You’ve met their parents, and maybe you’ve even spent a fair amount of time with them. Because you want to like your potential new family so much, it can be frustrating to realize that something about their personalities really bothers you. The logistics of navigating the wedding-planning process, life as a newlywed, and family occasions moving forward is a lot to consider. It can feel overwhelming to imagine disliking any of your new family. You want your relationship with your spouse to last forever and their family is important to them. So, what do you do now?
Isolate the Issues
When the interaction with your in-laws gets tense or actually hostile, it can be tempting to assume that things will never get better. However, there is usually a root cause, even if you are feeling quite hurt and don’t want to think about it. One of the best things to do, once you aren’t interacting with your in-laws, is to find a way to take your mind off the interaction and blow off some steam. Chat with a friend who doesn’t know your in-laws, go to the gym for a long run, go a round with the punching bag, or watch some of your favorite comedy show.
Try to think as objectively as possible. What are your in-laws’ issues, and what might be your own issues? They can be entirely at fault and still have a particular reason why they are behaving this way. Are they afraid that their child is pulling away from them? Do they have built-up expectations for what an “appropriate” spouse looks like? Figuring out what the problem is can help you to find ways to avoid the sensitive topics or interact with them differently when they are in a better mood.
Figure out What Works Well
Another proactive approach is to keep trying new activities with them. If everyone is just sitting around after a holiday meal and it leads to bickering, suggest an afternoon of mini-golf, bring a puzzle along to work on, or find half-price tickets to a new movie through a discount website. If they have their own ideas about what will be fun, then agree to their plan to get on their good side. However, a lot of times people end up waiting for someone else to suggest an activity, so if you bring a variety of ideas with you, you might discover which activities will elicit a positive response from your in-laws, and still be fun for you as well.
Build up Positive Experiences
Successful activities can become holiday traditions, and that can be one of the best ways to cement a more positive relationship with your in-laws. There are ways to promote these positive memories in your in-laws’ minds. Christmas gifts that feature photos of your times together, or even just a quick Facebook Memory share, reminds them that there have been some good times together. Don’t overextend these kinds of attempts, but every once in a while promote a positive relationship.
Accept What you Cannot Change
There is a great possibility that some of your interactions with the in-laws will soften over time, and you may discover that they were simply nervous in their early meetings with you. However, there are bound to be quirks that you neither like nor can change about them. The truth is that all people have quirks, and we somehow manage to get along anyway. If these personality issues continue to make you feel hurt and angry, it may be wise to write out how you feel and talk to your spouse to be able to sort out what can be done about it.
There may be a point at which a behavior should be addressed. For example, asking an in-law to stop making disparaging remarks about your appearance. But unfortunately, someone’s personality is something you may or may not be able to change. That being said, if an in-law is unpleasant in a long-term context, there is nothing wrong with politely finding ways to avoid them. In big family gatherings, it is perfectly fine to gravitate to other people, and choosing to visit less frequently when someone is behaving unpleasantly.
It’s a Balancing Act
Overall, your spouse’s parents are incredibly important to them, and getting along with in-laws you don’t like is a balancing act. Grant your spouse needed time with his or her family, while also giving yourself the space you need to not feel annoyed, angry, or frustrated. Choose a middle ground and take proactive steps to try to assuage the problems. You will have done all you can and, with any luck, you will grow to have a more positive relationship with those in-laws over time.