You’re staring down the barrel of a visit with the in-laws. Few married people are immune to the sheer panic that often arises from such a prospect. Whether your in-laws are coming for their annual visit or you are constantly hosting a disapproving mother-in-law who’s forever criticizing your parenting, cooking, and housekeeping skills, you are probably well aware of the anxiety these relationships can generate. Lucky is the son or daughter-in-law who, without hesitation, considers his or her in-laws “pals.”
The biggest complaint people have about their in-laws is that they tend to be intrusive. This is not always intentional, even though it often feels like it is. Your in-laws just want to feel as if they are a valued part of the family, and offering advice and input can be their way of trying to be helpful and involved. The trick to maintaining a healthy balance between the nuclear family that includes you, your spouse, and your children, and your extended family, which can include both your parents and your in-laws, is to set very clear boundaries. Following a few basic guidelines can reduce stress not only for you but for your in-laws as well.
Talk to Your Spouse
One of the best things you can do with regards to handling your in-laws is communicate well with your spouse. Work out a plan that sets guidelines on what areas of your lives and how extensively your respective parents should be involved. You might not completely agree with each other, but it’s important to reach a compromise and stick with it. While parents and in-laws deserve respect and admiration, once you get married, your first loyalty is to your spouse. Parents will sense this supportive partnership and boundaries will be easier to set and keep.
Don’t Dish Dirt on Your Spouse
One area in which parents should not be involved is complaints about your spouse. Parents are naturally inclined to take sides in any disagreement between you and your mate. Using mom and dad as sounding boards whenever you have a marital argument can only aggravate any tension that might already exist between your spouse and your parents. Parents often get an earful when we’re unhappy, but they rarely receive the press release about how wonderful our spouse is when things are rosy. This can give your parents with a skewed perspective on your relationship and your spouse. Be sure to keep the inevitable gripes out of the parental arena, and resolve your marital problems without their involvement.
It’s OK to not relish the thought of spending time with your in-laws. For many of us, contact with our in-laws is relegated to holidays and special occasions. Even under the worst of circumstances, these short visits to in-law land are completely manageable with a little patience. It is up to each partner in a relationship to help their parents understand their role in the new family that is being built. Cluing parents in on the basic ground rules that you and your spouse have set can make everyone more comfortable.