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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 who 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. They may not mean to offend, but you interpret their behavior as rude or off-putting.
The solution to this is to address their comments head-on. No need to be rude back; instead, approach the conversation calmly. Try saying something like, "Your comment doesn't sit well with me, and I would appreciate if you didn't say things like that around me."
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 Push Your Buttons
Maybe your in-laws set you off without realizing it. Or perhaps they did it intentionally—either way, retaliation isn't the answer. Keep open (and private) communication with your spouse about why their family gets under your skin. Your partner may be able to give you some insight into the situation that you would not have been privy to earlier, which can make it easier to reconcile and move on with your relationship with your in-laws.
Try to not bad mouth or criticize your in-laws to your spouse. Instead of saying, “I hate hanging out with your family,” say, “I want to hang out with your family sometimes because I know it’s important to you, but it can make me feel overwhelmed.” Some may call this sugar-coating, but marital diplomacy is also 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.
You Can't Resolve Your Issues Civilly
There are couples who get married and move away to avoid their in-laws. This may be going to the extreme, especially if you are the only one having issues with your spouse's family. Instead, try giving yourself some distance. If you normally attend every family function, tell your partner that you would like to sit a few of them out.
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.