There is no shortage of theories about why people clash with their in-laws. There are parents who appear to resent giving their precious child over to someone else. There are parents who seem inherently judgmental, unnerving a new spouse who feels they never live up to their standards. I even know a woman who, having lost her own parents at a relatively young age, sometimes feels resentment toward her in-laws’ presence in their lives because she doesn’t have her own family to balance them out.
Sometimes, however, it’s more effective to look beyond the “whys” of these conflicts and look instead at how we can resolve them—or at least get along as civilly as possible.
Here are five simple tips that can help keep the peace:
- When you anticipate conflict, plan ahead. This doesn’t mean preparing the perfect comeback for your mother-in-law’s annual Thanksgiving criticism of the dressing. Instead, strategize: Maybe you could swallow your pride, call her beforehand and say, “You know, you’ve always had good suggestions about how to make the dressing, and I’d love to try yours if you’re willing to bring it this year.” Chances are, she’ll be delighted—and will lose her ammunition for picking apart your cooking.
- Stay out of the fray. If your in-laws are difficult to be around, your spouse most likely has his or her own issues with them. However, if an argument breaks out, try to support your spouse without jumping into the ring yourself. Your partner is likely to cool his or her heels after a while, and you don’t need any ugly comments that you’ve contributed to come back to haunt you—with your spouse or with your in-laws.
- Try to ignore the qualities that bother you the most while also acknowledging the better ones. It’s easier said than done, but even though they’re not perfect, try not to lose sight of the bigger picture. When they babysit so you and your husband can go away for the weekend or commit other acts of genuine kindness, always show your appreciation.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Some in-laws seem to always have unsolicited advice that smacks of criticism about everything from how you do the laundry to how you raise their grandchildren. If you have an in-law like this, try and let it roll off your back unless it crosses the line into offensive or outright disrespectful commentary. If you don’t let them get under your skin, their words have no real power.
- Set boundaries. Do your in-laws drop in unannounced or plan extended visits to your home without your blessing? If your partner condones it even though it bothers you, you need to stand up for your right to a certain amount of privacy, or it could become a serious problem between not just you and your in-laws, but you and your partner as well. Agree to limits about visiting rights and stick to them.
The next time your husband’s parents call and say they’ve booked the month of December to spend with you, your husband (who is probably the better one to address the issue with his parents) needs to speak up and say, “We are really looking forward to your visit. However, Lily and I agreed that our schedules just get so crazy that time of year, we’d be a lot more comfortable with a week rather than a whole month.”
The bottom line is, when it comes to conflict with in-laws—whether it is in the open or simmering beneath the surface—all you can control is your own response to it. Use humor to diffuse tension. Come up with alternate reactions, or no reaction at all. Communicate with your spouse about your concerns and most of all, try to keep it in perspective. After all, you’ve chosen to spend your life with your partner – not his or her parents!
Are you desperately seeking harmony with your in-laws, but don’t know where to start? The counselors at the Relationship Center of Orange County can help. Call us today at 949-220-3211, or book your appointment using our online calendar. We look forward to connecting with you.