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Racist Father In-Law — Couples Counseling?

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From the U.S.: I am from the south and I have my own fair share of racist relatives, but I don’t really associate with that side of my family at all. I put distance between myself and people like that.

My husband’s only really racist relative is his father. For the last 10 years, we’ve lived hundreds of miles away from our families, and now we are talking about moving closer to his family in the Midwest. We’d be about 5 hours away and we could finally spend holidays together, etc.

But my father-in-law just came for a visit and it was so tense that I’m feel really scared about the move now. He’s very conservative, the election is just about to happen, and he kept bringing up contentious topics with both of us. I just followed my husband’s lead and changed the subject.

Supposedly he knows I’m progressive and that I have African American and Middle Eastern relatives, but he kept bringing up really offensive points about Muslims, Asians, women, etc. Politics aside, the sexist and bigoted commentary is just awful.

I don’t want to have an argument, but I want to be respected in my own home. Imagining holidays in the future with this man, I fear it will be like it was growing up, with my grandpa saying N-word this and N-word that. When you don’t push back you feel complicit in their comments.

My husband is Mr. Nonconfrontational and I don’t like arguments either, but it’s unreasonable to just suck it up when I feel offended, walked all over, and disrespected. I had to do somersaults to keep the peace. After his visit, I felt downright dirty. How do I deal with this? Is it appropriate to ask my husband to go to couples counseling with me to discuss this issue?

Racist Father In-Law — Couples Counseling?

Answered by on -


It does sound to me like your father-in-law was baiting you. He knows your politics. He knows you have relatives who are not Caucasian. Knowing that and continuing to belittle people was verbal aggression on his part. No one should have to put up with that in their own home.

You and your husband need to find ways to set conditions for his participation in your family that are firm and clear but kind. I hope his love and interest in his son and family is bigger than his hatred of people who are different from himself.

I understand that taking a stand will be difficult for both you and your husband, especially since neither one of you likes confrontations. Counseling has many, many uses. It isn’t intended to be used only when things are falling apart. Sometimes it is a helpful environment for talking about things that are difficult to talk about. A skilled counselor can help you and your husband hear each other’s concerns and work together to manage this very difficult situation.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Racist Father In-Law — Couples Counseling?

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Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). Racist Father In-Law — Couples Counseling?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 7, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 24 Dec 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
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