The holidays are a special time full of magic, friendship, and family. This time together is great when everyone gets along, but for some, family time brings stress and excessive drama. You may be well versed in your family’s personal drama because you grew up with it and accept your relatives as they are, but when you encounter your spouse’s family drama, you aren’t so understanding or accepting. In-law drama causes a majority of marital conflict during the holiday season.
If you’re one of those couples dreading the holidays, you are not alone. The holidays bring out the best and the worst in people; being prepared for the worst can help you minimize the family drama and increase closeness with your spouse. Here’s some suggestions to keep in mind.
- Plan boundaries with your spouse before visiting the in-laws. When your spouse understands upfront what the plans are for the holidays, there is less chance of hurt feelings and conflict. You may want your parents to stay for a week, but if your spouse can only tolerate them for two days it’s important you set a time limit before they arrive. This is not an issue the in-laws need to hear or weigh in on.
- Help your in-laws feel needed. If you’re hosting and your in-laws ask to bring a dish or help with meals, accept their help and express gratitude. People feel accepted and wanted when they have something to offer.
- Be realistic with expectations. Don’t blow things out of proportion or expect praise or approval from your in-laws. Your in-laws are different than your parents so don’t hold them to the same standards of behavior especially during the holidays.
- Let your spouse deal with any and all offensive behaviors of their parent. As an in-law, stay away from trying to correct your spouse’s family. It’s not your job, and it isn’t helpful for your marriage.
- Stay away from negative talk about your spouse in front of his/her parents. When partner’s bad mouth their spouse to their in-laws, they’re not only attacking their spouse but they’re being critical of the way their spouse was raised. This is hurtful to parents and causes problems with trust and resentment in your marriage.
- Deflect negative or hurtful comments by not engaging. When your in-laws say critical or negative things, deflect the comment instead of lashing out in anger. Comments like, “I don’t know,” or, “I’m not sure about that,” helps deflect the conversation. After the in-laws leave, you can be honest with your partner but then work to let it go. Ruminating or holding a grudge against your spouse because of their parents adds turmoil to your marriage and ends up hurting the two of you.
Sharing the holidays with the ones you love is what makes them so special. You can’t control your family or your spouse’s family, but you can control yourself. Showing acceptance and respect for your in-laws and gratitude for your spouse will help you let go of the drama and enjoy the holidays. You don’t need to attend every argument you're invited to – no matter who’s hosting.