Some people look forward to spending the holidays with family, while others would rather be run over by a reindeer. Some folks anticipate a time of love and joy- while others can’t wait for this season of guilt and manipulation to be over.
It’s true that some in-laws are stereotyped unfairly, but others really are difficult to be around. Some mothers-in-law gossip about us, pry into our personal lives, and manipulate us with guilt. Some fathers-in-law criticize us, offer unwanted advice, and meddle with the way we raise our kids.
Spending time with our spouse’s family is part of the marriage commitment, so we might as well learn to make the best of it. Here are five ways to improve visits with your in-laws:
1. Get out of victim mode. You are an adult on equal standing with your in-laws, so don’t behave as though you are a child on an inferior level to them. Their needs and opinions do not outrank yours. Be confident and assertive (but not antagonistic, hateful or vengeful).
2. Unite as husband and wife to deal with difficult in-laws. Make decisions based on your needs as a couple, and then communicate and draw (reasonable) boundaries with Hubby’s folks as needed. If your partner struggles with making you a priority over his parents, then educate yourself on how to gain his loyalty.
3. Learn how to minimize destructive gossip. Avoid criticizing your husband’s parents in his presence because that will trigger his instinct to defend them. When necessary, vent your frustration to a counselor or support group instead of your family or friends. Apologize to your in-laws for gossiping about them, tell them you intend to stop doing so, and ask them to show you the same respect. Ask your spouse to refuse to listen if his folks start to talk behind your back.
4. Be prepared to handle difficult situations with your in-laws. Memorize some key phrases to use when your in-laws ask intrusive questions, interfere with the way you raise your kids, offer unwanted advice, manipulate you with guilt, etc.
“That’s classified. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
“Let’s talk about something else instead.”
“You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’ve made my decision.”
“I know you’re just trying to help, but this isn’t your decision.”
5. Learn to let your in-laws be upset. When you start behaving as a confident adult, they may act offended, cry, throw a tantrum, gossip about you, accuse you of being disrespectful, etc. They might test you to see how serious you are about setting boundaries (just like a toddler would), so it’s very important that you stand your ground (in a respectful manner) instead of arguing, apologizing, or giving excuses for your behavior.
When you start to behave in a new way, your in-laws will begin to treat you differently. And who knows? Someday you may actually look forward to the holiday season.