By Harriet Pappenheim, Google Author
Ah, holiday season. A time of merriment and festivity, of kicking back and relaxing, of spending precious time with your loved ones and rediscovering the joys of family bonds… or is it?
As we all know, reality rarely matches up to the ideal – especially once the in-laws and other relatives have landed!
Dealing with in-laws can be a major stress point for many couples, with a 2009 study showing that two-thirds of women complained that they had suffered long-term because of frictions with their husbands’ mothers.
Sharing close quarters with extended family can lead to all sorts of conflicts, from resentment towards overly-critical or interfering in-laws, to fights and arguments between couples themselves.
And with all the pressures and expectations of the holiday season, it’s no wonder that underlying tensions and petty quarrels can be exacerbated – especially if alcohol is involved! The waters may be choppy, but keep a cool head and you’ll sail through!
Below are some tips to help you navigate families over the holidays.
#1 – Keep Everyone Involved
Right from the outset, assign every guest a small task or role, such as helping to bake, or decorate, or bringing along certain items.
There’s nothing more effective for fostering a feeling of belonging, of being part of a team and a group effort – all of which helps ward off awkward or tense situations.
People love to feel they’re contributing – and it’ll take some of the pressure off you!
#2 – Don’t Take It Personally
It’s a rare parent or in-law who never makes any observations on how their children are running their daily lives. These can often come across as critical, even when they’re not meant to be so. It’s so easy to be sensitive over comments about your cooking, or child-rearing, or any other aspect of your daily household!
Take a deep breath and remind yourself that it’s not a reflection on you – it’s a reflection on the person making the comment.
They may need to feel they’re exerting a measure of control – or they may just wish to be part of the process and feel more important. Taking offence will only cause upset and hurt.
Older parents, especially, may be fearful of losing influence over their children, and the seemingly-critical nature of their comments is simply a result of this fear. Let it go! Be polite, be respectful and make it clear that you took their comment into consideration – but also make it clear you’re not changing anything (unless of course you think they have a point!)
#3 – Don’t Expect, Accept!
Accept that there will be the odd disagreement or clash, at least on some level. Don’t expect people to always notice or appreciate all the work you’re putting in. Accept that you will be irritated at some point, perhaps at 11pm after the last of the wine is finished and you’re facing a mountain of washing up.
Don’t expect things to be perfect!
If you start off in this mindset, you’re a lot less likely to experience the resentment that can boil over into full-blown fights, or a lasting sense of bitterness. If things get too much, take some time out – a walk round the park, or a trip to the mall.
If someone does say something truly hurtful, however, try and respond with a neutral comment, or not at all. This is no time to retaliate. Instead, “park” the comment for a less fraught time, perhaps after the holidays, when you can discuss the matter with the person in question privately and calmly.
#4 – Present a United Front
It’s no surprise that demonstrating support for your husband or wife is one of the key factors influencing well-being in a marriage, so bear this in mind should a family argument threatens to pull you and your partner in different directions.
Never be tempted to take sides against your partner. Always remember you owe loyalty to him/her first and foremost.
Remember, there’s truth in the old quote: “A good marriage is each for the other and two against the world.”…!
#5 Blend Your Traditions
Find out from your partner what family traditions and rituals they grew up with over the holiday season, and make a point to include some of them in your celebrations.
It’ll be a lovely surprise for your in-laws and other spousal relatives, and help them feel like a true part of the family.
Keep the above in mind, and you’re bound to enjoy a smoother, happier holiday season! For problems that persist beyond the holidays and threaten your family relationships in the long term, our expert family therapists are on hand to help. Call us 7 days a week on 212.289.0295.