Steps To Happier In-Law Relationships
Now that the holiday hustle is over, would you say you totally triumphed the season with your in-laws or simply SURVIVED it? It can sometimes feel frustrating to learn how to deal with difficult family members. The good news is, no matter your situation, you can absolutely make THIS the year you prepare a way forward to sharing better, healthier relationships with your in-laws!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. To learn more about ’em, click here.
Suppose your relationship with extended family is often messy and difficult. In that case, I want to pause a moment and acknowledge that being disappointed by this – though perhaps common and even joked about frequently in the media – is still a painful reality. Just as you entered into marriage with expectations about what life with your sweetie would look like, you likely also had expectations for what your relationships with extended family would look like. If these relationships are not what you or your spouse hoped they would be, that is real grief to process.
It is SO important to make attempts to untangle and understand our own emotions and internally analyze where our own hearts are BEFORE we begin the work of looking outwardly at complicated relationships and other complex humans.
8 Tips for handling in-laws
The age-old conflict between in-laws and their children’s partners has hardly changed at all over time. The reason for this timeless struggle is explained well by Dr. Gottman, a well-known and accoladed pioneer in the relationship therapy world:
“Every marriage is a cross-cultural experience regardless of whether people are from different or the same cultures. They come from different families, and the family they create is a brand new culture that has never existed before.“
Have grace for yourself as you navigate your in-law relationship, for good or for bad. Learning how to deal with difficult family members, or ones that are wonderful, as well as your in-laws, is a lesson nearly every married couple anxiously navigates, and it CAN GO WELL!
Let’s dive into some practical tips that can help you navigate the relationship with your in-laws and in-law family members.
- For dating, engaged, or newly-wed couples: Begin preparing your in-law relationship for success NOW. Ask questions, get to know one another, create an environment for fun and familial closeness! Chances are, these in-laws LOVE to see their kids thrive and genuinely have the best intentions no matter how difficult and frustrating they are perceived to be. Set the standard early on for a positive relationship! This family DID raise your sweetie, after all!
- Cultivate a relational atmosphere of OPENNESS with your in-laws. If there are boundaries you need to establish, they will be much better received if that is not the majority of your conversations. If you feel comfortable – start a group chat! Share your life and your kids’ lives with them. Invite them to share their life, too! Just as recommended in other relationships, your goal should be to achieve the magic ratio of five positive interactions for every one negative. This can take work if your in-laws live far away or are especially difficult. But in most cases, this in-law relationship is one worth perfecting.
- When in doubt, keep a good sense of humor! Laughter can cover so much ground in a relationship. If nothing else, it will at least ensure YOU have fun! Mayo Clinic classifies laughter as a proven source of stress relief which may be just what you need in some moments! Of course, have a conversation with your partner to make sure your laughter doesn’t ever come across as poking fun.
- For those with kids: Have an expectation conversation. Ask your parents and in-laws what role they DESIRE to play as grandparents. If expectations are big in your marriage, they are big in other relationships too! Help each other out by opening up some gracious communication. Knowing the expectations does not mean you will be granting those wishes, but it gives you a better idea of how you can compromise or find solutions that work best for everyone.
- When your lines continue to be crossed, it’s time to talk boundaries. That may sound scary or uncomfortable, but the truth is every relationship we have involves boundaries–whether spoken or unspoken. Realistic boundaries are healthy! Please discuss what you may need with your spouse and then communicate them to your in-laws TOGETHER. If you are nervous about this conversation, one of my favorite therapists and relationship coaches, Mika Ross, has a wonderful video segment on boundaries. Check it out!
- Attempt positivity when having conversations about your in-laws behind closed doors. What we say about others in private truly changes our feelings about them. Be real with your spouse but make sure any information you share with friends or other family is gracious and kind. Help your heart out by making sure you override the negative rut and choose to see them more positively.
- If your in-law situation is more complicated than most, pursue counseling or therapy for yourself and your sweetie! There is simply NOTHING like soaking up an external perspective. Having an unbiased party examine your situation in its entirety and offer specific feedback is priceless. This can help you two work better as a team when presented tough moments with in-laws and can help you find ways to implement appropriate boundaries.
- When learning how to deal with difficult family members, be hopeful! Situations tend to change more quickly than we anticipate!
A Happy, Functional In-law Relationship
Dealing with difficult in-laws allows us to exercise our growth as relational humans. What kind of person do you want to be? That standard you’ve set for yourself is bound to be more challenging when put up against someone who frustrates, challenges, or confuses you. Let this situation be a workout for you! Make intentional efforts to move forward with each step better than the last. Strained relationships do not often manifest perfection overnight, but I believe constant effort and positivity will always bring about gradual change toward our goals.
Wishing you the best as you work to navigate the relationship with your in-laws. You got this!
How to Navigate the Holidays With Your In-Laws by The Gottman Institute
How Healthy Couples Deal With Their In-Laws by Psych Central
In-Laws, Not Outlaws by The Dating Divas
How to Deal with In-laws by SheKnows
10 Basic Rules for Dealing With In-Laws by Family Education Laurie Rozakis, PhD
Boundaries: What to Say to Your MIL by Mika Ross; Therapist & Relationship Coach
Dealing with Difficult In-Laws by Dad Tired (faith-based)
Grandparents Weigh In: Cultivating Gracious Family Relationships by RisenMotherhood (faith-based)