finally, going forward you should continue to do what you can to repair your relationship with your brother-in-law. You have apologized and groveled. He knows you are sorry and that you want to reconnect with him.

Now, I suggest you back off and let your wife take the lead. This is her brother, and a relationship with her would be a positive step toward reconciliation. And perhaps in the future, if it happens that you are unable to attend a family event because of business or other obligations, she and her brother can meet.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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