by Theresa Shaltanis
One of my sisters is planning a family reunion for Thanksgiving, and it’s turning out to be a real problem. She has chosen to invite our brother’s ex-wife but not our brother! My sister is a faithful Christian woman, but her decision is making it difficult for all of us, and we feel we’re being forced to choose sides. How can we deal with this in a constructive way?
I affirm you for wanting to respond constructively to a difficult situation. As you clearly know, divorce affects not only the former husband and wife, but the children, extended family, and community as well. While I don’t know the particulars in your situation (Are there children? Are there legal considerations such as a restraining order?), I want to share a few basics that I hope will provide a godly response to a potentially contentious situation.
First, ask your sister how she came to her decision to invite your brother’s former wife and not your brother. You want to understand her thoughts and feelings without accusing her of wrongdoing. Her reasons may be sound. She may also be hurt and bitter. Once you understand her motives more clearly, tell her your concerns, and let her know you want to find a solution that will foster health and healing for your family, not further division and hurt.
Invite her to think through options to this complex situation with you. Perhaps both your brother and his former wife—with each other’s knowledge—can be invited to the reunion. Children who see their divorced parents relating respectfully can lay the foundation for the success of future events where they will want both parents present.
There are ways to foster a relationship with a former in-law that won’t make family members feel like they have to choose sides. It may be that your former sister-in-law feels uncomfortable that she, and not your brother, was invited, especially if it comes with the price tag of further conflict.
If you think your sister is trying to punish your brother in some way by excluding him, address this with her. They might consider meeting with a pastor or counselor if their relationship is fractured.
Above all, continue to pray for God’s guidance and peace. Our responsibility as Christians is to seek unity, as far as that is possible, in every situation, trusting God’s promise to heal what is broken.
About the author: Theresa Shaltanis practices family and marriage counseling in Fairfax, Va.
Questions for “Family Counselor” come from readers and, after steps are taken to assure confidentiality, from contacts made with Lutheran Hour Ministries. Send your questions to “Family Counselor,” The Lutheran Witness, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please include your name and address.