While some of us are blessed with in-laws that are easy to get along with, for many others, they come with a whole host of problems.
Maybe your in-laws are too involved or love to criticize all your decisions. Or maybe you share different ideas for family rules.
No matter what the situation, the tips below will help you guide your relationship to a happier, more productive future.
The root of so many in-law problems is a lack of boundaries. Are your in-laws are trying to control your spouse? Are they are dropping not-so-subtle criticism of your decisions? Are they—and this one can seriously ruffle some feathers—trying to tell you how to raise your children? Even in healthy relationships, boundaries are crucial. When there are problems, they are doubly important.
It’s best to establish boundaries as early as possible. Articulate them in a clear but respectful way. And be consistent. For example, what if your in-laws tell your child that they should dress more conservatively, and you disagree?
First of all, don’t call them out in front of your child. Instead, address them one-on-one (on the phone is necessary). Calmly explain why this made you feel uncomfortable. Start a conversation in which you express your values, but also listen. Try to end the conversation on a positive note. For example, you might mention how much your child loves spending time with them.
That said, it’s also important to be flexible. Decide in advance which of your boundaries are ironclad and where some negotiation may be appropriate. Being overly rigid can be counterproductive. For example, you should certainly speak up and tell your mother-in-law that her judgments about your childcare are inappropriate.
But what if she is babysitting and lets your kid have dessert before dinner? It’s probably best to let that slide. Later you can tell your child that was a special thing that they only get to do with grandma.
Setting boundaries can sometimes lead to hurt feelings. However, they are essential and will lay the foundation of a healthier relationship going forwards.
Even with difficult in-law relationships, there is usually some common ground. Next time you interact with your in-laws, try to notice what it is. What conversation topics bring out warm feelings, and which ones cause tension to flare? For example, discussing your child’s education might engage you both in a positive way, while talking about politics may lead to bitterness every time.
Once you have an idea of what topics are positive, stick to them. Avoid the topics that lead to pointless bickering. And if you do find yourself stuck at a point of tensions, build a bridge back to a more productive subject.
In very difficult situations, you can even practice your bridges ahead of time. Remembering to ask, “Did my daughter tell you about her latest science project?” can be a lifesaver.
Identify Your Priorities
What are your priorities when it comes to dealing with your spouse’s parents? Is it more important to win every argument or create a wonderful memory of a holiday celebration? Remembering your priorities makes it easier to keep your cool. Changing the subject, breaking the tension, and tolerating boredom are a small price to pay for the benefit of the people you love.
On the other hand, your in-laws have their own priorities. If you are having trouble with them, pause and ask yourself what those are. What is important to them? That their grandchildren learn certain traditions? That your family sees each other with some regularity? Unless their priorities violate your values, try to respect them. It leads to empathy, understanding, and respect.
Have Your Spouse’s Back
Speaking of priorities, it’s important to make sure your relationship with your spouse comes first—and your relationship with their parents second. Communicate with your spouse in an open, honest, and frequent way about these issues. Remind them that you have their back no matter what.
In addition, you and your spouse need to present a united front to your in-laws. Communicating with each other will allow you to do that. What’s more, it will stop either partner from feeling like their spouse is taking sides. Or like everyone is teaming up against them.
Undoubtedly, most of this is easier said than done. However, putting in the hard work now to improve your relationship with your in-laws will pay dividends for years to come.