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 How to Have Healthy, Happy Relationship with Your In-Laws
How to Have Healthy, Happy Relationship with Your In-Laws

In-laws can be a source of love and support. Many times, however, they are a source of marital strife. We’ve all heard the jokes — as Mark Twain once wrote, “Adam was the luckiest man; he had no mother-in-law.” Indeed, it can be a feat to get along with your in-laws if you experience cultural, educational, generational, religious, and moral differences. You may have chosen your spouse, but the truth is that you cannot, and probably wouldn’t, choose your in-laws. To avoid a tug-of-war between relatives and spouse, you must create workable, appropriate boundaries for the relationship. By respecting the needs of both parties, you can create a bridge between your past and future. 

There are many reasons to strive for a healthy relationship with your in-laws. This extended family can give you much-needed help with finances or childcare. Furthermore, a healthy relationship with your in-laws also shows respect for your spouse and his or her roots. You and your partner both have histories that should be respected in your home.

Here are some tips from for dealing with in-laws:

·                    Respect your in-laws, no matter what

It is imperative that you treat your in-laws with respect at all times, even if they are not always courteous to you. While it may be difficult to take the higher road when someone is critical of you, you don’t want to give your in-laws reasons to dislike you. Take a few deep breaths or leave the room — whatever it takes to stay calm. Avoid escalating the problem. Showing respect, no matter the situation, is a way of letting others know how you would like to be treated. It is also a good example to set for your children and a signal that you are open to finding common ground. If nothing else, respecting your in-laws means honoring your spouse, and he or she will appreciate your efforts on behalf of the family.

·                    Set boundaries

Setting boundaries is a key survival skill for dealing with extended family. Before your in-laws visit, sit down with your spouse and define boundaries for visits, time with grandchildren, holidays, and your marital privacy. For instance, it is not appropriate for your in-laws to show up at your home unannounced. Insist that they call first so they don’t intrude on private family time. Or, perhaps your mother-in-law constantly offers unsolicited parenting advice. Make it clear that you respect her feelings, and you will incorporate her ideas where you see fit, but you have your own ways of doing things. Be assertive but gentle, and your in-laws will respect the boundaries you and your spouse have set.

·                    Establish a firm set of ground rules for your home

When you create a firm set of ground rules and make them clear to your in-laws, you and your spouse take an important step toward avoiding conflict. For example, you might conclude that 5 days is the limit to how long in-laws may stay in your house. Let family know what you expect of them when they visit; make it clear that you would like everyone to make their own bed each morning, or to rinse their dishes. You might ask your in-laws not to bring candy for your children when they visit. Explain that, while you appreciate the thoughtful gesture, you have a no-sweets policy.  With a firm set of rules, you will nip many problems in the bud.

·                    Avoid criticizing your in-laws to your spouse

Your spouse will naturally have some loyalty to his or her family, so avoid criticizing them. If you need to vent, choose a trusted friend, not your spouse. Don’t make your in-laws the butt of jokes. Avoid picking on every little comment or misstep they make. Being critical of your in-laws will only make your spouse defensive and create tension between the two of you. On the occasion that an in-law steps over the line, bring the issue to your spouse respectfully and without attacking the person who wronged you. You might say, “Something your father said really confused me.” Because you’ve chosen to put each other first, your spouse will be receptive to your concern.

·                    Never involve your in-laws in marital issues

Protect your marital privacy by never involving your in-laws in your marriage’s private issues. Let your extended family know only what you choose to tell them.  If you don’t want unsolicited advice on your marriage, don’t invite it by sharing your latest disagreement or fight with your in-laws. If you bad-mouth your spouse to your parents or in-laws, you are inviting your extended family to choose sides. When you share your anger or frustration, your in-laws will focus on that, not on when you and your spouse make up. If your in-laws ask how things are going in your relationship, simply smile and say, “Just great, thank you.”

·                    Build bridges wherever possible

Foster your relationship with your in-laws independent of the one you have through your spouse. When you build bridges with your in-laws, they become more inclined to support you and treat you like family. You may even discover you have things in common. Show interest in their interests — share favorite foods, pastimes, and hobbies. Talk to them about their heritage and where their family comes from. Do something fun — go to a local event or a funny movie. Cultivate happy memories together. Email your mother-in-law biweekly or monthly, even if it’s just a brief hello to say you’re thinking of her. Make it known you are reaching out and, hopefully, they will reach out to you. 

·                    Respect differences in culture and upbringing

Regardless of your in-laws’ ethnicity, country of origin, or religious beliefs, you will most definitely encounter differences between your upbringing and cultural values and those of your extended family. The key to loving your in-laws is being open-minded and accepting. Based on their background, they may have very different ideas about child-rearing, religion, the role of the man in the family, tradition, holidays, and more.  Show interest in your in-laws’ background and beliefs, but also invite them to learn more about your culture and values. Understanding breeds acceptance, which allows you to create new family rituals.

·                    Make your in-laws feel included

When in-laws feel neglected or distanced from the family, they tend to act out. Since you’ve already set boundaries and guidelines, you should be able to ward off overbearing behavior. However, you still want to include them whenever possible. Call right away when you have family news to share. Send holiday cards with updates on you and your children.  Invite them to important family events, including graduations, sports games, award ceremonies, and birthdays. If you spend a holiday with one set of in-laws one year, make it a point to visit the other set the next year. Inviting them into your life will prevent them from feeling left out and enable you to preserve the boundaries you’ve established. 

·                    Understand you can’t change your in-laws, only your reaction

You have probably heard the saying, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” You may not be able to change the way your in-laws treat you, but you always have control over your own reaction to them. Perhaps, despite your best attempts, your in-laws continue to be aloof, rude, bossy, or nosey.  Commit yourself to letting their words and actions roll off your back, without allowing your mood or attitude to turn negative. You and your spouse can cope with the problem by maintaining a unified front and agreeing not to react to whatever negativity they throw at you.




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