It’s been over a decade since my first awkward “Guess Who” moment happened. But I still remember it–the tense first sit-down dinner, the strain, me silently crying in my brother-in-law’s old bedroom. Michael was my beacon, so sweet and patient and understanding. He made his position clear to his family–I was it for him, and they’d just have to deal. And they eventually did, but it was…a journey. Now I come to his parent’s place even when he’s not here, because his parents are mine. I am their daughter, and they are proud to tell anyone and everyone.
However, some of you are still dealing with recalcitrant in-laws to can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that your colors don’t match. Here’s some tips from Psychologist Dr. Terri Orbuch:
Expect the minimum.
Don’t expect praise, warmth, and approval from your partner’s family. Transform into a gracious host and treat them as honored guests. They will either respond or not, but you won’t care.
Let them help.
Ask your father-in-law to build a fire. Ask your mother-in-law to make or bring her favorite dish. People like to be needed, and it gives them a way to contribute.
Be a reporter.
One of the best ways to keep conversations light is to ask questions and get your in-laws talking — about their work, childhood, hobbies, etc. People love talking about themselves.
Ahead of time, ask your partner to describe family rituals — such as special prayers, toasts, foods, or after-dinner games or activities — and surprise your in-laws with one of their favorite holiday rituals.
If your in-law criticizes you, your partner, or a member of your family, simply smile and reply with a neutral comment, such as, “Think so?” Later, after the holidays are over and you have more control over the setting, you can share that it hurt your feelings.
Set a time limit.
Set limits on the time you spend cooped up with your in-laws by announcing at the outset that you will have to leave later to take the kids skating, to visit a food pantry, or to deliver cookies to an elderly neighbor.
Take a walk.
Everyone understands the need for a walk after a big meal. Get out of the house and take some deep breaths to recover.* * * * *
Psychologist Dr. Terri Orbuch is a research professor at the Institute for Social Research at University of Michigan, a professor at Oakland University, and director of the longest-running government-funded study of marriage in the US. She has a 20-year private practice as a marriage and family therapist, and is author of five books, including her most recent, Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship (Sourcebooks, 2012). A popular relationship advisor on radio, TV, print, and OurTime.com, she also blogs for Next Avenue, Huffington Post, and others. Her upcoming PBS special, “Secrets From The Love Doctor,” will air nationwide starting November 30 and is available at Amazon.com.