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When you marry your partner, you're really marrying their entire family. For some, the additional family members are a blessing, with more participants for game night or more money to throw at a group vacation. But for others, cultivating a healthy relationship with the new in-laws proves to be more difficult, whether due to personality conflicts, differing points of view, or something else altogether. Read on for five common reasons for tension between spouses and their in-laws—and what to do to keep the peace.
You're Unable to Find Common Ground
While you may be able to edit your friends circle to include people with the same values, interests, and goals as your own, you can't do the same for family. Consider it a life lesson that there are some folks whom you simply won't be able to vibe with, despite your best efforts. It can be emotionally taxing to be around these people, but that doesn't mean your interactions need to be contentious.
This is particularly true when dealing with your spouse's family, as this negativity can come between you and your spouse—and you never want your partner to be in a position where they have to choose sides. Instead, keep your eye on the prize: a happy, healthy marriage unencumbered by family drama. "Tell yourself that the effort to accommodate your partner’s family is one of the greatest gifts you can offer in your marriage," advises Karl Pillemer, Ph.D.
They're Rude in Conversation
Some cases are more extreme than others. Maybe you've simply not adjusted to their jokes or how the members of their family speak to one another. Or perhaps you don't agree with their stance on political and social issues. They may not mean to offend, but you interpret their words as rude or off-putting.
Still, it's important not bad mouth or criticize your in-laws to your spouse. Instead of saying, “I hate hanging out with your family,” say, “Being around your family can be difficult for me.” Some may call this sugar-coating, but marital diplomacy is important. There’s no need to hurt your partner's feelings, especially if the problems you’re having are with your in-laws and not your partner.
A healthy relationship with your in-laws is a marathon, not a sprint. That means agreeing to disagree, committing to respect them, and learning how to tolerate their company.
And when all else fails, excuse yourself from the conversation. "When buttons are pushed on a repetitive and sensitive topic, leaving the room is an excellent—and potentially relationship-saving—option," says Pillemer.
They Keep You at Arm's Length
On the flip side of the coin, maybe your in-laws aren't accepting of you. This could be for any number of reasons, but don't get hung up on diagnosing their contempt or apathy toward you; instead, focus on what you can do to keep your own sanity and confidence while fostering a positive rapport with your in-laws.
Remember: You don't need to be BFFs with your in-laws. In fact, you don't even need to hang out with them solo, especially when the relationship is already strained: "Your spouse shouldn’t expect you to hang out with his parents if he’s not around," advises Yvonne K. Fulbright Ph.D., MSEd. "He also needs to be present in managing any issues that could pop up."
You Can't Resolve Your Issues Civilly
When every conversation and interaction with your in-laws turns into a blow-out, distancing may be the answer. There are couples who take drastic measures and move away to avoid their in-laws, while others simply limit their attendance at family functions.
You and your spouse can create guidelines about when you can stay away. Maybe the two of you will agree that you should join the family for major holidays, but you can stay home for minor ones or events, such as celebrating your niece’s first steps. Whatever you decide, discuss the issue together; you should both be satisfied with the compromise. In addition, your spouse might lay the groundwork for an improved relationship between their family and you.
You're Holding a Grudge
Allowing resentment to build and having a tense relationship with your in-laws will eventually influence your spouse and, as a result, your marriage. It could cause tension between the two of you, and that’s exactly what you don’t want. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that you have to become best friends with your in-laws.
Your in-laws are your family now, too, but recognize that family doesn’t always get along. Personalities clash; people misbehave and don’t treat each other well. You both grew up in different circumstances, which shapes your experiences and expectations. But you’re still family and that brings with it some responsibility. You have to learn to live peacefully with your in-laws, if for no other reason than you love your spouse.