You may tie each other up every Monday and feel completely comfortable exploring each other’s less traveled orifices, or you may consider doggie style to be “experimental” — but when it comes to the holidays, we’re all just a bunch of overgrown kids hoping to survive extended time with the in-laws (or potential future in-laws).
We interviewed therapist Dr. Terri Orbuch, author of the book Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, who says she has found, in her long-term study of married couples, that when a husband or wife fails to get along with the in-laws, it’s predictive of marital unhappiness down the road. “On the flip side,” she says, “in the happiest marriages from my study, both spouses reported that they felt close to, or at least got along with, their in-laws.”
We distilled Orbuch’s advice into 10 rules for making sure your relationship survives the onslaught of questionable family members this holiday season.
- Make your partner a priority — and stand up for them. You can affect your parents’ behaviors and how they treat your spouse by treating your spouse with respect, dignity, and validation. If your parents love you, they want what is best for you. And the best thing for you is a happy spouse who wants to spend time with your family.
- Set a time limit. Short visits may be the happiest ones.
- Manage expectations. Don’t expect praise, warmth, and approval from your partner’s family. Realistic expectations reduce frustration.
- Your mother-in-law is not your partner. Don’t let the anger you have toward your mother-in-law (or your partner’s drunk inappropriate uncle) be misplaced on your partner.
- Learn to say when. You may need to accept the chill between you and your in-laws and simply learn to be decent and get along.
- Maintain your relationship privacy. Meddling in-laws sometimes want to invade the privacy between you and your partner. Set clear boundaries regarding what you will tell your in-laws and parents, because they often make terribly biased and unhelpful relationship counselors.
- 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, interest in hedge trimming, etc. People love talking about themselves.
- Deflect — or at least postpone — negativity. 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.
- Play by their house rules. It’s the holidays, do you really need to make an issue out of whether or not you and your partner get to share a bedroom? Besides, who wants to have sex after overindulging in a massive, rich, holiday meal?
- Take a walk with your partner. Everyone understands the need for a walk after a big meal. So get out of the house and take some deep breaths together to remind yourselves of who you’re dating/living with/married to (i.e. not each other’s parents!).