In-laws are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. They might blow through boundaries. Your in-laws might meddle in your marriage. You might even be having a hard time living with your in-laws. Possibly, they’re totally toxic. This isn’t about any of those things.
Sometimes, your in-laws are just difficult to get along with.But you want to try to have a good relationship with them.
After a few years of marriage (or less), you soon realize saying “yes” to forever with your spouse really did mean saying “yes” to forever with their family, as well as uncomfortable holidays and long weekends filled with awkward situations and tension for as long as you both shall live.
You want to like your in-laws. You’ve tried to like them. But you don’t.
SO, WHAT DO YOU DO? HOW DO YOU GET ALONG WITH PEOPLE YOU DON’T REALLY LIKE?
First of all, did you notice I said “get along with” and not “like?”
The truth is, you may never like your in-laws. And that’s totally fine. You don’t have to. It’s just important to keep the drama and the tension to a minimum as much as you can for the sake of your spouse and your children (if you have them). Even though you formed a new family when you were married, your in-laws are the reason you have your spouse and a new family to begin with. If nothing else, try to respect them for giving you your spouse.
Secondly, be as empathetic as possible.
Maybe your mother-in-law is mega passive-aggressive and a little odd, and your father-in-law is just kind of a jerk all the time. TRY (keyword here) to look past their glaring flaws and put yourself in their shoes. For instance, your mother-in-law may be passive-aggressive because she really just wants to spend more time with you but doesn’t know how to say it. Maybe she’s even a little intimidated by you. (Note: If you’re the daughter-in-law, this is NOT uncommon… I mean, you did take her place as the prioritized woman in her son’s life. Forever.)
And, maybe your father-in-law is a little unhappy with himself or unfulfilled in his life. Maybe they’re both a little off because their marriage and relationships aren’t as healthy as they used to be and they have some resentment and anger to work through. Being empathetic doesn’t mean you excuse their behavior. It just means you take a different approach to understand their motives and actions.1
Third, tell your spouse about your uneasy feelings, but remember you’re talking about their parents.
Be vulnerable and open with your spouse every chance you get. But, when it comes to talking about their parents, keep in mind that there’s a fine line between stating your feelings and being critical of their family. It’s okay to say, “I felt sad when I heard your dad talk to your mom in that tone of voice.” It’s not okay to say, “Your dad is a total jerkface. I can’t believe your mom has stayed with him this long.”
Be sensitive. The truth is, your spouse more than likely already knows there are some odd bits about their parents. They did live with them during their most formative years.
Fourth,set those boundaries with a smile.
You and your spouse want to start a new tradition around the holidays, but your in-laws insist that you come to visit them. Kindly and firmly say, “No.” If you want your in-laws to call before dropping by, tell them! Maybe you would prefer that your father-in-law not watch certain shows around your children. Let. Him. Know. Setting boundaries keeps things nice and tidy and leaves the guesswork off the table.2
ALSO, and this is very important, each spouse should set boundaries with their own family. So, you talk to your family, and your spouse talks to their family. It’s much easier for a parent to have a potentially dicey conversation with their child than with their in-law.
IF your in-laws don’t like one of your boundaries, and they throw a big fit, let them. You do you and what’s best for your family. If they get so mad that they never want to see you or speak to you again, then that boundary worked out more in your favor than you ever imagined it could. (Jk. Jk.) But, seriously. You can’t change or control their reaction. If they act immaturely about it, it’s not your fault. That’s their issue.
Fifth,different doesn’t mean wrong.
Everyone’s family has a certain way of doing things. It’s totally natural and normal for your in-laws to do things differently than what you’re used to, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. And it also doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means you’re different. For example, you grew up having a big feast on Thanksgiving. Your mom made awesome cinnamon rolls and a giant fruit tray, and your dad made the best omelets you’ve ever tasted. But, your in-laws go to McDonald’s and grab Egg McMuffins. It may seem weird to you, and not as fun or exciting, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It’s just their way of doing things. Accept them for who they are and try not to look down on them for not living up to your standards or expectations.
Last but not least, texts go both ways.
Pursue your in-laws. That’s right. You heard me. Be friendly to them. Make an effort. They’re your family, too. Sending a text every now and again to check in won’t hurt you, and you know it’ll make them feel loved (even if you don’t like them). Send them cards on their birthdays. Invite them to big celebrations in your life. Let them learn more about you and your life. Who knows? You may just influence them to be a little more likable.
Marriage is hard and family is complicated. Both take a lot of work, but the reward of deep, meaningful connection is so worth it in the end. While you may never reach a level of relational bliss with your in-laws, these six guidelines should keep the drama to a minimum and maintain peace in your marriage.
2Peterson, E. & Solomon, D. (1998). Maintaining healthy boundaries in professional relationships: a balancing act. PMID: 10030211
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
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