People joke about meddling in-laws but the reality is, overbearing family members are a very real problem for many couples. The tension can be especially thick during the holidays, when there’s an expectation to act like one big, happy family.
How should you prepare if you’re already dreading seeing your in-laws? Below, marriage therapists around the country share a few pointers.
“Resolutions don’t have to wait until the new year. The truth is, when you picked your spouse you also picked your in-laws. And shy of divorce, you’re not getting rid of your in-laws any time soon. So instead of lamenting every time you have to go over to your in-law’s place, make a resolution to try and get along this year. You’ll have many years ahead of you to learn to get along so you don’t have do it right the first time. But think of a small step (for instance, ‘I won’t mention Uncle Ted’s drinking this year’) and try it out. Over the years, you may start to find that you don’t mind your in-laws so much after all.” ― Aaron Anderson, a marriage and family therapist in Denver, Colorado
“Don’t keep your fears and anxieties to yourself! Talk to your spouse about how you think the get-together is going to go. But don’t complain about how much you don’t like your in-laws. Say what worries you and ask for your spouse’s help. Be direct with what you need as well. For instance, you may need your spouse to back you up more often or be more proactive in planning the get-together. Just be thoughtful about how you discuss these concerns.” ― Marni Feuerman, a marriage and family therapist in Boca Raton, Florida
“One of the main reasons we lose our patience with guests, and in-laws in particular, is the nonstop demand to entertain them. Having company, especially family company, often goes hand in hand with neglecting your needs in the service of others ― and that results in poor self-care. As much as it may feel like you have no time to take care of yourself, there is nothing smarter than this when it comes to managing stress and personal space invasions. Keep up your fitness and health routines, take a longer shower, go to bed early, take time in the day to sit for a while and read. Pay attention to what your body needs and find ways to make your needs more of a priority.” ― Alicia H. Clark, a psychologist in Washington, D.C.
“Tense situations with in-laws and spouses often occur in marriages and sometimes you may wonder where your partner’s allegiance lies. You both have been part of another family for a long time; that family has its own holiday traditions and customs. A turf war between the spouses and in-laws may ignite, since both parties want the partner’s attention during the holidays. One way to end the war is to create a sense of ‘we-ness’ with your partner so you’re both more inclined to side with each other rather than the parents. This may mean having to hold your ground and stand up for your spouse. It may seem harsh, but slowly parents will adjust to reality and accept that spouses comes first. Remember which team you are on. You are a spouse first and a son or daughter second.” ― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois
“Before going, do a visualization and affirmation. Imagine you are covered and protected in armor that will shield you from all negative energy. Say to yourself, ‘I am safe and protected, I am safe.’ Once there, be as pleasant and engaged as you can be. Keep your attitude positive and your energy lighthearted. There is no point in wasting one minute of your life feeling badly about something that you cannot control but you can get through this.” ― Becky Whetstone, a marriage family therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas
“There’s no shortage of family gatherings to attend during the holidays. But remember, even though there will be a lot of them they’re only temporary. Once the holidays are over you’ll go back to your place and you can forget all about any annoyances. And don’t rehash what annoyed you; It will just start arguments with your spouse and cause even more problems. So make an appearance, paint on a smile, go home and forget about it. Don’t let your in-laws ruin your life or your relationship.” ― Aaron Anderson