In many cases, your in-law relationship can make or break your marriage. Unless your partner’s family is toxic, your partner likely cares about their family’s opinions of you on some level. You must learn to make peace if you don’t want your in-laws talking to your spouse behind your back about you or, worse, trying to sabotage your relationship. We have outlined seven tips to help maintain a healthy in-law relationship.
Consider Situations From Their Perspective
Your in-laws are now your family, not your opponents. Resist the urge to frame them as the bad guys who always impose demands on you or your spouse. Remember that when information passes from one person to another, they only take on their perspective of the issue. Consider any conflict you are having from their viewpoint. If this was your child, married to someone like you, what might they think? Some situations might be:
- What you perceive as not doing things for your partner so they can be more independent, your in-laws may see you as not caring for them properly.
- Perhaps what you do to help your partner deal with their mental health issues, your partner’s family may see you as controlling or bossy.
- Maybe you and your partner don’t think participating in religious settings is important, but to your partner’s family, that may seem like you are dismissive of their culture or beliefs.
Check Your Ego
Your ego can spoil even the best relationships. However, there is a difference between ego and self-esteem. External factors derive an egotistical person’s self-worth – mainly feedback from others. Conversely, a person with high self-esteem determines their self-worth by internal factors, such as passion, belief, or person vision. If you are a person that struggles with your ego, you feel insecure and try to cover your insecurities by lashing out or pretending to be more important than others. Instead, it would be best to learn to have confidence in your abilities and enforce healthy boundaries with your in-laws. Here is a scenario where your ego might be causing friction:
You feel insecure about your cooking abilities and hurt whenever your in-laws comment about whatever you’ve prepared. You have the choice to react in one of three ways:
- You can say nothing, internalize it, and continue feeling hurt or angry every time they bring it up. Over time, you resent them even coming over because you know exactly how they will react to anything you do.
- You can throw a tantrum and refuse to cook for them ever again. Perhaps your spouse will be embarrassed by you, and you will make your in-law relationship even worse.
- You can set your hurt feeling aside and thank them for the feedback, and then ask them to give you a lesson sometimes. But don’t just give them lip service – follow through. Make a plan and get it done. One afternoon of a cooking lesson can be the difference between earning their respect or seeming like you don’t care about their opinions.
Get to Know Them
Some people have no problem getting to know others and can get their life story within minutes. However, if this isn’t you, learning how to get to know someone is a valuable skill that can also apply outside your in-law relationship. The key to forming relationships is asking genuine questions appropriate to your familiarity level. An example of this is:
You: What is your favorite food?
Them: Oh, I can’t resist a chocolate pie.
You: Is that right? I’ve never tried making chocolate pie.
Them: My grandmother used to make g chocolate pie. I’ll give you the recipe!
You: Is it hard to make? I’m not the world’s greatest baker.
Them: It can be tricky, but I would be happy to show you sometime!
You: I would love that!
Note how the questions above aim to further the conversion, not to draw the topic onto something else. The “you” in this scenario did not start talking about the smores you once made at camp that had chocolate. You stated that you had not made a chocolate pie before. Furthermore, the other person offered, without prompting, that their grandmother used to make chocolate pies, meaning this dish is important to them due to its nostalgia. You want to add to their positive interaction as much as possible rather than detract from it.
Learn What is Respectful and What Isn’t
What is respectful for your family may not be to other families. In addition, your spouse may be unaware there are any ‘rules’ you must follow because, to them, they are obvious. Be observant. You must do the same if everyone else removes their shoes at the front door. Unless you are given permission, do not go through drawers or cabinets. Pay attention to if everyone is always referred to by their titles, such as Grandpa Joe or Aunt Mary. Don’t shorten anyone’s name if no one else does; for example, don’t call James “Jim” if no one else calls him that or James doesn’t tell you to do so. Follow your partner’s lead on what to do, or ask questions when you’re unsure.
Volunteer to Help Out
Some cultures consider it rude to make guests do any work when they arrive, but you should always offer. They may not give you anything to do, but you do your best to help when appropriate. Take the little ones outside to keep them out of the way or help set the table. Conversely, in other cultures, the expectation is that you do whatever is asked of you. You might arrive, and they already have a job in mind for you. In that case, do it with a smile, and don’t take it personally.
Once you have gotten to know your in-laws, maintain communication with them independently. Don’t expect your spouse always to be your go-between whenever you need to communicate with them. Make sure to reach out for reasons other than because you need something. Call to ask how they are or for them to explain something about the chocolate pie recipe they gave you. Tell them something funny or cute your spouse did. Everyone wants to hear their child is great! These little ‘check-ins’ don’t have to be long; five or ten minutes will do. Do your best not to be someone they dread hearing from when the phone rings.
Support Your Spouse
If you and your spouse can not get along when you are around your in-laws, that is a huge area of your relationship you should want to improve upon. Remember that your partner grew up with these people and had many memories and emotional attachments to them. You must remember that they have flaws your partner has accepted, and in many cases, you must do the same. You are not going to undo 30 years of behavior overnight. Instead, you need to advocate for your spouse when they aren’t around and not try to use their family to manipulate them. If you can not resolve this issue alone, consider Strategic Family Therapy to help. A strategic family therapist can give you actionable goals that can help you build and maintain a healthy in-law relationship.
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