From a meddlesome mother-in-law in the kitchen to a father-in-law who never holds his tongue, there are certain moments of holiday togetherness with your spouse’s family that you’re just not looking forward to this season.
Let it go, or it could cost you. “When a husband or wife fails to get along with the in-laws, it’s predictive of marital unhappiness down the road,” says psychologist Dr. Terri Orbuch, who is the director of the longest running government-funded study of marriage in the U.S. “On the flip side, in the happiest marriages from my study, both spouses reported that they felt close to, or at least got along with, their in-laws.” We asked Orbuch what wives can do to keep their cool around their in-laws this holiday season. Hurry, there’s still time to practice these tricks this holiday season.
Get Them Involved
“Ask your father-in-law to build a fire,” says Orbuch. “Ask your mother-in-law to make or bring her favorite dish. People like to be needed, and it gives them a way to contribute.”
Lower Your Expectations
“Don’t expect praise, warmth and approval from your partner’s family,” Orbuch insists. “Transform into a gracious host and treat them as honored guests. They will either respond or not, but you won’t care.”
Keep Them Talking
Orbuch says the secret to successful interactions with your in-laws is keeping the conversation simple: “One of the best ways to keep conversations light is to ask questions and get your in-laws talking — about their work, childhood, hobbies, etc. People love talking about themselves.”
Know When to Fold
If you feel like you need a minute, you most likely do. “Everyone understands the need for a walk after a big meal,” Orbuch explains. “Get out of the house and take some deep breaths to recover.”
Deflect the Negative and Reflect the Positive
“If your in-law criticizes you, your partner, or a member of your family, simply smile and reply with a neutral comment, such as, ‘Think so?’” says Orbuch. “Later, after the holidays are over and you have more control over the setting, you can share that it hurt your feelings.” Note: You’re not giving them a pass, you’re just pausing the drama for the moment and choosing to deal with the comment at a later date.
Know and Set Your Limits
If interacting with your in-laws is agonizing, don’t let them ruin your entire holiday. “Set limits on the time you spend cooped up with your in-laws by announcing at the outset that you will have to leave later to take the kids skating, to visit a food pantry, or to deliver cookies to an elderly neighbor,” Orbuch suggests.
Include Their Traditions
Blending traditions ahead of time can help in-laws feel like they’re really a part of your family during the holidays. “Ask your partner to describe family rituals — such as special prayers, toasts, foods, or after-dinner games or activities — and surprise your in-laws with one of their favorite holiday rituals,” says Orbuch.
Dr. Terri Orbuch is a research professor at the Institute for Social Research at University of Michigan, a marriage and family therapist and the author of five books, including her most recent, Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship (Sourcebooks, 2012). Her upcoming PBS special, “Secrets From The Love Doctor,” will air nationwide starting November 30 and is available at Amazon.com.