With the lion’s share of the holiday season still ahead of us, there inevitably awaits ample opportunities for stress to surface, especially if you don’t happen to see eye-to-eye with your significant other’s parents. Seemingly now more than ever, people will jump at the chance to toss out a snarky comment or unpopular opinion (especially in light of this year’s incredibly divisive election). Similarly, it can be tempting to deal with challenging personalities, opinions and relationships in ways that do not serve us. If you deal with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, it can seem beyond daunting. But, the holidays DON’T have to fill you with dread, and it IS possible to have a wonderful season filled with gratitude and love. That’s why I’m happy to feature the below guest article by Jennifer Scott, who offers a helpful guide of constructive steps you can take to make this holiday season a happy, healthy one.
How to Deal with Difficult In-Laws During the Holidays
Some people have a fabulous relationship with their in-laws, taking shopping trips with their sister-in-law or hunting with their brother-in-law, chatting up their mother-in-law on the phone every other day, and generally getting along like peas and carrots. If you’re reading this article, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re not one of those people. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend the holidays stressed-out, frazzled, and hiding in the back of your closet with a gigantic box of chocolates. Here’s how to cope.
Respect Your Differences
It may well be a one-sided effort, but respecting your differences with your in-laws can help you avoid bringing up sensitive subjects on which you know you disagree vehemently. That said, your in-laws may not get the memo, meaning your mother-in-law could very well decide to attempt to persuade you to raise your children in her faith, have another baby, get a different job, or use her grandmother’s recipe instead of making your notorious pineapple pudding on Christmas Eve.
If one of those sensitive topics or decisions comes up that tends to cause conflict, try to reach a compromise. It’s often impossible to make everyone happy, especially when it comes to things like which set of parents you’re going to spend the holiday with. Going into these decisions and discussions prepared to make a compromise will help you reach an outcome that’s maybe not what everyone had in mind but is at least satisfactory for all.
Get Your Partner to Play an Active Role
In many cases, overbearing in-laws continue to press on touchy subjects because they think it’s what their child wants. If your spouse or partner is the quiet type who likes to brush things off and avoid conflict, they may be inadvertently leading your in-laws to believe that they’re doing their child a favor. In other words, sometimes all it takes is your partner speaking up and making their wishes (which, hopefully, are in line with yours) known.
This is especially important if you or your partner are a recovering from addiction or alcoholism. The stress of the holiday season can prove challenging for people in recovery, and
your father-in-law’s repeated offers to mix you up a drink from his newly-built basement bar are the last thing you need. Make maintaining your sobriety a top priority, and ask your partner to clearly convey the need to keep alcohol and other substances out of the picture.
Set Expectations – and Boundaries
Setting boundaries for you, your in-laws, and your emotions is key for surviving the holiday season with difficult in-laws. That means explaining exactly what they can expect during their visit with you or yours with them. If they’re spending a few nights at your home, make sure they’re aware of any other plans that will be happening during that time, such as a child’s friend spending the night or your plans to attend a party being held by his best friend from high school while you’re in town.
Beyond setting expectations, you’ll also want to set some emotional boundaries – for yourself. In other words, for the most difficult in-law relationships, it’s just crucial to be able to not give a darn about your mother-in-law’s opinion of your homemade pumpkin roll, even if you slaved for hours trying to perfect the recipe.
Spending the holiday season with your in-laws can be a frustrating experience, especially if your relationship with them isn’t the best. Setting clear boundaries and expectations, getting your partner to speak up and play an active role in decisions and discussions, and a willingness to compromise will help you survive another holiday season with a house full of relatives.