Handling Your In-Laws Over The Holidays

There’s no denying that the holiday season, while appealing in many ways, can also be a major cause of stress.  The prospect of seeing loved ones you've long been separated from, eating amazing food, giving and receiving gifts, and enjoying all of the traditions of the season is something most of us look forward to all year.  What we don’t relish is the pressure to buy, the tense crowds of eager shoppers, and the abundant preparation that goes into every detail, from travel arrangements to cooking for a crowd to the presentation of gifts.  And for many of us, there is a sinking feeling associated with the time we must spend with our crazy in-laws.


Why you dread spending the holidays dealing with your in-laws

Don’t think you’re alone in this sentiment.  It should come as no surprise that you’d rather spend family holidays with your own family, where you feel comfortable and relaxed.  It’s difficult to interlope into someone else’s traditions.  You’re outnumbered and expectations are high; basically it’s a recipe for disaster and yet, you’re being called upon to perform.  And it can be even worse if you don’t get along with your in-laws particularly well.  But there are definitely ways to dispel some of the tension, get them to behave, and make interactions with your in-laws smoother.

Let the in-laws come to you

For starters, you can choose to have gatherings on your own turf instead of going to your spouse’s family home.  Consider offering to host at your own home.  This way you can have both your family and your partner’s in one place, forming a whole new set of family traditions that centres on your life together.  This not only provides neutral ground for both families to meet, it also gives you the upper hand to steer the course of events in your favor.  And if your spouse is disappointed by the break in tradition, lovingly tell him/her that you're missing out on going to your family home as well, but that this is a fair way of making new memories and traditions together.

Pick a task that you always do for your in-laws

Of course, the above not fly with the in-laws (or may not be possible) so if you simply can’t avoid going to them, there are still plenty of ways to ensure everyone has a good time.  You can make yourself useful to your hosts.  Offer your services until they are accepted.  This doesn’t mean you have to pester your mother-in-law in the kitchen until she lets you stir a pot.  If an offer to help with the cooking is rebuffed, set the table, vacuum the living room, do some laundry, or offer to watch your nieces and nephews so that the adults can head to the lawn for their annual pick-up game.  At the very least you should clean up after yourself so as not to give your hosts any extra work. If you pick a task that you can do each year (eg, cook the meat or buy, clean and wash the vegetables), there is no confusion and you can get right down to it. 

Separate your time with your spouse, away from the in-laws

You should also engineer some alone time.  Until you’re totally comfortable with your partner’s family, you’re going to have to 'perform' to some extent, and that can be tiring.  So give yourself frequent breaks by going out for coffee, taking a bath, or walking or jogging daily.  Find a local yoga class to attend.  Go to the book store and browse.  It is essential to have some alone time.  If you can, get your spouse to go with you on these outings.  You’re going to need some romantic reinforcement to get you through the visit, especially if you’re there for several days.  So unless you want to end up in relationship counseling, you need to find ways to get your partner away from his/her family for a while so you can both remember that you’re in this together. 

This guest post was written by Evan Fischer, a freelance writer and part-time student at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.

What tips do you have in handling the in-laws during the holidays? If you have some that work, please share them in the comment box below. Christmas is coming again, so don't forget to get into the spirit and get your fill of the Christmas related articles in the link.  
See more family relationships articles on this blog here.


Icy BC November 22, 2011 at 9:16 PM  

I feel the pressure already, but not with in-laws since I don't have any, but with just family..

Yes, we do grow apart and it's harder to get together.

Baton Rouge Counselor November 23, 2011 at 4:42 PM  

Holidays can be a trigger with visiting family, and you have provided some sound advice.

Marriage Counselor November 23, 2011 at 4:44 PM  

The holidays can be stressful on a marriage because of the intensive interaction with the in-laws. I believe that you comments will be helpful to married couples.

Anne Lyken-Garner November 23, 2011 at 6:46 PM  

Icy, just take some time to do something special for yourself, something that you enjoy. Leave the preparations for later when you're more relaxed.

Anne Lyken-Garner November 23, 2011 at 6:49 PM  

BR counsellor M counsellor, thanks for the visit and for commenting on my blog. Welcome to The Relationship Blog and I hope you'll visit again.

Unknown November 27, 2011 at 3:12 AM  

Anne, I'm not sure about that last comment, but most seem pretty legit. Inlaws just seem to make us on edge so I try not to be like any of those I have had. lol I liked the suggestions to make yourself useful, as it is something Mom taught us. A guest that is not an added burden is more welcome back.

Anne Lyken-Garner November 27, 2011 at 2:10 PM  

Hi Judy. That last comment has now been binned. It got on there by accident - yet another spam bot. Anyway, I have to say that I have very nice in-laws. My husband is an only child, so I don't have the siblings to deal with. I class his parents as my own. They're very good to me and don't put me on edge at all. I have to be thankful for this because I know I'm in the minority.

Anne Lyken-Garner is a published author, editor and freelance writer. Her specialities include relationships and confidence building. You can find her inspirational memoir here.
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