Getting along with your in-laws

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You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. With your own family you have known them all your life and usually love and understand them even if they drive you crazy. Not only can you not choose your own family but you don’t get to choose your partner’s either. If you don’t like them, or they don’t like you, or if there is just a clash of personalities here are some useful strategies to help you keep the peace.

Support rather than defend

One of the most difficult situations which can arise when you are mixing with your partner’s family is if their parents upset or hurt them. It is hard to see someone we love being upset by others and your natural reaction may be to jump to their defence. Your partner may also have told you stories about things their parents did when they were growing up and you may feel angry and protective on your partner’s behalf and struggle to accept their parents as a result. This is a natural response but what is important to remember is that it is rarely a good idea for you get in the middle of a family dispute – old or new.

Talk to your partner privately about how their relationship with their family affects you and let them take the lead in challenging any problems – having you there by their side might make them braver about standing up to their parents or just help them to deal with the situation in a healthier way.

Talk to someone else about your grievances

No matter how much your in-laws aggravate you it is never a good idea to be too vocal in your dislike of them to your partner. If you are letting off steam and ranting about how annoying they are it can put your partner in a very awkward position with split loyalties. Although they may agree with you on some points, and may want to support you, they will most probably feel loyalty towards their family too. There is history between them and the ways they interact with each other were established long before you came on the scene. Partners may come and go but we only get one set of parents and no matter how dysfunctional a relationship we have with them cutting them out of your life will usually cause other problems to arise.

Have clear boundaries

One of the biggest areas of contention between partners and in-laws is when they are visiting each other’s homes. If your in-laws live far away and you normally go for an extended visit talk to your partner about the possibility of going and staying somewhere nearby rather than actually in their house. If they normally come and stay with you then maybe it could be suggested that they stay in the local B&B. Having this distance will make it more likely that you will be able to enjoy the time you spend together.

If they live nearby and are in and out of each others houses and business all day long then it is important that you lay down boundaries that both you and your partner are comfortable with.  There needs to be a separation between your relationship and the extended family and for the mutual boundaries to be accepted.

Put yourself in their shoes

One of the most common reasons behind family tensions is jealousy. It isn’t always easy for people to accept that the person they love has loyalty and affection towards someone else. It may not be rational but it is very common for mothers to be jealous of their son’s wives or husbands to be jealous of the prominent position a father still has in his daughter’s life etc. Try not to compare yourself with your in-laws and if you feel that they are jealous of you try to be patient and trust that in time they will come to see that you are not a rival but another member of the family who isn’t going to steal their child away from them.

Act as if  you love them

The best approach you can take with your in-laws is to endeavour to be warm and civil towards them even if you don’t feel like it. Think about it as an investment in your relationship because it will certainly make things easier for your partner if they feel that you can all be together. We can’t get on with everyone but we can choose to treat people with the same courtesy and respect that we would like to receive.

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